Cape Town - BMW’s new X2 is, by its own admission, aimed directly at young-thinking people who refuse to be put into a box, who do things their own way and who don’t take advice.
Perched on the fence between compact SUV and premium hatchback, it tries very hard to be all things to all yuppies - and how nearly it succeeds reflects well on the Blue Propeller Boykies.
Both engine variants (two-litre turbopetrol and two-litre turbodiesel) and both trim specs (M-Sport and M-Sport X) were available at the South African launch of the X2 in and around Cape Town this week, so for the first leg - the famous Four Passes route, beloved of motorcyclists, over Helshoogte, Franschhoek Pass, Viljoen’s Pass and Sir Lowry’s Pass - we chose an sDrive20i turbopetrol in M-Sport specification for its freer-revving engine and 10mm lower ride height.
But first we had to get there, up the N1 in early-morning traffic, where the X2’s easy-going throttle response, deeply supportive seats and very effective aircon took most of the frustration out of a (very) real-world traffic situation.
The head-up display was no more intrusive than it needed to be - until the car ahead suddenly slowed (without applying brakes) and a bright red silhouette of a car, smack bang in the middle of my sightline, alerted me in good time to lift my foot off the loud pedal and concentrate on my following distance; this car has better reflexes than I do!
My only reservation was that the ride was a little harsh and tyre roar a little intrusive for a premium SUV - until my companion pointed out that the launch cars were all fitted with optional 20 inch wheels and 40 profile Pirelli P Zero radials, and that you’d get a smoother, quieter ride on the standard 19 inch hoops and deeper rubber.
As soon as we started throwing it at the twisties, however, the suspension wasn’t harsh enough, the steering a little remote and throttle response a little lazy coming out of corners, while body roll put extra stress on the outside wheels, eliciting complaints from the tyres earlier than we’d expected - until we remembered that the car was still in (default) Comfort mode.
Flicking a switch had it in Sport mode; the steering weighted up nicely, body roll all but disappeared, the tyres stopped squealing and acceleration out of corners had a whole new urge in its urgency. Franschhoek Pass disappeared in a blur of brake, turn in, turn on, repeat - brake travel a little long, we agreed, for heavy-duty hooning but more conducive to smooth progress in commuter traffic,
The steering on the front-wheel drive X2 sDrive wasn’t as precise - or as communicative - as we’ve come to expect from BMW’s rear-wheel drive hooligan tools, but up there with the best of the hot hatches, while torque steer was remarkable only for how hard you had to push before it became apparent.
Finally, near the limit, under braking into fast downhill corners in hands far more competent than mine, weight transfer induced a nervous twitch in the rear wheels. Had we been on a racing circuit with adequate ruin-off, we might have experimented to see how bad it would get, but on a mountain pass we took it as a word to the wise.
While we agreed at the end of the drive that the X2 does not offer as engaging a drive as Munich’s M machines, it offers a willing 141kW and a kick-ass seven speed double-clutch paddle shift transmission in a remarkably competent chassis, together with decent seating for four and a 470 litre boot, all at the same time - a well-balanced fence-sitting act indeed.
After lunch I took an xDrive20d in 10mm taller, M-Sport X guise around the Cape Peninsula and over the tight and very twisty Chapman’s Peak Drive. While I have nothing but good things to say about BMW’s proven two-litre turbodiesel, I was a little disappointed at first in the X2’s conventional eight-speed Steptronic transmission, as it seemed to surge between gears, rather like a Smart ForTwo (but without that car’s seasickness-inducing pitching).
I soon realised, however, that it doesn’t like you jabbing at the accelerator - just because it’s a diesel doesn’t mean you can drive it like a tractor! Once I applied a little finesse on the loud pedal the X2 floated over Kloof Nek like the civilised premium crossover it is. The suspension is no softer than that of the M-Sport version but the extra 10mm of travel gives it just that much more suppleness, for a more relaxed ride.
The xDrive permanent all-wheel drive came into its own on Chapman’s Peak, powering out of corners like it was on rails, planted as only a driven all-round vehicle can be, handling sudden changes of direction without the slightest twitchiness, even in the shady patches left damp by the previous evening’s rain.
I delivered the xDrive20d back to BMW with the impression that, yes, it is a compromise: slightly flawed, as are all compromises, but with distinctive looks and an appealingly nonconformist persona. I get the feeling that the people who buy X2s won’t give a damn about what you or I think of their choice; it’s that kind of car.