BMW X2 M35i review: hotshot SUV is surprisingly mild

Published: 17 May 2019

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Review

► BMW X2 SUV driven
► Plugging the SUV gap
► Tested in xDrive20d spec

BMW traditionalists have had plenty to mash their keyboards about lately – MPVs, massive grilles, front-wheel drive and the quiet exit of the inline six from all but the most potent models.

Thing is, BMW traditionalists tend to buy traditional BMWs. Those buying a new car, says Munich, are more interested in things like the X2 – a front or all-wheel drive, turbocharged, four-cylinder SUV.

Now there’s a version with a sacred M badge on it called the X2 M35i - featuring a high-output 2.0-litre motor of all things - to raise righteous fury among forum-regulars and Audi SQ2 owners alike.

Why not wedge a six pot in there to satisfy journalists and BMW ultras?

That would be ridiculous but it’s mainly because there’s not enough room under the X2’s bonnet. Even if there was, it’d only gain about 50bhp, which would be offset by the additional weight. 

The current BMW 1-series hatchback features an inline six in the form of the M140i, and that is a fabulous car – but its replacement won’t get a straight six, so neither does the X2. BMW makes no bones about this either: the 2.0-litre X2 is badged 35i, rather than 40i for a reason, to reflect the difference in power and cylinder count. And there are no plans for a faster version than this.

What there are plans for, however, is for this powerplant to find its way into many new BMW models, so as much as we attended the launch of the X2 M35i to drive the new SUV, we also wanted to get an early steer on the motor likely to power small, hot Bimmers for years to come.

Is it a good engine?

Yes – and it needs to be, because every manufacturer and their dog makes a 300-ish horsepower four-pot these days, making its absence in the BMW line-up very conspicuous indeed. This is actually the first fast four-pot BMW since the E30 M3, a car older than most of the X2’s target owners.

It’s the same 2.0-litre unit we’ve seen (albeit it in lower-power configurations) in plenty of other BMW cars but with some substantial upgrades, including a much larger intake and turbo, reinforced crankshaft, lower compression pistons and a redesigned cooling system.

That means 302bhp and 332lb ft, good for a 0-62mph of 4.9 seconds – and it feels as brisk as those figures suggest, the standard-fit xDrive all-wheel drive ensuring a clean launch off the line, and the eight-speed auto (your only option) racing through gears with suitable purpose. Still, satisfaction comes in the form of simply being squashed backwards into your seat, rather than being involved in the process, and that will suit some, but not all keen drivers.

It sounds good though – gritty and sonorous with a surprising amount of noise coming from the engine bay rather than the exhaust, which is of course set up to pop and bang disapprovingly at the very suggestion of a throttle lift. 

Does the X2 M35i drive like a thoroughbred BMW?

The standard BMW X2 was already up there with the best in class so it’s not like it needed a radical chassis redesign. Even so, the M35i version features lower springs and stiffer dampers, plus a Torsen limited-slip differential - installed for the first time on an M Performance model - on the front axle.

That tells you quite a bit about the way BMW expect the X2 to be driven – largely from the front, with assistance from the rears when needed, and as such you get strong grip levels but not a huge amount of throttle adjustability. Predictable tyre adhesion brings about its own form of entertainment and while not the most involving of steers, the X2 can corner at a pace that’ll suitably raise your heart rate.

Adaptive suspension is available as an option and gives you a broad spread between Comfort and Sport, although even on smooth German roads we found the softest setting to be quite firm. Larger 18-inch brakes up front provide good bite and stamina but the steering is the same old story – most feelsome in its lightest Comfort mode, with the sportier setting adding weight but not much else.

Why does the BMW X2 M35i look just like a normal X2?

Yes – there is that. If you were expecting a full-scale M Division makeover, then you’ll be disappointed. The reason, says BMW, is that the X2 already looks quite athletic. So M35i drivers will have to cope with their car looking just as sporty as their neighbour’s 20d.

