Car reviews - BMW - X2 - M35i
Cracking four-cylinder engine, addictive exhaust note, darty handling, prodigious grip, looks great when specified correctly
Room for improvement
Unrefined automatic transmission, firm suspension, imperfect steering, already ageing cabin, poor value against new M135i
BMW M gives us a tasty first look at its four-cylinder future with the loveable X2 M35i
4 Nov 2019
THE X2 is a unique proposition in BMW's model line-up, which is – believe it or not – decreasing in size after two decades of rapid expansion.
While whether the style-focused small SUV will see another generation is still up for debate, BMW M has finally given it a proper performance bent.
More importantly, though, the resulting X2 M35i has the distinction of debuting the four-cylinder engine that will power the next crop of small cars and SUVs from BMW M.
Yes, we’re talking about the four-pot banger that will replace the beloved inline six-cylinder unit. Needless to say, you’ll want to read on to find out how the X2 M35i stacks up.
The M140i might very well go down in history as one of the greatest hot hatches ever and that praise will be mostly due to its truly unique combination of an inline six-cylinder engine and rear-wheel drive.
But the new-generation 1 Series is about to rewrite the playbook, with both of these key elements out.
While the 1 Series isn’t here just yet, the X2 M35i is. And that’s important because it is powered by the four-cylinder engine and all-wheel-drive system destined for the reborn M135i hot hatch.
On paper, this combination isn’t as lustworthy as that of the M140i, but if our experience with the X2 M35i is anything to go by, there isn’t too much to worry about.
Simply put, its 2.0-litre turbo-petrol unit has got some serious get up and go. And it should do, too, as it’s the most powerful four-cylinder engine yet in a series-production BMW.
Try 225kW of power at 6250rpm on for size. Not good enough? How about 450Nm of torque from 1750-4500rpm.
Surely you don’t need further convincing… Alright, we’ll budge. Does zero to 100km/h in 4.9 seconds sit well with you? Or an electronically limited top speed of 250km/h?
There’s no doubting, then, that the X2 M35i means business on paper. But actually get behind the wheel of one and you’ll be even more impressed.
The first thing that will suck you in is its exhaust system, which has a booming note that is underscored by the occasional crackle and pop. It’s addictive and you’ll have a hard time wiping the smile off of your face.
But after you’re done switching on the ignition, you’ll be keen to set off, of course, but be prepared; this X2 M35i has some serious shove.
Indeed, BMW M’s newly minted sports seats – they’re both comfortable and supportive, by the way – are quickly put to test as 450 of Sir Isaac’s best come on strong down low.
Simply put, this engine is full of character and much of it has an old-school twist. There’s no mistaking when the turbo’s spooled up here. When it kicks in, it really kicks in, whipping through gears like no-one’s business.
Speaking of which, an eight-speed torque-converter automatic transmission is at work here. While this sounds all too familiar for a BMW, it’s worth noting that Aisin is the supplier of this unit and not the usual suspect, ZF. This is important because it’s just not as good.
We’ve grown to appreciate the general refinement of ZF’s transmissions, and considering their wide proliferation across BMW’s model line-up, it’s disappointing that this Aisin unit isn’t up to standard.
For example, gear changes are that little bit slower, with this particularly true during spirited driving when upshifts are neck-snapping but not in a good way.
That said, for our driving style, the two drive modes that tweak the transmission’s shift points are brilliant. While throttle response in Comfort isn’t razor-sharp, the eight-speeder does respond with vigour when called upon.
Better yet, Sport keeps the engine in its wide maximum-torque band, ensuring that a straight-line burst is only a tickle of the right pedal away. This makes it perfect for everyday driving, which is not something you can often say about such a drive mode.
Fuel consumption isn’t bad, either. We recorded 10.3 litres per 100 kilometres over 260km, which included little highway driving. Not quite BMW’s claim of 7.4L/100km on the combined-cycle test, but decent, nonetheless.
From the outside, the X2 M35i certainly looks like just another jacked-up hatchback, but when you’re sitting inside, the increased ride height will catch you by surprise, mainly because the way this so-called SUV handles beggars belief.
Yes, even body control is largely excellent, with roll kept in check during hard cornering. In fact, we’d go as far as to say that the X2 M35i’s small size makes for darty handling.
Its front limited-slip differential also makes powering out of corners a cinch, with overall traction excellent thanks to the xDrive all-wheel-drive system that seamlessly shuffles torque between the two axles. Not even torrential rain phased it.
There is a trade-off for this handling prowess, though – ride comfort. The X2 M35i’s standard 20-inch alloy wheels with low-profile tyres certainly don’t help matters, but its suspension is just plain firm.
Even with the adaptive dampers set to Comfort, sharp edges, such as potholes, are met with a crunch. No, it’s not back-breaking, but it is enough to become tiresome on poorly maintained roads, which are – let’s face it – everywhere in Australia.
The X2 M35i’s steering isn’t perfect, either. While we certainly appreciate its directness through the twisty stuff, its Sport setting is let down by the amount of heft it adds. In this instance, Comfort is the better-weighted option.
In all other regards, the M35i isn’t much of a departure from the regular X2 (when fitted with the M Sport Package), and that’s great because it’s quite the looker.
Cerium Grey exterior trim does, however, clearly mark it is as the M Performance variant it is, while other than the aforementioned unique sports seats, it’s business as usual inside, which is both good and bad.
Good because it’s a high-quality affair with lots of lovely leather upholstery and soft-touch plastics with faux stitching, and bad because BMW’s interior design language has moved on quite a bit in the past year. And let’s not forget the progress in infotainment and safety.
That said, for $68,900 plus on-road costs, you’re still getting one hell of a machine. But will we be saying the same thing when the M135i rolls into showrooms?
Warranty and servicing
As with all BMW models, the X2 M35i comes with a three-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty and three years of roadside assistance. Service intervals are every 12 months or 15,000km, whichever comes first.
Considering the level of performance on offer, the X2 M35i feels like an absolute bargain.
But then you consider that the incoming M135i hot hatch is even quicker and comes with the latest technologies. Oh, and the little fact that it will likely cost at least $5000 less than this would-be SUV.
That said, in its own right, the X2 M35i is a firecracker on the right roads – one that you’d be happy to get behind the wheel of time and time again.
But we just wish that BMW M found a way to partner with ZF for its automatic transmission.
Mercedes-AMG GLA45 (from $89,840 plus on-road costs)
Until the inevitable new-generation GLA35 arrives, the current 280kW/475Nm GLA45 is the best comparison for the X2 M35i. And let’s not forget, the mechanically related Audi SQ2 and Volkswagen T-Roc R also loom large – if certain issues can be overcome.
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Model release date: 1 February 2019
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