CAPE TOWN, Western Cape – If there was ever a gap in a certain niche-plugging Bavarian brand’s burgeoning crossover range just begging to be filled, it was the coupé-shaped cranny separating BMW’s X1 and X3.
Lending a pleasing completeness to BMW’s alphanumeric crossover line-up – ahead of the arrival of the flagship X7 and seemingly inevitable X8, anyway – the new X2 runs on the same UKL2 platform as the X1, the 2 Series Active Tourer and Mini siblings, the Countryman and Clubman.
In the same way as the X4 is positioned as a sportier version of the X3 – and, indeed, as the X6 relates to the X5 – the latest member of the X-badged family uses the X1 as a base and adds both bolder styling and ostensibly more exuberant on-road manners.
So, is this more than merely an X1 in a swish suit? Well, before we answer that question, let’s take a closer look at the X2’s freshly tailored attire. Interestingly, the new model’s coupé-like silhouette isn’t quite as pronounced as those of the X4 and X6, even if its roofline is some 70 mm closer to the tarmac than that of the more conventionally proportioned X1. It’s also shorter overall, despite sharing the same 2 670 mm wheelbase, but boasts a dramatically rising shoulder line.
All dressed up
The exterior design is certainly distinct – and not too far removed from the daring concept we first clapped eyes on at the Paris Motor Show in 2016 – adding striking elements such as an inverted kidney grille and the retro-inspired positioning of the brand’s roundel on the C-pillar to familiar BMW styling traits like the signature (albeit slightly tweaked, in this case) Hofmeister kink. In short, the X2 undisputedly has its own visual charisma, whether you pick the standard M Sport package or the more rugged-looking M Sport X option pictured here.
And, we’re happy to report, that character filters through to the driving experience, too. While we came away suitably impressed after sampling the grippy xDrive20d variant in Portugal, the petrol-powered, front-wheel-drive derivative that forms the subject of this local driving impression (take note that a cheaper sDrive18i variant will arrive in May) offers a similarly enjoyable if less punchy experience from behind its leather-clad tiller.
The familiar turbocharged 2,0-litre petrol mill serves up 141 kW, while peak twisting force of 280 N.m is available from 1 350 r/min all the way through to 4 600 r/min. The resulting tractability, along with the deftness of the seven-speed dual-clutch transmission, lends the sDrive20i both an ease of use in comfort mode and a certain sprightliness in its most dynamic setting (the four-paw turbodiesel model, however, is still the better to drive of the two).
Under the skin
But it’s the chassis tuning that really sets the X2 apart from the model on which it is based. With M Sport suspension as standard (including a 10 mm drop in ride height), the newest member of the X family feels markedly more agile than its already nimble X1 counterpart, and noticeably more resistant to body roll, too. Add a lower-sited seating position and the X2 begins to feel more like a neat little warm hatch than a common-or-garden crossover.
This tidy handling (if not entirely BMW-like in sDrive20i form, what with grunt sent exclusively to the front axle) comes courtesy of tauter springs, which in turn, along with the relatively low-profile rubber coating the standard 19-inch alloys, results in a fairly stiffly sprung ride that is sometimes upset by poorly maintained road surfaces. Refinement levels, though, are high, even if some tyre roar does make its way into the cabin.
Inside, the X2 borrows much of its hardware – and software, in the form of the intuitive iDrive system – from the X1, although new figure-hugging front seats have been added to the mix (how much you appreciate these firmer pews will depend largely on, well, your figure).
The new model’s more dramatic shape, however, cuts into rear headroom a little, and takes a small bite out of the luggage compartment, too. Furthermore, the rear bench loses its ability to slide fore and aft. Still, the X2’s cabin is less functionally compromised than anticipated and certainly seems capable of serving the needs of a small, young family.
Plenty of competition
Ultimately, this lithe crossover-cum-hatchback is entering an already bustling segment – where the lines are becoming increasingly blurred as each automaker finds and fills another micro-niche – that will soon be further bolstered by the local arrival of the new Volvo XC40 and later the next-generation Mercedes-Benz GLA, to name but two. Indeed, the sheer number of rivals means the X2 most certainly won’t have things all its own way.
So, is it more than just a dressed-up, slightly more expensive X1? Well, despite sharing a large portion of greasy bits under the skin, there’s no doubt that the strikingly styled, markedly sharper X2 possesses a character entirely separate to that of the X1, thus appealing to an audience new to the BMW brand. Gap plugged.
See Full BMW X2 price and specs here