Not quite a hot hatch, not quite a performance crossover – not good at being either.
No vehicle toes the line between hot hatchback and subcompact crossover more so than the 2019 BMW X2 M35i. Though a crossover by classification, the range-topping X2 drives more like a hot hatch: it's quick in a straight line, stiff as hell, and pretty riotous in the right setting. Think of it as high-riding Volkswagen Golf R rival, of sorts.
But there are some drawbacks to shoehorning that type of performance into a crossover, even a small one. What the X2 M35i gains in straight-line speed over its base counterpart, it loses in cornering. Not to mention it's far less comfortable and not nearly as efficient as other crossovers in the class. The X2 M35i falls into a weird in-between.
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We won't go so far as to call the BMW X2 pretty, but it's definitely unmistakable. You won't confuse it for any other subcompact crossover in a crowded parking lot. And the M35i model is more stylish than its base sibling, ditching the 28i's shiny silver lower vent surround for a body-colored (Alpine White, in this case) trim piece and shiny black accents instead. The dual kidney grille and side mirrors also wear a matte bronze finish, and the trim-exclusive 20-inch, M-Sport wheels look great (and cost an extra $600). But it's the signature “Hofmeister Kink” (aka, the distinctive C-pillar) and BMW bevel that give the X2 its distinguishing look.
The X2's cabin is less appealing. Even with the eye-searing, Magna Red leather ($1,450) on our tester, the M35i's interior feels uninspired. It still uses the old 8.8-inch touchscreen running iDrive 6, has an analog gauge cluster, and wears piano black plastic throughout. Even the plastic shifter feels cheap and ripped from a lesser vehicle.
The Magna Red leather seats are appreciably better than the base model's synthetic leather. And that same upgraded leather carries over to the rear bench and dash, too. The two front buckets look nice, are both well-bolstered, and even offer a thigh support extension – not enough vehicles do. But over longer trips, the seats aren't supportive; they're not cushy enough for the M35i's overly stiff suspension.
There's nothing offensive about the X2's front passenger space; both legroom and headroom are ample for your six-foot-tall author, as the X2 actually offers a best-in-class 39.8 inches of front headroom. But X2's coupe-like styling means the backseat can feel cramped for taller passengers. Its 36.7 inches of rear legroom and 37.1 inches of headroom aren't worst in class, but that still doesn't make the X2 particularly roomy. Not to mention the narrow rear entry point means rear passengers will boink their head on the exterior eventually, and trunk space is pretty minimal. The X2 offers just 21.6 cubic feet behind the second row, or 50.1 cubic feet with that row folded flat.
The biggest blemish on the BMW X2's resume is the fact that it still uses iDrive 6. Most other modern BMW products have adopted the superior iDrive 7. But it's still a fine-enough system that's clean, crisp, and relatively easy to use. And it sits atop a large and functional 8.8-inch touchscreen. The optional Premium package ($1,800) adds a head-up display and a new navigation touchpad controller.
The X2 M35i also supports wireless Apple CarPlay compatibility. While we've had issues with the wireless system in the past (particularly on cars with iDrive 7), it connects quickly and runs seamlessly here. Other features like power-folding mirrors, a power tailgate, and power front seats all come standard, while a panoramic moonroof is a $1,350 option.
Both the base BMW X2 and the hopped-up M35i model use the same turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine. Only here, a generous retuning pumps the power figure up from 228 horsepower to a hearty 301 horses and 331 pound-feet of torque, making this the most powerful four-cylinder engine BMW has ever built – and you feel it.
Punch it hard and X2 M35i will hit 60 miles per hour in 4.7 seconds. The plucky crossover is genuinely quick, and the eight-speed automatic gearbox is sharp and decisive. Judging it solely in a straight line, you might mistake the X2 M235i for a hot hatchback like the Volkswagen Golf R or Hyundai Veloster N, even if the BMW does sit a hearty 7.2 inches off the ground.
But while the X2's upgraded engine and gearbox feel eager, the rest of the vehicle simply doesn't. Even with all-wheel drive standard, the M35i squeals its front tires off the line and tugs hard on the steering wheel all the way to 60. This crossover shows its front-drive bias with a ton of torque steer. And it's not much better in the corners.
The standard M-Sport suspension only yields minor handling improvements over its base all-wheel-drive sibling. Frankly, we expect more with all this kit. The M35i model still exhibits some playful qualities, particularly on long sweepers that allow you to utilize its full breadth of power, but the X2 struggles with tighter corners. The ride is somehow both extremely harsh and unresponsive at the same time. The upgraded M-Sport steering is noticeably quicker but also overboosted and vague. And there's a lot of body movement, which makes the X2 feel uneasy at speed.
The engine is the best part of the entire vehicle, which helps it net a solid score on our scale. Beyond that, there's little to convince us the additional “performance” is worth the X2 M35i’s higher asking price.
The BMW X2’s standard active safety and the availability of advanced optional equipment is a strong point for the subcompact. Things like forward-collision warning with automatic emergency braking, lane-departure warning, automatic high-beam headlights, active cruise control, and parking sensors all come standard.
Our tester also features the optional adaptive cruise control with the Active Driving Assistant (lane-keep assist, lane departure warning, daytime pedestrian protection), a $1,000 option. As with other BMW’s we’ve tested, the X2’s Active Driving Assistant’s ability to keep the car centered in the lane and braking seamlessly is top of the class – even for a segment of vehicles ripe with advanced safety options. If there’s anything negative to note, it’s that the X2’s lane departure sensors can be overly aggressive at times, especially on the highway.
The most-efficient X2 – the sDrive28i – gets 23 miles per gallon in the city, 32 on the highway, and 26 combined, which keeps it close to the competitive set. With the more powerful engine and all-wheel drive, the X2 M35i’s efficiency drops to just 23 mpg city, 29 highway, and 25 combined. That’s still not bad, though.
The Jaguar E-Pace P300 gets just 21 mpg city, 28 highway, and 24 combined, while the all-wheel-drive Cadillac XT4 only gets 22 city, 29 highway, and 29 combined. Even the all-wheel-drive Volvo XC40 only gets 23 city, 31 highway, and 26 combined – that’s just barely better than the X2, which has 50 more horses than the Volvo.
With a starting price of $36,400, the base BMW X2 is the second most expensive crossover in its class. Only the Jaguar E-Pace ($38,900) is pricier to start. For the X2 M35i model, though, that number jumps to $46,450. Again, only the comparable Jaguar E-Pace R-Dynamic is pricier ($46,600). This tiny BMW ain’t cheap, and gets even more expensive after ticking the many available option boxes. Our X2 tester, with a handful of options, asks a whopping $55,020.
Correction: A previous version of this review indicated the X2 offered blind-spot monitoring and that Apple CarPlay required an $80-per-year subscription. Blind-spot monitoring is not avaialble on either the X1 or X2, while BMW changed its Apple CarPlay policy to 20 years of no-cost service. This review has been edited to reflect these corrections. We regret the errors.
Gallery: 2019 BMW X2 M35i: Review
2019 BMW X2 M35i