by Ian Kuah
It would be easy to say that the new 2019 BMW X2 is a sporty version of the X1 in the way that the X4 and X6 are sporty versions of the X5 and X3, but BMW is not making life that easy for us. For a start the X4 and X6 are part of BMW's SAC (Sport Activity Coupe) clan noted for their fastback styling, while the Regensburg-built X2 ascends the stage billed as a standalone model with its own unique sporting attitude and design cues. BMW is particularly keen on expanding its SUV, or rather SAV and SAC range as they call its X models.
And who can blame them since these vehicles have accounted for 5.5 million sales since the first X5 made its debut in 1999. In fact, BMW X model sales were up an astonishing 34% in 2017, with an increase of 9.6% in December 2017 alone. At the other end of the range, two generations of X1 have found 286,661 homes since 2011, and the current model is now the 2nd best selling X model, with sales up 30% since 2016. The X2 is not simply more of the same, and is aimed at a new target group. At a glance it is a much sleeker and more innovative design than the X1, which it needs to be since the X1 looks like a smaller X3, itself a shrunken X5.
Breaking this and the fastback X Coupe mould with an altogether new look that strikes a neat balance between the two, the X2 introduces some new styling elements that point towards a distinct shift in the rather conventional designs representing the current BMW range. "The new styling language seen on the X2 conveys its own message of sportiness without imposing a loss of load space in the way that the steeply sloping roofline of the X6 and X4 do," says Thomas Sycha, Head of Design for BMW's Compact Class. "The X2 incorporates the Hofmeister kink and is the first model to carry the BMW badge on its rear pillar since the dashing 3.0CS Coupe of the 1970s."
Starting at the front, the kidney grilles take on a shape that has never been seen before. Squatter and wider, each grille has an outward leaning kink on its outer side that helps to emphasize the width of the car and then runs into the feature line around the bumper. You will see two different 'faces' on the X2 depending on the model, one painted body color, the other this M Sport X version with a grey framed under-bumper intake. The triangular side intakes are disruptive elements that should remain a talking point for many years.
All the gray colored elements you see on this M Sport X model are body colored on a normal X2, but we rather like this more sporty treatment that helps to break up the mass of the cars flanks. According to the designers, the body color re-appearing at the bottom adds to the effect and reminds you that this car is premium rather than utilitarian. First renderings of a new car always feature big wheels. Big wheels fill out the arches, delivering a wider, more purposeful stance. However, big wheels do not always translate to production cars for fundamental reasons like cost and their negative effect on ride comfort. The largest alloy wheel option on the new BMW X2 M Sport X is 20 inches, massive for such a small vehicle.
However, Patrick Haussler, Project Manager for X2 Driving Dynamics, says that the bespoke 20-inch tire Pirelli made for the car retains surprisingly good ride comfort. The X2 has exactly the same wheelbase and tracks as the X1, but is 3.2 inches shorter overall. Much of this comes out of the rear bumper, which is almost flush with the tailgate. The X2's body-in-white is about 10% stiffer than the X1, which makes for a sturdier platform for the uprated suspension. The X2's cabin is a thing of beauty. It is clear that the designers have understood that first impressions are important, and what you see and touch adds up to that all-important feel good factor.
So while the dashboard top is not covered in real leather, the imitation material and its hand stitching, the Alcantara on the sports seats, the chunky leather covered sports steering wheel, and numerous other quality touches all conspire to lift the perceived quality well above the class norm. Reinforcing the impression of the X2 premium status, its doors close with a solid 'thunk'. One of the reasons these doors are so well padded internally is the premium Harman Kardon sound system that is a cost option. This 360-watt, 12-speaker, twin subwoofer equipped system is identical to the X1's, but is tuned specifically for the X2's cabin volume. As with other current BMW models, Apple CarPlay is a cost option on the X2.
Our test cars were the M Sport X version, equipped with 8.0J x 19-inch wheels shod with 225/45ZR19 tires. This combination looks almost as good as the 20s while providing the best overall ride and handling compromise for the sporty driver. I was specifically keen to experience the low speed secondary ride, which is the normal bugbear of small SUVs with big wheels and tires. I need not have worried, and my first impressions were of a spring/damper, wheel/tire combination that works on real world roads. Patrick described the unique pre-loaded anti-roll bar bushes developed by a key supplier as offering the best of both worlds in terms of compliance for a good ride on the one hand, and firmness for crisp handling on the other.
When faced with side loadings these bushes react faster to resist roll, allowing the dampers to be set softer to the benefit of the secondary ride. Springs should deal with bounce, and dampers with rebound control. However, some manufacturers and aftermarket tuners tend to use the dampers as a spring as well, resulting in a rather 'sudden' ride. That is not the case here, and you can feel the X2's suspension 'breath' properly as the car goes down the road, its springs, dampers and bushes all doing their individual jobs in perfect harmony. "The X2's front suspension geometry is set up with 1°10' of negative camber, 20' more than the X1," Patrick explained.