Setting it apart a little are larger 20-inch alloys, some nice Cerium Grey highlights on the front bumper and a larger wing. Plus 100mm exhaust tips – up from the standard car’s 90mm bore – which are at least connected to the exhaust, unlike the growing trend for fake plastic tailpipes. Yes, folks a 1cm deviation in exhaust pipe is one of the telltale signs of M-kind…

Inside it’s largely the same story with an M Sport leather steering wheel and optional bucket seats with integrated headrests. These are very good – well-bolstered and comfortable, but a bit odd-looking due to a single porthole where your boy-racer mates would have a cut-out for a race harness.

Verdict

It’d be easy to be cynical about the X2 M35i but that would be doing a hugely competent car a sizeable disservice. It may not be the most involving drive or one where you’re challenged to find and exploit the levels of traction, but it is fast with a good soundtrack and satisfying levels of grip.

The perennial party-spoiler in this arena is still the substantially cheaper VW Golf R, which you could have in either hatch or estate forms, or even a Cupra Ateca if you simply must have an SUV. Both feature about 300bhp and all-wheel drive. There’s also the Audi SQ2 we mentioned earlier, which brings a load of premium appeal to the mix.

All of this means that while the X2 M35i might not be the most persuasive BMW model, the signs from the new 2.0-litre motor are largely positive. Just imagine if they put it in a go-faster Mini…

Read more BMW reviews by CAR magazine


Our review of the rest of the BMW X2 range: from the 2018 launch

We’re obsessed with the Oddly Satisfying subreddit - specifically the posts where things fit perfectly into other things - coins that have fallen into exactly-sized recesses and vacuum cleaner heads that slot between two pieces of furniture with millimetric precision, that kind of thing.

Clearly whoever came up with the concept of the X2 is a fan too; here’s a car that fills a hitherto gaping hole in the X-line-up, sliding neatly into the range like a Coke bottle in a Pringles tube.

Munich now has a royal flush of crossovers and 4x4s running from X1 to X6, with plans for an X7 and X8 waiting in the wings. And it’s more than an exercise in numerical completeness, as we will now explain…

Wait, another SUV?

Yes – and as you’ve probably guessed from that tenuous intro, the frequency with which they are being launched is so great, we’re finding it hard to come up with original ways to break the news to you.

Thing is, while everyone seemingly wants a commanding driving position and the ability to bump up the kerb outside Nandos without touching the brakes, no-one seems able to agree on a single bodystyle. So we have small SUVs, tall SUVs, coupe SUVs, and small coupe SUVs like the X2.

Styling wise it’s a move away from the X4 and X6, looking more like a jacked up 1-Series hatchback than anything else. It’s also part of that hipster ranger of BMWs that prefer front- and all-wheel drive.

Who’s the BMW X2 for?

If we said the words front-wheel drive, five-door, four-cylinder SUV coupe, and asked you to guess the brand, you probably wouldn’t say BMW. You’d probably say Toyota. And that’s really the point – BMW doesn’t want you to buy a Toyota, it wants you to buy a BMW.

Specifically the X2 is aimed at younger buyers who would normally be seen in a Range Rover Evoque or Mercedes-Benz GLA – or, controversially, the platform-sharing MINI Countryman.

Like all even-numbered BMW X cars the X2 is a sportier version of the boxier number beneath it, so if the X1 looks too functional for you – here’s your car.

How’s it different?

For a start there’s a BMW roundel on the c-pillar, a styling cue that harks back to the 3.0 CSL and 2000 CS – plus there’s the sloping roof and thin window line and kidney grille that is wider at the base than the top.

It shares the same wheelbase and track as the X1, but sits seven centimetres lower and measures eight centimetres shorter thanks to its tiny overhangs.

That means it has a lower centre of gravity, plus a stiffer body with specific springs and dampers and greater negative camber on the front axle, all of which point at enhanced agility.

Does that mean the BMW X2 drives better than the X1?

