I’m not sure if there has been a more controversial car from BMW, since the M3 went turbocharged, than the BMW X2. Many purists are furious about the X2, as they feel it’s only adding to the eventual ruin of BMW’s “Ultimate Driving Machine” ethos. However, I defy anyone to actually drive the X2 and not come away at least a little bit impressed.
We recently had the opportunity to drive the new BMW X2 in Palm Springs, California, both on and outside the brand’s Performance Driving School at the Thermal Club. This was a more freeform press launch for BMW, which allowed us journalists to just grab the key and go, with every car on hand, and have fun in the canyons. On this trip, there were several cars available to test, including the BMW M5 (review to come), the X2, 6 Series GT and more. But since all the M5s were taken when I first arrived, I snagged the key to an X2 with enthusiasm and headed for the canyon.
What is the BMW X2?
BMW has been drawing the ire of enthusiasts these past few years, mostly for supposedly diluting its own brand heritage and DNA. When the Bavarians first debuted its UKL architecture, a *gasp* front-wheel drive architecture, its fans collectively lost their minds. Now, BMW has no less than three cars built on that platform (excluding MINIs) and it’s already working on a fourth, with the upcoming 1 Series. The most recent example is the BMW X2, a small, stylish crossover designed to be the sportier alternative to the BMW X1.
The BMW X2 is smaller than its X1 sibling and more coupe-like, with a more aggressive roofline, shorter wheelbase, shorter overhangs and far more style. On paper, though, styling and size are about the only differences between the two cars. The BMW X2 uses the same 2.0 liter turbocharged B48 engine as the X1, so it makes 228 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque. That engine is paired with the same Aisin-sourced eight-speed automatic gearbox and Haldex all-wheel drive system (front-wheel drive is standard).
The Devil’s in the Details
While it seems that the X2 is basically just a prettier X1, there’s far more to it than that. BMW has tuned the steering, suspension and dynamics of the X2 to be distinctively sportier than its X1 sibling. Its steering rack is quicker, its suspension is significantly firmer and its turn circle is shorter. Thanks to that quicker steering rack and shorter wheelbase, it turns it quicker and sharper than the X1. It’s also lower than the X1, so there’s noticeably less body roll and more lateral grip.
So while the X2 seems like just an X1 wearing a designer outfit, there’s a lot more going on underneath the skin.
It Is Stylish, Though
Let me make this perfectly clear, I know nothing about fashion. I look at modern runway models and I see people trying on outfits for Game of Thrones, not outfits that human beings might actually wear in the real world. I find high-end fashion confusing, with much of it absurd and ridiculous, so maybe I’m not the best judge of style and design. For what it’s worth, though, I like the way the X2 looks.
It’s funky and weird and it makes me smile. Its nose shoots way down low and has a surprisingly short front overhang for a front-wheel drive-based crossover. It also sits very low for a crossover which, combined with its aggressive roofline, makes it look very sporty. I even like its weird upside down Kidney Grilles. But, by far and away, my favorite bit of design is its C-pillar mounted Roundel, like the classic BMW 3.0 CSL.
Admittedly, I didn’t personally love the X2’s design when I first saw it. It was a bit too odd, too radical. But as time went on, I grew to really like it. And it’s truly a car that must be seen in person to appreciate, because it looks much better in the flesh than in photos. The way light reflects off of its funky paint colors and shows off its subtle curves and shadows really makes the X2 seem fun and special in person. Side note: if you’re buying an X2, get a fun color, like Galvanic Gold, Misano Blue and Sunset Orange Metallic. Personally, Sunset Orange is the color I’d choose and it’s the color I did choose in Palm Springs.
At the event, the opinions were a bit mixed among journalists about the BMW X2’s design. Though, I think I spoke to more journalists who did really like it than not. Which surprised me, as it’s a pretty polarizing car. So, for whatever it’s worth, we seem to think it’s a pretty cool little Bimmer.
Not As Stylish Inside
If there’s a big disappointment about the X2, it’s that its cabin isn’t as stylish as its body. While the exterior is so funky and interesting, its interior is humdrum. One the inside, there’s very little to differentiate the X2 from the X1, which is a bit of a bummer once you’ve seen the outside. It’s basically identical to its cheaper sibling, save for maybe some trim pieces.
Having said that, the interior is surprisingly premium feeling. Every material feels expensive and sturdy, with the only cheap, hard plastics being found way down low on the door bins. And even still, those aren’t bad. Even when you close the doors, they make an expensive *thump*. For such a small car and one that’s relatively inexpensive, it feels surprisingly premium. More so than what I remember the X1 feeling like.
Obviously, it also gets BMW’s newest iDrive infotainment system, which is as brilliant as ever. It features touchscreen capability, as well as the traditional rotary controller, and it has to be the best system in the segment, if not the industry as a whole. It’s superb. I also really like the gauge cluster, which uses two traditional looking dials that feature traditional needles over digital numbers. They also remain the same regardless of driving mode the car is in, which is refreshing in this modern era of completely digital dials.
Small on the Outside, Big on the Inside
The BMW X2 is able to pull off a clown-car trick of being far larger on the inside than it seems on the outside. Standing next to the X2, you’d never think you could fit actual humans in the back seat. However, I was able to sit behind myself just fine, with adequate head and knee room. Admittedly, I’m only 5’9″, so passengers six-feet and over might have trouble in the back.
