BMW’s first four-cylinder M Performance model takes the fight to the Audi SQ2 over class honours in the premium compact crossover market.

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There is a reasonable chance that you won’t like the look of this week’s road test subject: the new top-of-the-range performance version of the BMW X2 designer crossover hatchback. The Munich firm knows that. You might even say it was counting on it.

‘Polarising’ is how BMW chooses to describe the appearance and positioning of this £44,235, 300-horsepower, four-wheel-drive, high-rise family five-door nknown as the BMW X2 M35i, which is the new star attraction of a model range that we’ve yet to run the road test ruler over in any form.

Roundels on the X2’s C-pillars supposedly hark back to classic BMW models such as the 2000 CS and 3.0 CSL. Make of that what you will.

The X2 is a car intended to be either loved or hated, then; to trade in the usual crossover design cues at bolder and more eye-catching visual volume than most cars of its type, even in entry-level form; and to make a statement about the individualism of its youthful, boundlessly freethinking owner (apparently). By the time that styling volume is turned up to M Performance decibels, it ought to be capable of producing a reaction from almost anyone.

Not that we’ll be dwelling over the next couple of thousand words on the way you might instinctively feel about this car, or what the new X2 M35i might say about the person driving it. Rather, we’ll be interrogating how it performs and handles, and what it might be like to drive and to live with on a daily basis on UK roads, as the Autocar road test always sets out to do.

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We’ll also be assessing whether this is a car worthy of BMW’s still fairly new, lower-stratum M Performance billing – never mind a price every bit as likely to raise an eyebrow as any visually rowdy exterior styling makeover that BMW could come up with.

The performance crossover niche is growing, after all. Can this BMW rule its emergent roost – and, more important, is it one you should buy into?

The BMW X2 range at a glance

The 302bhp BMW X2 M35i is something of an outlier in the X2 range and the only model to be tuned by M division, which is also responsible for supersaloons such as the BMW M3. All X2s use a four-cylinder turbo engine, apart from the entry-level petrol three-pot BMW X2 sDrive20i. Engines are mated to either a six-speed manual in lesser variants or, optionally, a seven-speed dualclutch automatic, which is available across the range. Only the M35i gets a ZF eight-speed torque-converter automatic, though.

Price £44,235 Power 302bhp Torque 332lb ft 0-60mph 5.0sec 30-70mph in fourth 6.7sec Fuel economy 31.0mpg CO2 emissions 157g/km 70-0mph 46.4m



BMW X2 M35i 2019 road test review - hero side

The X2 shares its UKL2 platform with the BMW Group’s bigger Mini models and the brand-new, predominantly front-driven, third-generation 1 Series hatchback. It’s built in the same factory as the 1 Series, in Regensburg, Germany. And if you’ve been following BMW’s strategy with its latest small cars, you’ll know that means our test car uses a transverse-mounted engine and that many derivatives also have driven front wheels.

The X2 M35i isn’t one of those derivatives, though – not least because it packs a serious-sounding 302bhp from BMW’s first M Performance-branded four-cylinder engine. A version of the B48 2.0-litre turbo four-pot used in cars as different as the Mini Cooper S and BMW 530e, the new overhauled performance engine gets a new crankshaft with larger main bearings, new pistons and a new intake system and runs a lower compression ratio than other B48 motors as well as a bigger turbocharger.

Dual tailpipes are suitably cannon-like and finished in the same Cerium Grey as the wing mirror caps. Look closely and you can see the flap that opens and shuts when you engage Sport mode.

The 302bhp it makes comes shortly after 332lb ft of torque, which is on tap from as little as 1750rpm. If that sounds like plenty of torque for a car of this size, you can believe that BMW’s M division engineers thought so, too – which is why the X2 M35i gets a clutch-based four-wheel drive system, a specially adapted rear axle compared with other all-paw X2s and a limited-slip differential in the front axle to help it put its power down.

The electromechanical power steering system has also been in receipt of re-specifying and retuning attention, having been made more direct (to a ratio of 15.0:1, down from 15.9 in other X2s).

