Johannesburg - German car companies are often accused of getting so carried away with a particular corporate design language that most of their model lines end up looking annoyingly similar. Many referred to the “same sausage, three different lengths” phenomenon when discussing BMW’s sedans of the 1990s, and that quip could easily apply to many modern BMWs, Audis and Mercs.
Yet regardless of whether spreading the design love might actually be a good thing - if one has a winning formula, that is - you could never point such accusations at BMW’s first-ever X2.
Though in concept it aims to bring the coupe-inspired-crossover spirit of its larger X4 and X6 siblings into a smaller package, the X2 really doesn’t look anything like its siblings. It's the new BMW family rebel. Certainly not on the same subversion level as its M Coupe uncle, but you get the drift (although the X2 doesn’t, which we’ll get to soon).
Think of it as that sibling who vapes funny flavours and jumps out of aeroplanes, while its brothers are out playing a sensible game of golf.
You see it in the overall look and the smaller details. The Hofmeister kink doesn’t cross over the rear door line, for instance, and there’s a BMW badge on the C-pillar in an apparent nod to its 3.0 CSL ancestor, while the ‘double kidney’ grille is basically upside down.
And what’s not to like about that?
The X2 strikes a refreshing pose in the crossover segment, looking more like a pumped up hot hatch than a scaled-down 4x4. It’s fairly low-slung (7cm lower than an X1) and fitted with 19-inch rims and low profile rubber as standard, so it’s really not made for the rough stuff, although it does have a higher stance and seating position than a regular car - something that’s oh-so important to most of today’s car buyers.
The ‘base trim’ X2 isn’t available in South Africa, so the M Sport is the starter model and there’s also an M Sport X derivative with a 10mm-higher ground clearance and a more rugged looking body kit featuring a good dose of contrasting Frozen Grey exterior trim.
Despite what its racy looks might lead you to assume however, the X2 doesn’t ride on one of the brand’s sportier rear-wheel-drive platforms, instead it’s formed around BMW’s ULK front-wheel-drive architecture that also underpins the X1 and the entire Mini range. With this, of course, comes its own set of pros and cons.
The upside is that the X2 is surprisingly spacious, with a fit-for-the-holidays 470 litre boot and ample rear legroom, although taller occupants will find headroom on the tight side. This is in spite of its relatively compact dimensions - at 4360mm long it’s exactly the same length as a Toyota CH-R, although the BMW is almost 30mm wider. It shares its 2670mm wheelbase with the X1, although the X2 is 79mm shorter.
The downside of its ULK underpinnings is that it’s not as entertaining to drive as the rear-driven models - although it’s debatable whether many target buyers are going to mind that. The petrol-powered X2s are all front-wheel-driven, in fact, while the 2-litre diesel comes with BMW’s xDrive all-wheel-drive system as standard, but even the front-driven models handle quite neatly. On the downside, the electric power steering system lacks sensation when the car is in its default settings (although the Sport drive mode sorts this out), and the ride is a little on the firm side, albeit still acceptably comfortable.
We spent a week with the sDrive20i, which is the top petrol model, priced at R650 000. It’s powered by BMW’s familiar 2-litre TwinPower turbopetrol engine that’s good for 141kW and 280Nm, and paired with a slick-shifting seven-speed dual-clutch transmission. It offers strong and effortless performance, but in foot-flat mode it’s never going to offer you any delusions of boy racer grandeur.
There’s also a slightly more affordable option in the form of the sDrive18i. Starting at R578 000, it’s powered by a 103kW version of BMW’s 1.5-litre turbo-triple.
The X2’s cabin design imparts the same sporty vibes as the car’s exterior, and the textures and materials have a high-quality feel. It’s certainly one of BMW’s best modern efforts, but if you want to stock it up with all the cool stuff then you’ll need to stretch that budget even further.
BMW’s iDrive operating system comes standard, linked to a 16.5cm screen, but you’ll need another R23 600 if you want the fancier Navigation Plus system, which gives you touch-screen functionality through a 22.3cm screen. It’s a very agreeable interface, with smart-looking graphics and a main-menu screen with three configurable tiles.
Buyers can opt for a whole raft of camera-based driving assistance gizmos, including City Braking with collision and pedestrian warning, Active Cruise Control with Stop & Go and High Beam Assist, to name a few.
The X2 is probably not going to find a place in the hearts of those that appreciate old-school BMW driving dynamics. And yet the X2’s distinctive styling and classy interior will likely attract those seeking something that feels sportier than your average crossover or SUV. It’s pricey though.