There is also a decent amount of trunk space for such a small car. It’s obviously more compromised than the X1, in terms of cargo space, thanks to its stylish roof but it’s not as bad as you might think. There’s more than enough space for three or four luggage bags, you could likely fit a bike without the front wheel back there, a baby stroller or easily a couple of dogs. For someone with a small family or active lifestyle, the BMW X2 could be perfectly practical.
Seating Can Be Weird
There is a complaint about the interior, though, aside from its humdrum styling — its seating position. The entire interior is designed to be more SUV-like, much like the X1. So the dash and gauges are all sort of slanted upward and the shift lever is very tall, so as to accommodate a higher seating position. But the X2 actually sits quite low. So if you’re seating position is high, you feel like you’re sitting on top of the car, rather than in it.
Admittedly, it does allow you to adjust the seat very low, so you can sit low to the ground. If you’re like me, and you like to sit as low as possible while still being able to see outward, this feels weird, as all of the controls are sort of aimed upward slightly. It was just hard for me to get comfortable and find a seating position I really liked.
Though, the seats themselves are comfortable and outward visibility is surprisingly good for having such a short roof and windows. The A-pillars are thin and placed well, so even though the windshield is aggressively raked, you can see out of it really well and you don’t have to crane your head around the A-pillars to see through corners.
More Hot Hatch Than Coupe SUV
The BMW X2 is going to frequently be called a sort of coupe-like SUV. Hell, even we call it that. And that’s because it sort of is. But that’s not how you should look at the X2 because that’s not how it feels. If anything, on the road, it feels more like a hot hatchback than a coupe-like SUV. It’s low, so you don’t feel like you’re sitting up high, even with the odd seating position. And because it’s low, wide and stubby, there’s very little body roll, allowing it to feel nimble and light on its feet.
Our car had the optional Dynamic Handling Package equipped, which gave it what BMW calls “M Sports Steering”. I didn’t sample an X2 without that, so I’m not sure how much of a difference it actually makes, but I can say that it steers surprisingly well with it. Steering weight is heavy, shockingly so for what the car is. I’ve driven the X1 and its steering is very light. The X2’s is heavy, heavier than I remember even the M2 being. It’s also precise and sports a quick ratio rack, making it feel very sharp.
There’s also a genuinely surprising amount of front-end grip, which allows you to push hard into corners with little understeer, and make it out the other side alive. It is still a front-wheel drive based crossover, so it’s not going to be the sharpest tool in the shed, but it’s genuinely fun to drive hard and far more so than we would have ever anticipated.
The ride is also firm, far firmer than expected. It’s never harsh, as it’s well damped and bumps are dealt with in one vertical motion, which is nice. But it’s seriously firm and feels more like a sports car than a crossover. Personally, I like that but I’m not so sure customers will love it. Being that our car had the aforementioned handling package, it also had Dynamic Damper Control, which gave it adjustable dampers. In Comfort, it was still pretty firm, so we’re wondering if maybe customers who aren’t looking for a sporty ride would prefer the standard suspension setup. Or just an X1 instead.
Down on Power, Not Fun
One of the biggest criticisms thrown at the X2 when it was first revealed was its power, or lack thereof. With only 228 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque on tap, the BMW X2 doesn’t have the most potent of powerplants. BMW claims a 0-60 mph time of 6.3 seconds for our xDrive-equipped model. That’s an entirely believable claim but it might actually be a touch quicker than that. Six seconds flat might be a bit more realistic.
Either way, though, you won’t be wanting for more power on the road. On the twisty Box Canyon road outside of Thermal, no one was complaining about a power deficiency. The X2’s little turbo-four had more than enough punch to move it through corners with enthusiasm. In fact, its lack of extreme power actually made it really easy to get back on the power early, let xDrive sort out the grip, and fire you out of corners. Being that we were on public roads, I won’t disclose my speed but I never once thought it needed more power.
On the track, its lack of power was evident, though, as MINI JCWs were walking away from the X2 out of corners with ease. The X2 could hang with the MINIs in the corners but it was no match once the road straightened out. Though, that is meaningless, as the BMW X2 was never designed to be a track toy. It’s a road-going car designed to be fun and practical at the same time. And it does that brilliantly. It’s a momentum car, one that’s fun to string a couple of corners together with, not a straight-line burner.
Style and Fun Aren’t Cheap
While the BMW X2 is smaller than its X1 counterpart, it’s actually more expensive. The BMW X2 ($38,400) xDrive28i costs a whopping $4,500 more than an X1 xDrive28i ($33,900). Yes, there’s the cheaper BMW X2 sDrive28i ($36,400) but that’s only front-wheel drive. So if you want style and sporty handling, you’re going to have to pay for it.
Having said that, it’s worth it. If you’re a BMW enthusiast who’s always driven small, sporty cars, such as the 2 Series and 3 Series, but now need something a bit more practical to accommodate your young family or active lifestyle, the X2 is worth the extra money over the X1. It will provide you with a lot of the sporty handling and fun-to-drive dynamics that you’re used to, while still being practical. Is the X2 as fun to drive as the 2 Series? Of course not. But it’s not as far off as you’d think and its combination of fun and practicality is hard to beat in the segment.
The BMW X2 had the odds stacked against it when it first debuted. Not only was it another coupe-like crossover, the sort of vehicle that drives BMW purists nuts, but it’s front-wheel drive, which is the stuff of nightmares for said purists. However, after having driven the new BMW X2, I can confidently say that it has defied the odds. The BMW X2 is a surprisingly good car that I think a lot of enthusiasts will need to drive to believe and that customers are going to love.