Lowered passive M Sport suspension, uprated brakes, and 20in rims with run-flat tyres are fitted as standard, although adaptive dampers are part of the M Sport Plus package. That said, choose this and you’ll also have to go for smaller, 19in alloys, as the adaptive set-up isn’t compatible with the larger wheels.

BMW is offering the car in six colours, the brightest of which are Misano Blue, Galvanic Gold and Sunset Orange – and not all of those are unique to the M35i. It’ll perhaps be easiest to spot from its peers by the Cerium Grey body trim that BMW has chosen to distinguish it – on the door mirror caps, the kidney grille surrounds and the exhaust tips. Even those testers who didn’t particularly like it agreed it was at least an interesting change from gloss black or chrome.


BMW X2 M35i 2019 road test review - dashboard

From the driver’s seat, the X2 M35i’s cabin does feel a bit tight and close-quartered. That’s hardly surprising, you might say, given that the car’s exterior dimensions are more swollen hatchback than compact SUV, but even compared with what you might think of as a typical family hatchback, the front half of BMW’s new performance crossover does feel a touch hemmed in. Still, it’s hardly a deal-breaker and, alongside its rivals in the admittedly rather small pool of performance crossovers, the X2 sits at the top of the pile for its cabin’s visual and material appeal.

A more attractive blend of materials is used to greater effect within the X2 than those you get in, say, an Audi SQ2. Textured aluminium panelling runs across the tops of the doors and the dashboard fascia and glossy piano black is used modestly on the centre console and for the air-con control surrounds.

Cloth-upholstered seats both felt and looked as sporty as you’d expect them to be, which is to say rather good indeed.

Meanwhile, contrasting blue stitching combined with sporty fabric seats and coloured interior lighting all lend the X2 a healthy dose of performance intent. Of course, similar amounts of moulded, soft-touch plastic are employed on the X2’s dash top, but the harder, scratchier plastics that are so easily spotted in the Audi aren’t quite as obvious here.

The X2 trumps the SQ2 on practicality, too, although this is a product of its marginally larger proportions. Given the closeness of the BMW’s front row, the relative expansiveness afforded to those sat in the rear pews is welcome indeed. Whereas some of our testers felt as though they had to straddle the front seats when sat in the back of the Audi, those same knees comfortably cleared the seatbacks in the BMW. It feels as though there is more room for your head in the X2, too.

As for boot space, with the 40/20/40-split folding rear seats in place, the BMW provides 470 litres of storage capacity, compared with the Audi’s 355-litre effort. The boot floor is usefully flat and, although there is a small lip to navigate, the aperture is wide enough so as not to make loading heavy, bulky items more unpleasurable than it needs to be.

Our test car had the £1260 Tech pack, which – in addition to adding wireless charging, enhanced Bluetooth and a headup display – includes BMW Navigation Plus. This replaces the standard car’s 8.8in display with a 10.25in screen.

The infotainment software employed by the X2 might be a bit older than that which you’d find in the latest generation of BMW vehicles, but the fact remains that it’s still impressively slick. The graphics are sharp and the level of detail present in the mapping software is very high indeed. That it all runs with minimal latency and is easy to learn and operate means it’s still one of the better systems currently available.

Our test car was also fitted with the £995 M35i Plus package, which would be worth forking out for just for the 600W Harman Kardon hi-fi system it adds. The sound quality is very impressive, remaining rich, clear and distortion free even at high volume.


BMW X2 M35i 2019 road test review - engine

Gone are the days when BMW’s ‘35i’ designation guaranteed you six cylinders, although in terms of performance, owners of the four-pot X2 M35i will have little cause for complaint.

Slotting the eight-speed automatic gearshift across into Sport mode and setting the ESC to Dynamic allows the driver to engage launch control, whereby the engine can be held at 2600rpm before the four-wheel-drive system fires the car consistently and cleanly off the line. Our best efforts resulted in a 0-60mph time of 5.0sec – quick but still 0.5sec adrift of the marginally less powerful but lighter and supremely accelerative Audi SQ2.

Throttle response was a bit too muted for me, as though the first quarter of the pedal’s travel was a dead zone, with activity only really happening once you pushed on through. Well mannered past that point, mind.

