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.

Matt Saunders Autocar

Matt Saunders

Road test editor
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.

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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.

COMFORT AND ISOLATION

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.

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