BMW's New Baby SUV

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Gone are the days where small families would upgrade their rusty old Ford Laser to a full-size sedan. The compact crossover-SUV is here to stay, and manufacturers are adapting to what has become the standard car of choice. Everyone from Citroen to Lamborghini are fighting to have a slice of the pie for what has become the world’s fastest growing class of vehicle.

BMW were one of the first to the crossover-SUV table back in 1999 with the launch of the hugely successful E53 X5. Here was an SUV that drove like a 3-Series sedan, had the space of a 5-Series Estate, and if you specced the 370hp V8, had the power to match the performance of an M-Sport coupe. It was a moment of brilliance, but that was nearly 20 years ago, and the demand for smaller, fuel efficient lifestyle-SUVs has seen segment busting tall-boy versions for almost all of BMWs passenger cars shift into focus. The X6, X4, X3, and the baby of the range, the X1, have all been a success in their own right, each arguing their case to be genuine alternatives to their passenger car counterparts. I’m pleased to say BMW’s latest effort is no different.

Based on the chassis of the X1, the X2 takes the platform and adds a sleeker Coupe-like body, dropping the roofline and accentuating the sporting aspirations for what is otherwise a practical family car. This X2, kindly provided by Auto Classic BMW, is an sDrive 20i with the optional M-Sport X package.

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In non-BMW nerd language, that means the car is the front-wheel-drive variant, but is specced up with some sporty trim and a more powerful engine. The M-Sport X features the M-Sport bodykit, but with a light-grey accent trim running around the lower perimeter of the body. If a more sleek look is for you, the normal M-Sport package would colour code the grey trim to body colour, masking some of the X2’s bulk. For this Mineral Grey metallic M-Sport X, I was impressed by the contrast and the subtle SUV aspirations. Both M-Sport no-cost options sit on 19” Y-spoke wheels wrapped in fantastic Dunlop Sport Maxx performance rubber.

The X2 continues to evolve BMW’s current generation design language with a chiseled and elegant style. Saying it is simply a coupe body on the X1 chassis is doing the model a bit of a disservice. You get behind the wheel of the X2 and the whole car feels sportier, lower to the ground and more nimble, and that dynamic feel translates to how the car handles on the road. Managing the dynamics of the X2 are three handy driver modes, Comfort, Sport, and Eco Pro.

Comfort mode, which the X2 sets as default, keeps the characteristics fairly tepid and manageable for day-to-day driving. The drive is comfortable and the gearbox shifts mid-way through the rev range so you ride the wave of torque rather than wringing its neck for every last rev.

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Eco Pro is the perfect mode for cruising up and down the freeway. The throttle response is dulled slightly so there’s no chance of a jerky input, and you’re rewarded by smart, efficient driving by data feedback on the cluster and iDrive system. The combined economy on our test sat around 7L/100km, more than enough to see close to 1,000km between trips to the bowser and impressive results for a small SUV. It’s also worth noting how refined the whole car feels. At 100km/h we could hold a quiet conversation in the cabin without so much as raising a syllable. There’s no rattles or harshness from the suspension as it seems to glide and road-hold without any feel of tramlining.

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Sports mode is where the X2 really shines. The whole car firms up and pedal response becomes almost telepathic. All 141kw is made readily available as the exhaust makes a bit more of a pop, the iDrive system glows red and the dual-clutch gearbox slinks through all seven of its gears with lightning speed and precision. There’s an intoxicating little turbo whistle every time you pin the throttle and an addictive whump from the wastegate on upshifts or the over-run. As a package, the X2 feels tight and composed. The steering is exceptionally sharp and direct, which produces a very impressive road-holding feel. It never really feels like a lumbering SUV, nor does it immediately strike itself as being front-wheel-drive. Dynamically, it is at the top of its class for performance, handling, and feel.

The interior is trimmed in a range of leather, alcantara and stainless steel with a dual-panel moonroof offering a light and airy interior. This X2 was specced with M-Sport bucket seats finished in a grey alcantara suede with adjustable electronic bolstering to lock you in tight. Confusingly, the seats themselves were manually operated, but the premium feel of the materials was enough of a redeeming quality to forget about the lack of memory function and electronic adjustments once you’d slid in and started the engine.

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The steering wheel is a small and chubby tri-spoke affair, trimmed in soft leather with tactile aluminium arms. Simple infotainment and cruise controls mean it isn’t cluttered. Everything falls to your fingertips easily and orderly. Paddle shifts are also on the wheel, and not on the column - a big plus for me. They were always in the right spot and produced a clicky feedback on each upshift or downchange.

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There’s a few quirky technology integrations that separate the X2 from its competition. BMW Connected Drive, a mobile application that allows you to monitor the vehicle’s data remotely was useful to check key information points, such as fuel level, projected range or preload a destination on the navigation before going on a drive. There were a few useful gimmicks too, like being able to vent the cabin on a hot day before getting into the car.

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Base X2’s are fitted with a 6.5” touchscreen commanding the dash, but with the Innovations package, that is upgraded to an 8.8” touchscreen which is operated in conjunction with the latest iDrive system. On the test car, I was really struck with how competent the latest iDrive feels in comparison to some of its older iterations. The touchscreen integrates seamlessly into the user experience and is bolstered in functionality by voice control, meaning you rarely need to move you hand to the centre console to operate the  control wheel or touchscreen. The integrated heads-up display is especially good, projecting current road speed, speed limit and also information from the car’s entertainment system

The X2 is poised to be a more accessible entry point into the luxury car market. Priced at  around $55,000 +OTR for the bottom-rung 3cyl model, or around $70,000 for the more powerful M-Sport X as tested, it’s a compelling alternative to the usual humdrum offering of compact SUVs. The X2 blends a sense of style and performance with the practicality of an SUV, all without ever actually feeling like you’re driving anything more bulky than a Mini Countryman. On the road the drive is quite sublime and would offer prospective BMW buyers a well-priced entry point into a prestige marque. There was very little to dislike on the X2, it is most certainly the pick of the bunch.

Thanks to Auto Classic BMW for supporting this road test. The full X2 range is available for demo at their Burswood showroom.

For more information visit www.autoclassic.com.au

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