"The steering ratio of the M Sport model is 15.0:1, while the standard X2 ratio is the same 15.9:1 as the X1. This combination results in better turn-in response for the keen driver. The rear suspension has 1° 45' of negative camber just like the X1, and the M Sport suspension sits 0.4 inches lower than stock." These changes were very obvious on the fast cross country test route near Lisbon, Portugal, which had plenty of curves, cambers and the odd mid-corner bump, where the M Sport X chassis exhibited impressive poise and stability. The other well-honed dynamic element is the electric power steering whose fixed ratio feels alert and perfectly tuned to the chassis' turn-in rate.
Pushing hard out of slow bends I could sometimes just feel the beginnings of the tail starting to move outwards. A more powerful engine would probably seal the deal here, making the X2's 4WD chassis even more throttle steerable on the limit. Even with its 0.4-inch lower sport suspension and 19-inch wheels, the X2 has the best ride/handling compromise I have encountered so far in the compact SUV segment, and feels agile and fun to drive on a twisty road. Incidentally, the base X2 wheel/tire combination is 7.5J x 17-inch with 225/55ZR17 rubber, which together with the standard suspension should prove comfortable for owners with a less sporting bent.
At launch in March the X2 will have four-cylinder power only; six-cylinders being the province of models from the X3 upwards. Head of Engine Technologies Development, Wolfgang Stutz, explained that the all-alloy four-cylinder 18d, 20d and 25d diesel engine range feature a two stage Borg Warner turbocharger, and use more plastic parts to reduce weight. The entry-level 18d version that will come on stream in March also displaces 1,995 cc, but with reduced power and some hardware differences from the higher output versions.
"Apart from increased efficiency and weight reduction, the new engine was designed to deliver better throttle response and lower emissions in the enhanced EU6 D test, also known as RDE1 (Real Driving Emissions). This test began in September 2017 as a response to the widely discredited laboratory rolling road tests used previously. The X2 comes with a six-speed Getrag manual gearbox, with the option of an Aisin eight-speed automatic with paddle shifts," said Wolfgang. "However, a new feature is shift by wire, which was already standard on all other BMW models, with only the X1 and 2-Series having a mechanical system."
At launch, the entry-level gas model will be the front-wheel-drive sDrive20i, powered by a 1,998 cc (94.6 x 82.0 mm bore x stroke) motor with twin-scroll turbocharger and direct injection. Output is 192 hp between 5,000 and 6,000 rpm, underpinned by 206.5 lb/ft of torque between 1,350-4,600 rpm. 0-62 mph takes 7.7 sec and top speed is 141 mph. The X2 xDrive tips the scales at 3,527 lb (US), while the base front-wheel-drive sDrive20i weighs 3,219 lb. Front/rear weight distribution is 57/43%, which gives away the front-wheel-drive origins of the base platform.
All the test cars at the event were the turbo-diesel xDrive20d M Sport X, which means 190 hp at 4,000 rpm, with 295 lb/ft of torque between 1,750-2,500 rpm. Performance is brisk with 0-62 mph covered in 7.7 sec, and a top speed of 137 mph. The more powerful xDrive25d has 230 hp at 4,400 rpm, with 332 lb/ft of torque between 1,500 and 3,000 rpm for a rapid 6.7 sec 0-62 mph sprint and 147 mph top speed. Drag coefficient is an impressive 0.28 for the 20d, with 0.29 for the 25d, which requires more cooling air for its greater output. Both diesel units are essentially the same 1,995 cc (90.0 x 84.0 bore x stroke) alloy in-line four-cylinder motor with a variable inlet geometry turbocharger and common-rail direct injection.
The output difference comes from minor hardware changes and revised ECU mapping. Fuel economy is also an X2 strong suit, and after a morning of thrashing around the test route I had barely used a quarter tank of diesel. The official combined fuel consumption numbers, for what they are worth, are 42.8 mpg for the sDrive20i, 51.1 mpg for the xDrive20d, and 46.1 mpg for the xDrive 25d. The 20d motor is extremely refined for a four-cylinder diesel. Wolfgang explained that his team worked very hard on the refinement aspect, achieving reduced vibration levels through improvements in the common rail direct injection system.
Strong in the low and medium speed ranges the 20d motor lacks top-end go, an issue easily addressed by opting for the xDrive25d. The BMW X2 delivers a very impressive overall driving experience, with a well-honed balance of ride and handling, and low NVH levels. With its attractive and distinctive looks and fine cabin, the new baby X-car should be a rapid seller when it goes on sale in the US in March.