New Car Review: 2018 BMW X2 – Why You Shouldn’t Judge A Book By Its Cover

As a lifelong BMW fan, the enthusiast in me finds it somewhat discouraging that BMWs have given up some of their unmatched handling feel for increasingly levels of comfort, and that CUVs SAVs now account for a substantial percentage of BMW sales. Yet as a realist, I fully understand that automakers like BMW must adapt to market conditions and consumer preferences in order to survive, thus more comfortable vehicles and more CUVs.

Like anyone or anything important to me, I usually jump to defend BMW in the face of  unjust criticism. However, when BMW introduced the X2 earlier this year, I couldn’t find many kind words to say about it, and quite frankly groaned at the addition of another front-wheel drive-based BMW that looks very similar to a number of crossovers out there. But would driving one for four days change my perspective?

My extended experience with the X2 came as a result of having one as a loaner vehicle while the 540 was laid up with a flat tire and bent rim thanks to Massachusetts finest pot holes. On a side note, thankfully I purchased tire and wheel protection insurance, so my total repair bill was only my $50 deductible and not upwards of $1,000 for a 19-inch rim and run-flat tire. To anyone that lives in the northeast and buying a car with large rims and low-profile tires, just get the tire and wheel insurance as you’re playing with fire… but I digress.

The rim was on backorder and wouldn’t be in for about a week, so I was provided with a loaner vehicle, initially in the form of an X5. I actually hadn’t driven the X5 in about 2 years, and all I’ll say is thankfully a new one is coming as the F15 generation is rapidly showing its age.

Working at the dealer has its perks but also drawbacks, and as I would be there during the day, they did ask that I “return” the loaner each morning and pick a new loaner up each evening when leaving, but thankfully I only had to switch cars once over the six-day period. Upon being given my second loaner, like most BMW customers I’ve witnessed being given a loaner that’s a smaller model than their own, I kind of balked at being handed the keys to an X2, jokingly asking if there were any M5s on hand.

But I willingly accepted the X2 I was given, wanting to confirm my service advisor’s claim that I would be pleasantly surprised in how it drives versus an X1. Having driven the three other US-market BMW UK2 platform vehicles (BMW X1, MINI Clubman, and MINI Countryman), I saw some truth in this claim, as they do all in fact have noticeably different feels from behind the wheel.

Indeed I was pleasantly surprised with the X2 in more ways than one, including its handling. Versus the X1 which feels hollow and rather lifeless, the X2, while very similar, has a far more substantial feel. The steering felt better weighted for more feedback (though still lighter than I’d prefer), the ride more balanced thanks to a firmer suspension, and the overall handling superior thanks to a lower center of gravity. Real-world tests from publications such as MotorTrend have actually clocked the X2 in with superior acceleration time, quarter mile time, and average lateral acceleration to its corporate siblings, with even better figure-eight times and lateral acceleration than the VW GTI. Advantage X2.

Powered by the same B48 2.0-liter twin-scroll turbo I4 in most modern BMW/MINI products, the X2 uses the same version found in the John Cooper Works models of the Countryman and Clubman, making 228 horsepower and 258 lb-ft torque. While this is adequate power for most drivers, even in sport mode the X2 doesn’t feel terribly quick, and I could feel and hear it working with all its might when I pushed it. The option of a more powerful engine would be a welcomed addition for the enthusiast.

Inside the X2 is a pleasant place to be. Sharing its dash, center console, and door panels with the X1, the X2 gains a few upgrades such as faux stitching on both the upper and lower dashes, as well as the availability of Magma Red leather for a sporty touch. Mine had the more sobering Oyster color scheme but I was happy as the lighter color actually highlighted the general high quality of surfaces. Critics hoping for a mess of cheapness and cost-cutting will be sorely disappointed, as every surface of contact is rich in sight and touch, covered in either leather, stitched vinyl, or soft-touch plastic.

Layout is typical BMW fashion, with clear analogue gauge cluster, large integrated door pull handles, and protruding center stack angled toward the driver for easy view and reach. In familial fashion, its large infotainment/navigation screen sits atop the dash for a semi-integrated look, and can be controlled either by BMW’s console-mounted rotary knob or touch-screen. Once paired via bluetooth, as in other BMWs with iDrive 6.0 I’ve experienced, my phone and all its compatible apps such as Spotify instantly synced each time I got in the car. Apple CarPlay is available, but trails iDrive 6.0 in feedback and resolution.

Make no mistake that this is an entry-level, front-wheel drive based BMW, as switchgear such as gearshift selector, radio panel, and smaller nav screen, along with low driveshaft tunnel and thus low center console give hint to that. With that in mind, the X2 in no way feels like a downgrade any more than competing brands’ smaller, entry-level models do from larger siblings. Standard features include power tailgate, adaptive cornering LED headlights, 6-color interior ambient lighting, with items such as all-wheel drive, head-up display, heated steering wheel, panoramic moonroof, lane departure warning, and adaptive cruise control available.

The X2’s seating position was among the most pleasant surprises to me, as I was expecting it to feel like the Countryman, which I’ve never really been able to get quite the “just right” position in. Maybe it was just luck but I quickly found my perfect seating position, still feeling as if I were sitting “in” rather than “on” the car, yet high enough that you don’t feel like you’re on the floor, with no strain on any part of my often sore runners legs. The front sports seats themselves provide excellent support and comfort, with manually extendable thigh cushions and power adjustable side bolsters allowing me to have the “cradled” feel I prefer.

I went in hating this car and wanting to confirm my suspicions, yet the X2 proved a pleasant surprise, and I actually really liked it. Despite my initial reservations, the X2 is a enjoyable, lively, and comfortable daily driver, bestowing the BMW qualities functional interiors, premium amenities, rev-happy engines, doors that close with a solid Teutonic thud, and above all, fun-to-drive nature. Yet for all intents and purposes, this is a BMW that is an entry-level, front-wheel drive-based, subcompact CUV. Does this make it a true BMW?

I’m hard-pressed to reaching the verdict on the one. As an very purist BMW enthusiast, I find it hard to confidently say “yes”, as I couldn’t help but feel the X2 was lacking some essential BMW quality. Yet, said quality, if it even exists, is something I can’t clearly define, so maybe it could be my own pride and unwillingness to accept such a different type of BMW that is getting in the way. What I can confidently say is that the X2 is easily the best subcompact CUV that I’ve had the fortune of personally experiencing, which brings me to the question: Would I ever consider driving one?

My answer would have to be yes, as if you couldn’t tell, I very comfortably warmed up to the X2. While a subcompact CUV is not the type of vehicle that fits my needs and wants at this time, who knows what my life situation will be in a few years. Maybe I’ll take up a new sport or hobby requiring more cargo space, or maybe I’ll get a big dog? Maybe I’ll be in the position of having a mortgage and wanting to lower my car payment by a substantial amount while still having some familiar BMW feel in a car?

So while I don’t see a BMW X2 in my future, I can say that I found it a very competitive and fun-to-drive little CUV, much to my surprise. It definitely occupies a niche segment of the market, bound to trail its more ordinary and less expensive X1 sibling in sales by a substantial amount. That being said, if anyone is intrigued by the X2, it might help to know that BMW’s incentives on it are quite good right now, making it possible to even lease or purchase one for less than a comparably equipped X1. And please, do yourself a favor and get the tire and wheel protection. With rims getting larger and the amount of rubber between the and the road getting thinner, you’re flirting with disaster if you live in pothole-laden Massachusetts.