Words: Calvin Chan
Photography: Calvin Chan
Published: August 5, 2019
Are having too many choices a bad thing? BMW doesn’t think so, and have plugged every gap in their SUV lineup to fully exploit the needs and wants of automotive consumers. As a result, the X2 was born, a coupe-like SUV slotting between the X1 and X3 with its crosshairs swiftly aimed at the Mercedes-Benz GLA, Jaguar E-Pace, and Range Rover Evoque. Hardly short on competition, the BMW has its work cut out if it wants a slice of the coveted crossover pie. To do that, they have stuffed their most powerful four-cylinder engine under the hood to create the X2 M35i.
I’ll admit, when I first grabbed the keys and took the M35i for its maiden voyage, I knew nothing about it. I initially thought BMW had magically fitted a straight-six under the hood, as the “M35i” badge on the M235i and 335i used to allude to that setup. Forward thrust was excellent and the boost was convincing, but it was only when I listened carefully to the exhaust noise and how quickly the power tapped out past 4,500 rpm, did I dig a little further into the spec sheet.
You see, I was wrong. Very wrong. The only thing propelling this X2 is a petite 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder, but it’s not just any run-of-the-mill four-pot. It’s actually BMW”s most powerful four-cylinder engine codenamed the B48, and is married with their first front-axle limited slip differential, xDrive all-wheel drive, and launch control. BMW says it hits 0-100 km/h in 4.9 seconds, faster than the Evoque P300, Volkswagen Golf R, and even the larger V6-powered Porsche Macan S. Whereas the standard four-cylinder in 28i tune produces only 228 hp and 258 lb-ft, the M35i punches out 302 hp and 332 lb-ft. That’s from a new and reinforced crankshaft with larger main bearings, new pistons, a larger turbocharger, increased boost, and an upgraded air flow and cooling system. The M35i also rides 10mm lower courtesy of its sport suspension with stiffer spring and damper rates.
The result is one of the better handling subcompact SUVs on the market. Its chassis limits are reachable, attainable, and doesn’t need a racing license to fully exploit. Unsurprisingly, the M35i drives much like the MINI Countryman JCW, as both sit on the same platform and use the same engine. Still, the X2 doubles down on performance and sacrifices much to offer this exciting of a drive, one being its overly firm ride and noisy tires. The M35i is begging to be driven fast, and the auditory symphony that follows climaxes at the redline with a howling scream with each passing gear. The GLA 45 AMG sounds slightly angrier and more bombastic, but there’s no denying the sweet silky vocals of BMW’s power plant.
There is a significant deal of turbo lag when egging the X2 to perform, and it’s more noticeable during rolling stops and low-speed engagements. Aggressive gear shifts would further result in a large shake in the chassis, and its repeated showings became a minor annoyance when driving spiritedly. Odd, since the MINI’s gearbox is much better refined, as are other BMW’s that use this setup. Perhaps the software tuning just needs a bit of a comb over. Once the boost eventually kicks in though, hang on to your seatbelts. Three hundred horses in a small SUV weighing only 1,688 kg is enough to propel you into the stratosphere.
On the bright side, the adaptive suspension keeps body roll and pitch at an all-time minimum, and the brakes are full of bite and offer confident stopping power. With stiffened dampers, a new LSD, and sticky Pirelli P Zero rubber, the M35i ensures you’re glued to the tarmac and it’s sharper around corners than the Evoque, E-Pace, and even the GLA 45, but I wouldn't say the steering is overflowing with feedback because there isn’t any. Still, there’s enough linearity for you to confidently place the front wheels where necessary. Such is the tradeoff of a front-biased all-wheel drive system that heavily favours the front axle, but there is enough verve and vigour to justify that half-M badge.
I am not so sure about that BMW badge lodged on the C-Pillar though, but the X2 M35i is otherwise a handsome SUV that hasn’t earned much positive attention amongst my peers. I’m not really sure what they expect when designers are constrained by such odd dimensions commanded by these mini jacked up wagons. The flip side of the argument is the drop dead gorgeous Range Rover Evoque. Be that as it may, the M35i trim spices things up with Cerium Grey accents on the kidney grill, wheels, mirror caps, and exhaust tips. It looks a bit like an over-roided 2 Series that frequents the gym. The back end? Not so much. Seems like someone skipped leg day. And one more note: the twin exhaust tailpipes may look aggressive but get closer and you will realize the left one is blocked off and serves no purpose. At least it’s not as deceiving as Audi’s entirely fake exhaust outlets disguised with the rear bumper.
The interior layout is neat and not as cramped as the MINI Countryman’s. The enclosed center console with a deep glove box offers a variety of storage options for small items, and the M35i uses the old M Sport steering wheel which I frankly prefer over the new generation one. The leather wrap is thicker and feels better to grasp. The dashboard is clean with an 8.8-inch touchscreen perched nicely on top that recognizes touch inputs but can also be controlled via the rotary dial that we have all come to know and love. Clicking and rotating the wheel offers the same kind of familiarity of your personal smartphone, as does the row of shortcut buttons that drivers can program to access any infotainment function, whether it’s to navigate to your home address or to your favourite radio station.
The optional Magma Red Dakota Leather is bold and while not the easiest on the eyes, it serves to make a fashion statement. The optional M sport seats with integrated headrests are not exactly comfortable for taller or wider folks who like to sit straight up and close to the wheel. Personally, I'd save the $950 and stick with the more conventional and more comfortable standard seats. Out back, the rear seats are surprisingly spacious, with just enough legroom for my six-foot self and exceptional headroom despite its squatted roofline that belie its true inner dimensions.
There isn’t very much to put the X2 M35i against, as not many subcompact crossovers have performance-oriented specs playing in this sandbox. Admittedly, the X2 is more practical than a 2 Series and nearly as fun. If only BMW could find a way to stuff their straight-six under the hood, then we’d have a riot. The M35i is more refined than an E-Pace and sharper than a GLA 45, but the ride quality suffers because of it and makes us want to refrain from recommending it for daily duties. If a bumpy ride only serves to remind you of the racetrack and your good ol’ karting days, then you’re in for a treat. But if you’re looking for a more balanced all-rounder with similar style, functionality, and improved comfort, then a slightly more diluted X2 28i or GLA 250 should fit the bill instead.
Model: 2019 BMW X2 M35i
Paint Type: Black Sapphire Metallic
Base Price: $49,200
Price as Tested: $56,650
Length/Width/Height (mm): 4,374 / 1,824 / 1,526
Curb weight (kg): 1,688
Engine: 2.0-litre turbocharged inline-four
Horsepower: 302 hp @ 5,000 - 6,250 rpm
Torque: 332 lb-ft @ 1,750 - 4,500 rpm
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
Engine & Drive Configuration: Front engine, AWD