First Drive: 2018 BMW X2

As I see it, BMW’s all-new X2 becoming a big seller for the Bavarian brand is pretty much a given. It’s got all the right ingredients for success: right-sized packaging, My First Luxury Car pricing, and contemporary styling that’ll make it an appropriate automotive fashion accessory for the young urban executive.

BMW’s X2 delivers on its performance promise on-road (and even off).

What’s more, it has the BMW roundel affixed not only to the nose and tail, but each flank as well. This is a smart move since the compact luxury SUV category seems to be growing by the day, and there are only so many ways you can reskin that cat, so placing some prominent branding – especially for such a coveted brand – makes good sense.

And for those who find those D-pillar badges unbecoming, might I remind you of the vaunted 3.0 CSL super car that also sported them? There is precedence here.

But really, the X2 didn’t need those blue-and-white side logos for recognition. It’s as distinctive a design as one can get in the category, and where many of the smallest lux-utes are a little too cutesy in their appearance, BMW has given the X2 a squat profile that looks more serious than some of the competitors. Better still, despite the up-swept character lines and a minimal greenhouse profile, the fashion isn’t at the expense of practicality, the way it is on a “sport activity coupe” with its overly raked roofline (yes X4, I’m looking at you).

With snazzy 19-inch wheels (a part of the M Sport X package), and beautifully finished in one of the Skittles colours offered (the hue seen here is Sunset Orange, but Galvanic Gold also suits it very well), I think BMW’s designers have nailed it, with only the Range Rover Evoque giving it a run for the styling prize in the category.

Inside, things are a little more conservative. Those familiar with contemporary BMW products will find plenty of familiarity in the switchgear, steering wheel, gauges, and of course the iDrive infotainment system. With plenty of years of refinement under its belt, BMW has honed iDrive into the smooth operator it is today.

Navigating the menus is intuitive and operation through the rotary-dial-with-touchpad allows the designers to place the screen high on the dash, closer to the driver’s line of sight (and preventing smudgy fingerprints on the screen). Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are still part of costly option packages, shamefully, and as in other BMWs, the heads-up display still disappears with polarized glasses, but otherwise, ergonomically, the X2 works well.

Finished in oyster-coloured Sensatec leatherette, the front sport seats are comfortable and supportive enough for some spirited driving should the young urbanite owners decide to tackle some twisty backroads. Their light colour helps keep the front cabin bright and airy, aided by the panoramic moonroof (also part of an option package). But with narrow window openings and the very wide D-pillars, the rear seat is a little cave-like.

That said, dimensionally, there is adequate room for a pair of grown adults back there, with rear legroom being greater than either the Evoque or Volvo’s new XC40. Headroom though, is at a slight premium versus the competitors. Cargo space is at 470 L with the rear seat up, and 1,355 L with it down, which splits the difference between the Rover and the Volvo in terms of volume.

So, based on its smooth style and brand alone, the X2 should be a sales triumph. But it’s also a no-brainer that this little rig will be well-suited for driving the urban jungle. The tidy dimensions and a suspension tuned for handling prowess over ride suppleness give the X2 the nimbleness and manoeuvrability expected in the class. Parking is a breeze, though the rear camera is appreciated since those big D-pillars that help to darken the rear of the cabin also create sizable blind spots.

BMW’s media folks are so confident in the X2’s handling capabilities that they made a trio of them available to us not only for on-road driving, but also at their western track facility at Thermal Raceway near Palm Springs.

While it’s nice to have the opportunity to burn up someone else’s tires and brakes on a race track, no sensible buyer is going to use an X2 for their track-day fixes. So, my driving partner and I elected for more real-world testing and set out for the lightly travelled (and heavily twisted) roadways around the Salton Sea. Here we confirmed the little BMW’s delight in being pressed into corners with significant gusto. What’s more, even at speeds one might encounter when passing slow-moving traffic, the X2 is smooth and stable. While stiff in a typical Germanic way, the ride isn’t harsh.

The X2’s smooth moves on road and highway apply surprisingly well off-road as well. Just as no one should treat this little urban assault machine as a track weapon, it is in no way intended to be an off-road rock-crawler either. Nevertheless, my driving companion thought it a wise idea to tread off the beaten path, directly into the desert and deep into its coarse sand. Anticipating a call to BMW’s gracious media personnel to come and tow us out, the X2’s xDrive all-wheel drive system instead managed to keep the BMW moving forward, and back out on to the paved road without much difficulty at all.

Inspired by my co-driver’s sandy antics and impressed by the X2’s capability, I took my own turn and aimed the little sport ute up a rugged access road that scaled the spine of a mountain toward a communication tower at its summit. While it didn’t quite reach the top before the road-oriented tires simply couldn’t find any more traction, the little BMW nevertheless made it much further up the steep and rocky slope than either of us had expected.

As an exercise far more punishing than most owners would ever have cause to tackle, it suggests X2 buyers should have no troubles making it to the cottage or to the ski lodge.

Like BMW’s X1 on which the X2 is based, power comes exclusively from a turbocharged, 2.0L four-cylinder engine. This is in keeping with what the Evoque and XC40 offer, though power from each of the competitors is greater than the X2’s 228 hp. Still, torque is what matters more in daily driving and here the X2 is competitive with 258 lb-ft at only 1,250 rpm. BMW clocks the X2 at 6.5 seconds from zero to 100 km/h, which feels right to me. The engine is coarse-sounding when pressed though, and presents more cabin noise than is expected from a premium-priced machine.

Like its competitors, the BMW’s power is directed through an eight-speed automatic transmission. BMW offers “Normal”, “EcoPro” and “Sport” drive modes, and in its most performance-oriented setting, the X2’s transmission feels livelier, snapping off quick (yet still smooth) shifts. Paddle shifters help make for a more engaging experience, though in Sport mode, the transmission does a fine job of downshifting with immediacy when needed.

BMW’s X2 delivers on its performance promise on-road (and even off). It’s comfortable, decently practical and properly stylish; everything a competitive machine in this growing segment needs. Priced competitively starting at $42,250 and with those BMW badges proudly boasting the owner’s status, the X2’s success should be a given.

Pricing: 2018 BMW X2

X2 xDrive28i: $42,250

Urban fashion accessory. 3/1/2018 6:30:00 AM