BMW X1: the lowdown
BMW knows a good thing when it sees it, and booming sales of its 4x4s have convinced the board to grow the X-rated SUV family. This is one of the first sightings of the X1, that will slot into the range under the X3 and X5 in 2010. Our artist's impression above, and scoop shots on the next pages, reveal a mini-me soft-roader with shrunken looks borrowed from its suprisingly familiar bigger brothers. It'll be aimed squarely at the mass-market (Toyota RAV4, Land Rover Freelander) as well as the burgeoning premium 4x4 sector (forthcoming Audi Q3, Merc's BLK). BMWs in wellington boots might offend purists, but under chairman Norbert Reithofer's new regime anything that sparks profitable growth is positively encouraged. So expect gaps in the range to be plugged and new niches sniffed out. Busy times in Munich...
What the hell's that? The armoured BMW brick?!
This, ladies and gentlemen, is called a chassis mule. It's what the engineers test in the early days of a vehicle development programme before they have fully fledged prototypes to test. So under the boxy Meccano-style makeshift body of this hack lie the innards of the X1. It will have a four-wheel drive system shared with the forthcoming Mini SUV, and is expected to use engines borrowed from the 1-series range. So power outputs will stretch from 145bhp to 220bhp, with a broad spread of petrols and diesels. At around 4300mm long, it mirrors the footprint of a RAV4.
How much will it cost then?
Today's X3 kicks off at a shade under £30,000, leaving plenty of room for the smaller X1. Don't expect prices to challenge the volume boys, though - BM's pint-sized mudplugger will cost considerably more than the likes of the Ford Kuga and Toyota RAV4. It's early days yet, but bank on around £23,000. What's official about the car? Not much, apart from the fact that it will definitely happen. At a recent briefing for journalists and analysts, chairman Reithofer said: 'We would like to confirm the announcement of the BMW X1. This model is going to complement the successful X family, together with the BMW Concept X6 presented at the Frankfurt Motor Show.'
And what's this about a new X3?
We don't have photos of the new X3, but we know quite a lot about the new mid-sized 4x4. Today's model (above) is built by Magna Steyr near Graz in Austria and - despite its ugly duckling looks and iffy quality - sells like hot cakes. Annual output continues to exceed 100,000 units a year. BMW hopes to increase that significantly next time round, targeting 160,000 annual sales. Codenamed F40, the new X3 arrives in 2010 and it will be built in BMW's US plant in Spartanburg alongside the X5 and X6. Poor old Magna Steyr? Hardly. The contractor will build the new X1 and Mini SUV at its Austrian plant instead.
Will they finally make the X3 different from the X5 this time?
Oh yes. The latest X5 has already grown substantially and now houses seven passengers in three rows. The next X3 won't grow quite as much, measuring 4650mm long, 1850mm wide and 1680mm high. Most of that growth goes into the rear overhang, allowing a slip-slide rear bench to juggle space for legs and luggage. Stung by criticism of the current X3's cabin (above), BMW is investing a lot of time in fixing an improved interior. Instead of sharing gauges and ancillary parts with the next Z4, the F40 model will get its own instruments, the latest iDrive and BM's latest fad, the joystick gearlever.
What powers the X3?
Guess what? BMW is cleaning up its 4x4 range with the latest Efficient Dynamics know-how, the CAR award-winning system for cutting emissions and consumption through standard stop-start systems, intelligent alternator control and other green initiatives. In the longer run, BM plans eight-speed autos, clean AdBlu diesels, DeNOx catalytic converters, biofuel options and a full parallel hybrid system derived from the X5's. Munich has noticed the backlash against 4x4s, then. The engine line-up is expected to look like this: • 2.0d, 177bhp • 2.0sd, 204bhp • 3.0d, 245bhp • 3.0sd, 300bhp • 2.5i, 231bhp • 3.0si, 305bhp Unlike Mercedes' forthcoming GLK, the X3 will not be available in rear-wheel drive form, preferring full-time 4wd. Since Audi is doing very well with its S-line versions, BMW wants to expand its M-line portfolio which may in 2011 be topped by a brawny 400bhp X3M.