Still, the BMW does more to entertain, gargling enthusiastically (if somewhat synthetically) at lower engine speeds and working its way up the gearbox with clinically quick shifts delivered with a light but satisfying kick. Neither does this modified B48 engine feel suffocated as it approaches the 6700rpm redline – even if, ultimately, it’s no match for one of BMW’s famed straight sixes.

And yet the real appeal of this excellent engine lies in more mundane, everyday applications. Unlike with certain Volkswagen Group models of comparable performance, the middle gear ratios are well spaced and, combined with the balloon of torque that becomes fully inflated beneath your right foot from 1750rpm, the X2 M35i exhibits a mid-range turn of pace as brutal as it is unobtrusive. Accelerating from 30mph to 70mph in fourth gear, the BMW is more than a second quicker than the Audi and almost two seconds quicker than the Cupra Ateca.

Despite using a larger turbo than the standard B48 engine deploys in the 330i and 630i, among others, BMW’s most powerful 2.0-litre to date doesn’t suffer overly from lag, either, although naturally you’ll find a slight hesitation after throttle inputs. Combined with the excellent, silken manners of the gearbox when left to its own devices and in its softer mode, this driveline is supremely broad-batted. Meanwhile, braking performance is good initially, with a firm, meaty pedal feel, but it’s prone to fade with hard road use.


BMW X2 M35i 2019 road test review - on the road front

In mechanical terms, the X2 M35i is so far removed from BMW’s dynamic heartland that it seems foolish to go looking for the traits that make even a basic diesel 3 Series rewarding to drive. So forget for a moment about the balance that comes naturally to rear-driven saloons, and don’t expect to find the same clean, light and communicative steering response.

It’s simply not that kind of BMW. As an all-wheel-drive crossover, the X2 M35i instead needs to major on traction and stability, and it does so to an impressive degree. It starts with the steering, which, despite M division’s tuning, isn’t as quickly geared as we might have expected. However, it isn’t nearly so laid back as to make the X2 M35i feel reluctant on turn-in and it is well matched to the roll rates of our test car’s passive sports suspension.

It dispatches corners competently and, if desired, with considerable speed but it’s more about sure-footed stability than the engagement and balance of a BMW saloon

The result is a car that feels particularly composed on the way in to the corners. The standard-fit limited-slip differential in the front axle then works to rotate the car and, deftly aided by the driven rear axle, allows the X2 M35i to drive through and out of corners with explosive dexterity by the standards of the class. In the dry, the car’s resistance to understeer is also evident and this owes much to body control that feels overly firm at low speeds but operates with a tight fluidity as speeds rise. For competence and speed, the BMW wants for little. At the same time, it lacks any real star quality.

What limited feel there is in the steering seems to evaporate when you want it most, and although the chassis is clearly agile (and not impervious to rotating gently on a trailing brake), there’s little joy or real involvement in the driving process. Configured with the M Sport Plus pack and all its ingredients, there might be a shade more handling balance and involvement about the car but, we’d wager, probably still not as much as a long-standing BMW enthusiast might expect.

On the Hill Route at Millbrook proving ground, the X2 M35i didn’t show quite the level of agility we’d expect of a hot hatch built to similar specifications, but its raised centre of gravity barely held it back in terms of cold, hard pace.

The limited-slip front differential helps the car to resist understeer effectively and lays the foundation for an enjoyable sense of balance through tighter corners, where the X2 M35i stays doggedly true to one’s desired line and tracks rapidly from entry to exit with little body roll.

That said, approach the limits of this chassis and the electronics – predominantly the ABS and ESP system – begin to become too dominant, which is perhaps an admission that the car isn’t entirely comfortable being wrung out. The steering is also relatively remote and, although accurate, is less responsive off centre than we’ve become used to on quick crossover hatchbacks.

Overall, M division’s effort never feels quite as fluid on track as we’d hoped but is impressive point to point.


While the X2 M35i is available with adaptive dampers if you also opt for smaller 19in rims, our test car’s 20in alloys meant it had to make do with the standard passive set-up. As such, the BMW’s ride quality is the same in Comfort mode as in Dynamic, which is to say that it’s never what you’d call genuinely comfortable.

On its lowered, stiffened M Sport suspension, it struggles to cope with the UK’s pockmarked roads. Lumpen, irregular surfaces cause its body to become animated and unsettled, while deeper ruts, holes and expansion joints make themselves felt with audible, forceful intrusions.

