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Road tests

New BMW X2 2024 review: hot M35i version is fast, but hard to recommend

The hot BMW X2 M35i is certainly quick, but it’s expensive and lacks involvement

Overall Auto Express Rating

3.0 out of 5

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Verdict

The BMW X2 M35i is certainly fast, but its taller body means that it isn’t the last word in involvement. So if you expect this rapid BMW to be a jacked-up but super-stylish alternative to a regular hot hatchback, you’re probably going to be disappointed. Objectively it’s a difficult vehicle to recommend, especially at £50k, but we could see those after a rapid coupe-SUV being attracted to its mix of style, standard equipment and a generous boot. Niche appeal, then, for an unashamedly niche model.

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BMW is a brand with proven models and badges – but it clearly isn’t afraid to adapt when the need arises. The German brand launched the X2 as a half-hatchback, half-crossover back in 2017, but it never really caught on. So for the second generation, the product department in Munich is trying something distinctly different: it’s turning the X2 into a baby coupe-SUV.

If you think about it, it’s a logical move from a company that already has the X4 as a foil to the X3, and the X6 as a style-focused alternative to the X5. Even numbers, in X speak, clearly mean a greater emphasis on a swoopy roofline, in return for a sacrifice in practicality.

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The second-generation X2 sticks to the same fundamental underpinnings as the first version – BMW Group’s UKL2 platform, as shared with the latest X1 and several MINIs. It’s front-wheel drive as standard, although the architecture does allow the opportunity for xDrive four-wheel drive on higher-end editions.

Above this sits a body that unashamedly mimics the X4 and X6, with that aggressive roofline at the rear and a sharp cut-off at the tailgate. More than ever, then, it’s fair to think of the X2 as a rival to cars like Audi’s Q3 Sportback and even the Cupra Formentor. It definitely looks more grown-up than its predecessor – helped, perhaps, by a 22mm gain in the wheelbase and an overall length that has grown by 194mm.

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The BMW is being launched with a pared-back range comprising just two combustion-engined versions – although this model does get an all-electric option for the first time too. The entry point is the X2 sDrive20i, which features a 1.5-litre three-cylinder turbocharged petrol motor producing 168bhp and 280Nm of torque – enough, BMW claims, for a 0-62mph time of 8.3 seconds. It costs from £40,515 in M Sport trim.

At the other end of the line-up is the X2 M35i xDrive, which packs four-wheel drive and a 2.0-litre four-cylinder motor pumping out 296bhp and 400Nm of torque. It’s good for 0-62mph in 5.3 seconds, but comes in at a whisker under £50,000. It’s this variant that we’re driving here, although we can also point you in the direction of our first verdict on the iX2, which actually sits above the M35i in the pricing structure, costing from £51,615.

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The M35i gets a bespoke chassis tune, complete with adaptive (frequency-selective) dampers and a 15mm lower ride height. But we should probably cut to the chase at this point and say that these modifications are not enough to deliver a genuinely entertaining driving experience. 

The powertrain plays its part in this feeling of mild anticlimax; the four-cylinder motor is a solid performer rather than a spectacular one. It doesn’t sound particularly characterful and the dual-clutch gearbox isn’t as slick as the eight-speed torque-converter auto that you’ll find in beefier, full-blown M cars.

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But it’s the handling that disappoints most. The X2 M35i is keen enough to hang on through long, faster corners, but reluctant to be thrown about on genuinely twisty roads, where it responds with either understeer or a generally unsettled feel as it shifts its taller body around. The ride is, for the most part, pretty compliant, but there’s an underlying stiffness that bubbles through when dealing with sharper, larger inputs. It’s best at a fast cruise, really, where the body isn’t likely to be upset by rapid changes of direction and the engine quietens down to the point where it’s drowned out by tyre roar from the 20-inch alloys beneath you.

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In summary, most cars breathed on by BMW’s M division feel like they’d be perfectly at home thrashing along the autobahn at 100mph-plus. And in a few cases, a happy side effect of this ability has been prodigious cross-country pace and involvement on British roads. The X2 M35i sits nicely in the first of those categories, but falls short of the second; dare we say that a Formentor has far more of a proper ‘hot hatch’ vibe to it.

Inside, we have few complaints on cabin materials and finish, even at the M35i’s £50k price point. There’s a pleasing mix of metal surfaces, double stitching, Alcantara and padded plastics – although the M steering wheel rim continues to be too thick for mere mortals to wrap their fingers around.

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Rear accommodation isn’t as cramped as you might expect, although what taller occupants have gained in leg and kneeroom through the stretched wheelbase, they lose in headroom because of the coupe roofline. We’d say it’s only just about fine for six-footers, and even then they may want a short back and sides to prevent their hair from rubbing the headlining.

The boot increases in size for the Mk2 X2. It now measures 560 litres with the rear seats in place – a gain of 90 litres over the outgoing version – and maxes out at 1,470 litres. There’s a false floor with storage beneath and a neat hinge that keeps it out of the way if you want to load items into that space. It’s not a true variable-height floor, but the load lip probably strikes a good balance between capacity and usability. There are a couple of fairly crude hooks for shopping bags at the sides of the load bay, too.

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The standard UK spec for the X2 is M Sport, but that doesn’t mean BMW hasn’t been able to load a few more goodies onto the standard-kit list for the full-blown M35i. So apart from those 20-inch alloys and the trick suspension, you get a powered tailgate, lots of high-gloss exterior trim and chunky heated M sports seats. The infotainment system is shared with the base car, but that’s no real hardship, since it comprises a 10.25-inch digital instrument panel and a 10.7-inch central touchscreen running BMW’s latest OS9 software.

It’s not flawless; there are a few too whizzy animated transitions between functions, and some controls, such as the heating and ventilation, would benefit from being physical knobs instead of having a permanent space along the bottom of the screen interface. But in general this is still one of the best systems of its type, with plenty of useful apps available for music and podcast streaming services, and a snappy processor that doesn’t leave you waiting.

Model:BMW X2 M35i xDrive
Price:£49,340
Engine:2.0-litre 4cyl turbo petrol
Power/torque:296bhp/400Nm
Transmission:Seven-speed dual-clutch auto, all-wheel drive
0-62mph:5.4 seconds
Top speed:155mph
Economy/CO2:34.9-36.7mpg/174-183g/km
Size (L/W/H):4,554/1,845/1,590mm
On sale:Now
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Editor-at-large

John started journalism reporting on motorsport – specifically rallying, which he had followed avidly since he was a boy. After a stint as editor of weekly motorsport bible Autosport, he moved across to testing road cars. He’s now been reviewing cars and writing news stories about them for almost 20 years.

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