What, exactly, is a BMW X1? Billed as an "Sport Activity Vehicle" from those serious-minded folk in Bavaria, the BMW X1 has done nothing if not endured bitter experiences. "Might as well buy a Pontiac Aztec," people said. "Looks like a clown's shoe, and not in the delicious Z4M kind of way." Granted, it's not a Pininfarina design but whose fault is that really? If Americans weren't so stubborn about avoiding the term "station wagon" perhaps the X1's wheel gap would look more like a proper sports car's and less like the Grand Canyon's South Rim.
It's easy to picture the scene at the Welt as production wound down on the E9x generation of BMWs. Wildly successful and lauded as the definitive benchmark luxury sedan, BMW's 3er was in dire need of a tech update and general refresh. The competition was moving up to 7, 8, and even 9 speed transmissions, and safety features such as backup cameras, lane change warning systems, and autonomous parking were fast becoming prevalent. These are huge selling features to the vast swaths of the population that see cars in similar fashion to a Keurig (extremely necessary, but not terribly exciting). It was clear that a completely new platform must be used for the new 3 series, but what to do with the excess inventories from production of the current generation?
"Meine Güte!" the BMW executives exclaimed. "Let's take all of the leftover parts and throw them in a single car!"
"Hans, that's a great idea but the parts are from the 1 Series, 3 series wagon, and 3 series coupe! We'll never make them all fit together"
"Just weld them together any way possible! The Amerikaner refuse to purchase diesel station wagons; they are so dumb they will never even notice!"
Such is the origin story of the BMW X1. A parts-bin car with the chassis of an e93, the engine of a 135i, and the rear suspension from a 335, the X1 was already a generation behind the F30 when it was released in 2013. This hodgepodge of parts resulted in a car that could be purchased in three configurations, each entirely different in character. The 28i sDrive was interesting because it was the only RWD X model car available, but it was down on power for my tastes. Even worse, because there was plenty of room near the front axle (from lack of xdrive) the car was fitted with the newly efficient electronic steering rack from the F30 3 series. Stepping up in the Teutonic hierarchy we arrive at the 28i Xdrive; the same engine and chassis outfitted with AWD and the hydraulic steering rack from the 335i.
These two 28i variants were practical, efficient, and made up an overwhelming majority of total X1 sales. But sitting at the top of the food chain was the X1 35i xDrive, an X1 fitted with the N55 inline turbo 6 engine that made the 135i and 335i the darling of media types the world over. This 300 horsepower X1 also retained the famous hydraulic steering rack from the E92 3 series, while also sharing the brakes and suspension design. Combined with an available M-sport package that shifted 80% of the torque to the rear wheels and gives you genuine sport seats, the X1 was suddenly looking like a very enticing package. Especially when you consider that bolt-on modifications for the 335i are a direct fit on the X1.
I don't think the X1 35i was ever really supposed to happen. It's almost as if BMW launched all of their leftover parts a mile into the air and the 35i's components just happened to all come down in exactly the right configuration. What is the X1 35i? It's the 135i M-sport hatchback that America never got. It's the Europe-only 335i wagon that every BMW internet forum waxes poetic for.
Perhaps it's not the most attractive car in the world, but it is the one you want to marry. It can take you through 12 inches of snow, fit a 52 inch rolling toolbox in the hatch, and when modified out-drag a M3 and beat a Cayman around the track. You can do this while relaxing in the heated, highly bolstered sports seats, enjoying the direct feedback from the all-but-extinct hydraulic steering rack, and enjoying the view out of the panoramic moonroof.
So again, what exactly is the BMW X1 35i xDrive M-Sport? Other than a mouthful, it's starting to sound a lot like the Ultimate Driving Machine - and the perfect car for One Lap of America.
Stay tuned - up next, we will answer the question "Why would anybody want to do the One Lap of America?" and give a few details about our planned aerodynamics setup.