A level of ride aggression is to be expected in such a performance-oriented car, but interestingly the X2 seems to make more of a play of its ability to sniff out these surface imperfections than the Audi SQ2 did. The fact that it rides on those larger 20in alloys (the SQ2 had 19in wheels) – which are, in turn, shod in run-flat tyres – is likely to be a contributing factor.

Still, its cloth-upholstered seats do a far better job of holding you in place than the Audi’s chairs do. They’re impressively adjustable, too, and are capable of positioning you low down in the X2’s elevated cabin.

Refinement is by no means outstanding, though, with those larger alloys generating a pronounced amount of road roar. At a 70mph cruise, our sound gear recorded cabin noise at 70dB, which is some way off the SQ2’s 68dB effort.


BMW X2 M35i 2019 road test review - hero front

The X2 M35i is an expensive car. Prices for this performance crossover start at £44,235, making it £8110 more expensive than the Audi SQ2 – its closest conceptual rival, and a car that we already thought of as being a mite pricey when we road tested it earlier this year.

Of course, most of that premium goes towards the extensive mechanical changes the M Performance treatment entails, but the roster of standard equipment is still reasonable enough. Creature comforts such as satellite navigation, heated seats, DAB radio and cruise control are all included, but the level of additional financial commitment required to specify an X2 up to the same level as our test car is considerable.

I’d still pick one of these over the equivalent Audi or Cupra, but I’d take an M135i hot hatch over all of them. In this case, the benefits of going ‘crossover’ are so faint as to be invisible.

Options such as the £1260 Tech pack (which adds a head-up display, wireless phone charging and more) and the £995 M35i Plus package (M seats, Harman Kardon hi-fi, sun protection glass) – among others – pushed the price of our X2 M35i up to £48,630.

Forecasts are pretty bleak when it comes to residual values, too – comparatively speaking, at least. After 36,000 miles and three years, the BMW is expected to retain just 44% of its original value, compared with 58% for the Audi.



BMW X2 M35i 2019 road test review - static side

With the original BMW X5, BMW showed the world that an SUV could be made to handle properly, but this new clique of performance crossovers is arguably a harder nut to crack. Powerful but efficient small-capacity engines and an architecture akin to that of a traditional hot hatch make them relatively unfamiliar territory for the company and it joins the race not because it wants to, but because it feels it has to from a commercial standpoint.

On the one hand, the X2 M35i wants nothing for performance and its new four-cylinder powertrain is a highlight of the package, operating with muscular refinement and no small amount of character. On the other, its low-speed ride quality is simply not good enough to support the case for everyday use. In the middle are dynamics that fail to thrill but form the foundation of a supremely quick and sure-footed all-weather family car that can entertain, albeit lightly, when the moment arises.

A committed effort that strikes the wrong compromise in this class

It’s enough to make the X2 M35i the most rousing driver’s car of its kind, but not the most rounded, and at this elevated price, you expect a broader spread of talent.


Matt Saunders

Matt Saunders Autocar
Title: Road test editor

As Autocar’s chief car tester and reviewer, it’s Matt’s job to ensure the quality, objectivity, relevance and rigour of the entirety of Autocar’s reviews output, as well contributing a great many detailed road tests, group tests and drive reviews himself.

Matt has been an Autocar staffer since the autumn of 2003, and has been lucky enough to work alongside some of the magazine’s best-known writers and contributors over that time. He served as staff writer, features editor, assistant editor and digital editor, before joining the road test desk in 2011.

Since then he’s driven, measured, lap-timed, figured, and reported on cars as varied as the Bugatti Veyron, Rolls-Royce PhantomTesla RoadsterAriel Hipercar, Tata Nano, McLaren SennaRenault Twizy and Toyota Mirai. Among his wider personal highlights of the job have been covering Sebastien Loeb’s record-breaking run at Pikes Peak in 2013; doing 190mph on derestricted German autobahn in a Brabus Rocket; and driving McLaren’s legendary ‘XP5’ F1 prototype. His own car is a trusty Mazda CX-5.

BMW X2 (2018-2023) First drives