The beauty of the desert is not immediately apparent. It is a stark, dry, hot, punishing place with a landscape shaped by the wind, scorched by the sun, and nourished by the occasional rain. It all seems so simple, sparse, and unchanging. It’s only when you look closer that you see the depth of its complex ecosystem and the beauty in its austerity.
Driving the BMW X2 and enjoying the way it clung to the twisty pavement of Box Canyon Road just outside of Palm Springs, it struck me that there are a lot of similarities between the surrounding landscape and the car I was driving. What seems at first glance to be just another compact crossover is something really more upon closer inspection.
That’s not to say that the X2 looks ordinary, it just fits nicely within the latest conventions of the CUV category. Like this generation of small utes from Mercedes-Benz, Infiniti, and Jaguar, the X2 is more carlike, with a lower roofline and a broad, confident stance. The inverted signature kidney grill is a contemporary expression of BMW’s seemingly immortal design language. The all-LED headlights include cornering lamps that wrap around the side of the crossover and serve as the genesis for a strong character line that runs the length of the body into the LED tail lamps. The roofline tapers off toward the tail ending in a natty spoiler that accentuates the car’s sporting intent. A nice touch is the BMW roundel embedded in the c-pillar which breaks up the large surface and, we’re told by BMW, harkens back to its use on two classic BMW coupes 2000 CS and 3.0 CSL.
Inside, the X2 feels clean and purposeful, as a BMW should. In its front-wheel-drive base trim, with a starting price of $36,400, it’s not exactly spartan with soft touch Sensatec synthetic leather surfaces, contrast stitching, and the high-tech digital instrument panel and multimedia display. You can take the X2 upscale by loading on options like xDrive all-wheel drive, the premium tier which adds a panoramic moonroof, head-up display, heated steering wheel, and navigation. You can also upgrade the to Dakota leather, including a daring new color Magma Red. Opt for 19-inch wheels, the premium Harman Kardon surround sound system, driver assist, and dynamic handling packages and the X2’s sticker price climbs over $50,000.
Looking for more engagement? That’s where the X2 M Sport X comes in. It doesn’t change the performance. You still get the 228 horsepower 2.0 L four-cylinder engine with its twin-scroll turbocharger. In both versions, it’s surprisingly peppy. 0-60 happens in just 6.3 seconds. Power is provided to either the front or all wheels (if you opt for xDrive) via an 8-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters. What the M Sport X adds to an already fun to drive vehicle is the availability of 20-inch wheels and tires and the option of an M Sport suspension that tightens things up in the twisty bits. You also get an M Sport steering wheel and a lot of other trim pieces on the exterior and interior reminding you and everyone else that this is the sporty version of the X2. Check every box in when ordering an X2 M Sport X and the price climbs to $52,000 and change.
Space up front is ample and well packaged for the driver and passenger. The rear seat is, however, is a little less so. I wouldn’t subject any of my adult friends to a cross-country (heck, even a cross-county) trip in the X2. As you’d expect with the X2, storage space behind the second row is limited with just 21.6 cubic feet for bags, groceries, and a soccer ball or two. With the back seats folded flat that grows to 50.1 cubic feet, which is better, but still less than its more traditionally shaped CUV sibling the X1.
That’s the challenge the X2 presents. Like all of the new crossovers, it’s a compromise. It’s not a car so doesn’t offer optimal performance and handling (though driving dynamics is the X2’s strong suit) nor does it have as much utility and practicality as a corresponding SUV. At $36,400 it’s no bargain either. When BMW first sold the 2002 in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s here it was both a revelation and a relative bargain. It was small and light but roomy and quick. It was the kind of car folks in Detroit didn’t understand and could never build. Now the X2 feels very much like what it is, an Americanized version of a BMW. They’re trying to meet the desires of our SUV/crossover crazy populace with a car that still drives like a BMW. For the most part, they’ve succeeded, but it comes at a price to both the car’s cost and its character. I’m not sure either is a price worth paying.
2018 BMW X2 M Sport X
Premium 4-door, 5-passenger all-wheel-drive compact crossover
Base price: $36,400
Price as tested: $51,920 includes $995 destination and handling
Major options: xDrive All-Wheel Drive ($2,000), M Sport X Design package ($4,650), Premium Tier ($2,600), Galvanic Gold Metallic Paint ($550), Black with blue highlight Dakota Leather ($1,450), Driving Assistance Package with ACC ($1,000), Dynamic Handling Package ($600), Harman/Kardon Surround Sound System ($875), M Rear Spoiler ($150)
Engine: 2-liter, twin-scroll turbocharged, direct injected inline four cylinder
Transmission: 8-speed automatic with manual mode
Power: 228 HP @ 5,000 RPM
Torque: 258 lb.-ft. @1,450 – 4,500 RPM
Curb weight: 3,662 lbs
0-60 MPH: 6.3 seconds
Top Speed: 143 mph
EPA MPG: 21 city, 31 highway, 25 combined