Although I haven’t got hold of the keys yet, I’ve spent more than a few minutes staring at the BMW X1, which is currently sitting in the Autocar car park.
I can’t quite get over the size of the X1. It’s barely taller than a Scirocco and even looks dainty – in a kind of stretched wheel base way – compared to a VW Golf. But this lunchtime, it was positively dwarfed next to the 5-series GT.
Somewhat like the Skoda Yeti, the X1’s designers have managed to carve out a lot of interior space in a short car and without have to raise the roof height to ridiculous levels.
The X1 and Yeti might have achieved something quite rare in the car industry – coming up with a genuinely fresh take on the two-box vehicle.
I’m not sure how much off-road ability the X1 has, but I have driven the Yeti extensively – on- and off-road. Its size, relatively low weight and short overhangs meant it was genuinely impressive off-road.
Add in the optional hill descent control and rapid-fire Haldex 4 all-wheel drive system, and this machine is the truly all-terrain. Do you need anything bigger, especially, if never more than four up?
Arguably you don’t. Having spent the last few months driving an Insignia – which is a big chunk of car – I became convinced that 95 per cent of the time I would be no worse off in current Golf even on longer journeys.
It’s the same for the X1. Autocar staffers who drive it praised its ride and handling and general sense of well being. Do you need an X3 or X5? As a family car in urban situations, the X1 is probably the better choice.
But there is one big hurdle with these small cars. Price. Both the Yeti and X1 have big price tags. The entry-level rear-drive X1 is £22,600 and an all-wheel drive 2.0d X1 is £25,510. And a basic 2.0-litre, all-wheel drive, diesel Yeti is £17,220.
One can understand why carmakers do not want to sell clever, upscale, small cars for small prices. But can they really convince the public to separate price from space?
Computer makers failed to stop the netbook revolution. Once, a laptop was a premium product. Today, a mini laptop can cost just £150 a development the industry calls a ‘race to the bottom’.
Carmakers, by contrast, are desperate to avoid the same fate. They are determined to ensure that premium small cars fetch premium prices. Car buyers, however, may disagree.