Sure does – of particular note are the special preloaded bushings fitted to the X2’s rollbars – these tackle bodyroll and allow the dampers to be slackened for a better ride.

Regardless, the X2 is stiffer than the X1, and that’s whether you stick with the standard suspension or upgrade to the adaptive set up. Plus, M Sport cars get a further 10mm drop.

All of that means while the X2 is a little less edgy and direct than the MINI Countryman, it’s a sharp handler that feels very sure-footed and confidence inspiring in xDrive form, but not wholly exciting.

It resists understeer well and there’s just a small amount of well-controlled lean when you push on. Still, we had more fun on faster, more flowing corners than on the tighter sections.

The steering is as you’d expect from a BMW – offering a well-judged amount of heft through a large, wheel with bratwurst-thick padding. Accuracy is a strong point though there’s a fair bit of self-centring at work.

Four-cylinder engines only?

Indeed - powering our test car is the projected best-selling 20d diesel – offering up 187bhp at 4000rpm (after which it gets a bit breathy) and a wide spread of torque (295lbs ft of it) between 1500 and 3000rpm.

The standard eight-speed automatic gearbox extracts everything it can from this powerplant and reacts quickly to a tap of the steering wheel mounted paddles. BMW’s drive mode selector tightens things up but curiously there’s no Sport Plus mode; just Eco Pro, Comfort and Sport.

This engine matches the 20i petrol’s 0-62mph sprint with a 7.7 second effort, but this diesel offers another 10mpg. There’s a more powerful 25d model for European buyers that gets there a second quicker. That just leaves the entry 148bhp 18d version, which you can have with two- or all-wheel drive.

Will there be an MX2 or X2M or M240i or whatever?

BMW’s engineers have some of the best poker faces in the business and remained tight-lipped about a hot version despite us doing our best Jeremy Paxman meets Louis Theroux via a Newsround Press Packer act.

Until then there are four familiar trims called SE, Sport, M Sport and finally M Sport X –all cars get 17-inch alloys, climate control, an automatic bootlid, and sat-nav on a 6.5-inch screen. Further up the ranks are things like LED lights, bigger wheels and sports suspension, plus extensive off-road body cladding.

Our car was the top spec version and boasted big and supportive seats and a dashboard trimmed in a variety of squidgy, elephantine-patterned plastics and brightly coloured stitching.

Narrow windows mean restricted visibility out and back, particularly the chunky b-pillars and an obscured rear three quarters that necessitates the addition of a reversing camera, or at least use of the standard rear parking sensors.

Do the boot bit now…

I’ll rip this boring plaster off quickly - the boot is 35 litres smaller than the X1’s but larger than the current rear-driven 1-Series. Rear passenger space is hampered a bit by the sloping roof. Don’t bother putting passengers in the middle rear pew unless they’re inflatable.

Verdict

Our car is nearly £35,000 which is enough to buy an all-wheel drive, automatic gearbox’d VW Golf R, which is faster and has a bigger boot. You could also have a BMW M140i, which has a six-pot motor and rear-wheel drive.

There’s little point being pragmatic though – the X2 is the latest in a line of emotionally marketed vehicles sold to people as part of a healthy, active lifestyle. Given that remit we’d recommend one over a GLA or Evoque.

It’s also fundamentally the least SUV-like SUV that BMW currently makes, so if you want a piece of that action without committing to something massive and boxy like an X5, then the X2 makes sense.

Specifications

Price when new: £43,315
On sale in the UK: Summer 2019
Engine: 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbocharged petrol, 302bhp, 332lb ft
Transmission: Eight-speed auto, all-wheel drive
Performance: 4.9sec 0-62mph, 155mph, 33.6-34mpg
Weight / material: 1610kg, steel/aluminium
Dimensions (length/width/height in mm): 4360/1526/2098

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By Adam Binnie

Contributor and new cars editor on our sister website Parkers.co.uk