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.
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.