I think we should have all seen this coming — the latest niche segment in the increasing popular SUV market is high priced, high performance luxury subcompact crossovers. Consider the BMW X2 M35i, the outrageous, over-the-top version of the already premium and fast BMW X2. Its mere existence shows just how much consumers are preferring SUVs over every other kind of motor vehicles these days.
Or is it really a crossover?
Let's back up a few years. Once upon a time, people drove cars. Young people, especially men, liked sports cars, but progressed to coupes, sedans and, maybe, station wagons as they got older, got married and had children. Then, faced with bankruptcy in the early 1980s, Chrysler invented the minivan, a small box on wheels with enough interior room for entire families. But they fell out favor when manufacturers brought out SUVs, which were available with all-wheel-drive, an advantage in wet climates like the Pacific Northwest. The first were based on rough riding trucks, but then they became more like smooth driving cars — dubbed crossovers — while still offering AWD and higher ride heights.
After crossovers began to catch on, more and more manufacturers jumped into the game, including such luxury sports car manufacturers as Porsche. Then to lower the prices and improve fuel economy, some manufacturers began offering pint-sized versions that were no bigger than subcompact cars, although they also offered AWD and featured higher ride heights. Most stress economy over performance, and some are not available with AWD. They are still increasing in popularity.
Now, with the BMW X2 M35i, the rules have completely changed. Some reviewers say the X2 is a compact, but I think it's smaller than that, and yet our test version was priced at $65,020. Although itt has a higher ride height, it's not that much more than a subcompact car. And although it is available with AWD, it is not a vehicle you would want to take off road, if only because the front air dam is so low. A better term is "all weather." But it's very fast, handles extremely well, is a genuine luxury vehicle, and gets reasonably good mileage for all of that.
So what is the BMW X2 M35i exactly? BMW calls it a Sport Activity Vehicle, but I think it's an upscale version of the hot hatch — the performance version of a small economy hatchbacks. After first being launched by Volkswagen in the 1980s as the GTI edition of the subcompact hatchback Rabbit the concept was copied by other manufacturers. Although convertibles weren't available, they had several advantages over sports cars, including real cargo space and, especially with the Mitsubishi and Subaru versions, serious AWD systems. By the 1990s, hot hatches became substitute sports cars for younger buyers. The X2 adheres to that concept, but adds levels of luxury and sophistication that was never considered before.
If that's not BMW's intent, it should be. Mercedes insists the similar AMG GLA is a crossover, so why not appeal directly to all the tuners with money out there?
Because of BMW's confusing naming policy, a little introduction is required before discussing our test model. The base X2 is the 28i, which comes with front-wheel-drive and a turbocharged 2.0-liter inline 4, not a 2.8-liter as the same implies. The AWD version is the xDrive28i, with xDrive being the name of BMW's AWD system.
Our tester was a M35i, with the M denoting the company's in-house high-performance line, which means a stiffer suspension, bigger brakes and special trim. The 35i stands for, well, we don't have any idea, and we aren't willing to break down and look it up, either. The engine is still a turbo 2.0, but much more powerful than the 28i version. It boasts 302 horsepower and 332 foot-pounds of torque, 74 more in both categories than the 28i.
When started, the engine snaps to life with a blast from the exhaust. That's the first clue BMW intends the M35i for the enthusiasts. The second is the suspension, which is so stiff, you can't help but notice just pulling out of the driveway or parking lot — even in the Comfort mode.
The combination of the powerful motor, stiff suspension and massive brakes requires the driver to play close attention at all times, even in slow, stop-and-go traffic. But when the road opens up and the M35i can run, it all makes sense. This is a serious small vehicle — crossover, hatch, whatever — for serious driving. The standard AWD helps keep it on the road in wet Pacific Northwest weather.
Our test 2019 BMW X2 M35i had a restrained white exterior and an eye-popping Magna Red Dakota Leather interior that contrasted with it. The color is only available with the $500 M Sport seats, but adds life to the otherwise traditional form-follows-function deign.
Expect to see more manufacturers introducing serious high-performance luxury subcompact crossovers in coming years. It will be hard for any of them to top the BMW X2 M35i, however.
2019 BMW X2 M35i
Base price: $46,450
Price as tested: $55,020
Type: Subcompact crossover
Engine: TwinPower turbo charged 2.0-liter four-cylinder (302 hp, 332 lbs-ft)
Transmission: 8-speed automatic with manual shift modes
Drive modes: Comfort, Eco Pro, Sport
EPA estimated mileage: 23/29
Overall length: 172 inches
Curb weight: 3,721 pounds
Final assembly: Regensburg, Germany
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