A HOT HATCH FOR A CROSSOVER WORLD

BMW X2 M35i Review: A Hot Crossover That’s a Bit Overcooked


September 12, 2019 Cars By Photo by BMW Group

The BMW X2 M35i is an affront to an automotive enthusiast’s sensibilities. It looks like a slick, angry hot hatch. It has what could be a wicked 300-plus horsepower 2.0-liter hot hatch engine. But it’s not a hot hatch. Instead of going after the Volkswagen Golf R, BMW lifted the car a touch and made the X2 a “sports activity coupe.” What, you could ask, has this world come to?

Alternatively, you could exhale, concede the point that no one would pay $50,000 for that hypothetical hot hatch, and judge the X2 M35i on its own terms. It’s not an abomination. It does resolve many of the problems enthusiasts have with a bland compact crossover segment. It accelerates from 0 to 60 miles per hour in less than five seconds. But does it go far enough to make those enthusiasts crossover converts?

The Good: BMW built an outstanding 2.0-liter four-pot engine. It delivers a consistent abundance of power that won’t overwhelm you on public roads. The X2 M35’s sensory output reemphasizes that power. The car looks sleek and aggressive, not just for a crossover, and it has a satisfying and rowdy exhaust note.

Who It’s For: This buyer wants a sporty BMW package with the premium M brand badging, accessories, and performance upgrades (brakes, suspension, tuning). But he or she wants it in a tiny crossover coupe package instead of a manual transmission-equipped rear-wheel-drive sedan. Other traits include minimal family requirements and a willingness to splurge.

Watch Out For: The X2 M35i makes few compromises in the name of comfort. The ride quality can be jarring. Rear visibility in the X2 M35i is nearly non-existent. BMW upcharges for technology that’s standard on some cheaper cars, such as Apple CarPlay.

Alternatives: The best comparisons for this car are the Audi SQ2 and the Volkswagen T-Roc R. Neither are sold in the U.S. The Mercedes-AMG GLA 45  has the same idea, but it has a more powerful 375 hp engine and it is more expensive ($53,350). The base model Porsche Macan ($50,900) cannot match the performance, but could appeal to the same buyer looking for a sporty pedigree. 

Review: The X2 M35i has all the raw components to be the hot hatch of your dreams. But instead of taking that less lucrative route, BMW went trendy. It put that high-output 2.0-liter turbocharged engine and M packaging into a coupe-style crossover with a rakish sloping roofline. The X2 M35i is quick. It looks great. But its intended appeal may be a contradiction in terms. 

Let’s start with the good: the engine. BMW knows how to make them. The X2 M35i uses a turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-four putting out 302 hp and 332 lb-ft paired with an especially crisp-shifting eight-speed automatic. Using launch control under optimal conditions, it will accelerate to 60 mph in less than five seconds. In real-world driving, the X2 M35i provides potent power on demand. It never shortchanges you when you hit the gas, and the throaty exhaust note heightens the effect. It’s the engine you would want in a hot hatch.

The X2 M35i looks athletic, sharp and fun. It ditches the off-color cladding from the base X2 for a cleaner, more upscale look. In short, it reads more like a BMW than a small crossover. Other drivers give you a wider berth, presuming you have the aggressive BMW owner gene. My two-year-old son’s first reaction upon seeing it was “race car!”

The interior can be polarizing. My tester had the Magma Red Dakota leather — or, as I called it before looking it up, orange trim. There’s a lot of it. It either will look fantastic to you (if you’re the sort of person who likes the Civic Type R‘s looks) or make your eyes feel like they are bleeding. I came down on the latter side. Fortunately, that $1,450 madness is below eye level while driving, and you can opt for a staid black instead.

The X2 M35i is about as practical as a hatchback. If you have multiple hockey-playing children, get something bigger. Given that size constraint, however, it can be useful. A small rear aperture belies a decent-sized trunk, fit for a family-sized grocery shopping trip or a couple’s romantic getaway. The netted side pocket in the trunk was a perfect fit for my wife’s bottle of rosé.

Where the X2 M35i loses its charm is its ride quality. BMW M cars are pure driver’s cars. They deliver tremendous performance, but that can come at the expense of comfort; they can feel very stiff and unforgiving for everyday driving. The X2 M35i captures that M experience a little too faithfully for a crossover. My tester had an M Sport suspension and 20-inch wheels, which permitted an intimate study of each pavement imperfection (and there are many of those in Michigan). The M sport brakes stopped abruptly. Comfort mode shift settings felt about as ready to party as Sport mode’s 

The X2 M35i is excellent when you tap that power reserve in the passing lane on a smooth highway. But the pugnacity and sharpness becomes a bit much when you’re just popping around the neighborhood running errands, which is what most crossover owners spend their time doing.

Another significant issue? You can’t see out of the back. The rear window is tiny and slanted upward. The D-pillars are chunky. Heads in the rear seats (or even the headrests to protect them) obscure what little you can see. (I laughed out loud at the note on the rear camera to check my mirrors.) The X2 M35i is about as rear camera dependent as a full-size truck.

BMW has drawn some heat — correctly in my book — for converting Apple CarPlay into a subscription service. It’s the sort of thing a $50,000-plus BMW should include (a base model Kia Soul manages it). I also blanched at my 2019 tester’s “Premium Package.” For an additional $1,800 this gave you a head-up display (invisible if you are wearing sunglasses) and navigation (redundant if you have a smartphone). BMW amended that somewhat for 2020. The premium package is now $1,400 and throws in heated seats.

You can see why BMW built the X2 M35i. There was a hole in the lineup for a hotter, more premium version of the X2 — much more so than for a hot hatch). But the X2 M35i feels like BMW overcooked it. Buyers often opt for crossovers for comfort, not just the appearance. Softer touches could have given this BMW crossover a sportier but still palatable ride without the full drawbacks of driving a sporty BMW. 

Verdict: The X2 M35i may be the cute little crossover for driving enthusiasts. But driving enthusiasts are the precise people who would be most annoyed by it being a crossover. The X2 M35i is fun, but it does not square that circle. Those same buyers can buy the Golf R they want for $10,000 cheaper. Even sticking within the BMW crossover realm, you can upgrade to an X3 M40i with an inline-six, 50 more hp, and much more cargo space for a few thousand more. Why wouldn’t you? 

2019 BMW X2 M35i: Key Specs
Price as Tested: $55,020
Horsepower: 302 hp
Torque: 332 lb-ft
o-60 MPH: 4.9 sec
Top Speed: 155 mph

BMW provided this product for review.

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