BMW has long called itself the Ultimate Driving Machine. However these days, the world’s second best-selling premium brand has arguably gone from a sports sedan purveyor to more of a luxury high-end wagon manufacturer.
Times they are a changing, just as consumers’ tastes have as well. It’s a tough market out there and BMW has had to adapt with the times.
Fortunately, the company has not only retained its famed Motorsports division and expanded the M model line-up in the last few years, but indeed they’ve also introduced “M-Lite” to the masses in the form of the M Performance line-up of cars.
What is it?
BMW Canada refers to “M Performance” as being the “perfect synthesis of pure athleticism, absolute top performance and unique comfort”.
“M Performance” cars are “inspired by BMW M” and an opportunity for BMW to win in-between customers who are seeking a more performance-oriented model but not ready to graduate to the full meal M deal.
In order to keep this something-in-the-middle-of range of models simple, the company decided to keep the nomenclature simple and didn’t create another name.
BMW is careful to point out that M Performance cars are built in a BMW factory and developed by the core engineering department within BMW.
They’re not developed by the BMW accessory group, hence a distinct difference between M Performance Automobiles and M Performance Parts, which are currently available as a range of accessories and packages.
The X2 M35i compact crossover is one of the latest examples of this high level of integration to come out from BMW.
With this M35i model, BMW doubles down on the success of the X2 and plays to its strength. Even the base-engine X2 xDrive28i behaves more like a premium hot hatch than a compact SUV.
The X2 M35i improves upon the base car’s sporty handling and fun-to-drive factor and adds a few more things that make it even more fun.
What makes it different?
With the X2, BMW re-interprets its popular X1 crossover by blending in its expertise in the sport-ute-coupe category from the X4 and X6. The difference here though, is that the other Bimmer X-mobiles’ hunchback look has been ditched in favour of hot hatch styling.
I think that the company has done a great job in making the case for its target market – young executives – to splurge for the X2 over something practical and cheaper, such as a Honda CR-V Touring.
The X2 M35i takes it a step further with more power and sportier styling. The latter comes in the form of larger 20 inch M Sport light alloy wheels wrapped in Pirelli PZero rubber, as well as satin-finished Cerium Grey mirror caps, kidney grille surrounds and lower detailing.
There are also slightly different M bumpers, an M rear roof spoiler, and two 100 mm diameter tailpipes attached to the M Sport exhaust.
Under the skin, the increase in power comes from a new 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine courtesy of BMW’s M Performance division. This smallish mill produces big power, a whopping 302 hp and 332lb-ft of torque.
This is BMW’s first high-performance engine of the recent past and is destined to compete with the likes of the Audi SQ3 and the Mercedes-AMG GLA35.
The only transmission available is a well-sorted 8 speed automatic gearbox that feeds power to all four wheels. Paddle shifters are, of course, standard equipment, as is launch control.
Evidently the X2 M35i can scramble to 100 km/hr in around 5 seconds, partly thanks to an M Sport locking differential on the front axle maximizing traction. This integration of an all-wheel-drive system with a front locking different is also a first for BMW.
What’s it like to drive?
The X2 M35i;s chassis has been given the M Performance treatment, with engineers introducing a lower and stiffer suspension set-up, complete with a redesigned rear axle.
Adaptive dampers are optional and a re-calibrated steering system has been fitted, designed to increase road feel and precision. The fettled steering system conveys more immediacy, despite being electric. One only has to appreciate it to appreciate how quickly this form of technology continues to improve.
The brakes have also been revised, with larger M Sport discs and pads, plus calipers painted in the traditional blue finish.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the X2 M35i is fast rather than fun. It’s a point-and-go sort of car where you just point it in the direction you want to go, stomp on the throttle pedal, and it will shoot off like a stabbed rat.
I do literally mean stomp as well, as there is a noticeable amount of turbo lag present in low speed heavy traffic situations before the twin-scroll turbocharger builds from low revs. I don’t remember experiencing anywhere as significant of a lag on either the X1 or X2 xDrive28i so this must be both a result of the larger turbo and the engine tuning.
When set to Comfort mode, the turbo lag was the most apparent particularly below the 2,000 rpms sweet spot. Sport mode increases the steering heft, quickens the throttle pedal response, and also has the benefit of opening up the tailpipe valves to make the exhaust noises all edgy. Here, the engine’s real output becomes readily apparent, but one still has to content with some turbo lag albeit significantly less.
When the M35i does pick up, it carries speed easily as the 300+ horsepower available on tap makes passing maneuvers a breeze. Like other BMWs, one just marvels at how artificially ow the speed limits feel when in this vehicle.
The downside to all of this is that in order to keep the body control nailed, the suspension is on the firm side, even with the adaptive dampers doing their work. The 20 inch wheels with low profile rubber don’t help matters either. Just make sure that you buy this vehicle eyes wide open.
What about the interior?
Inside, the M sport theme continues with a number of M Sport accents. There are a pair of heavily bolstered and heated performance seats, offering adjustable lumbar and bolster support at the push of a button
M-branded seatbelts and “M35i” branded front door scuff plates were also fitted to my test vehicle.
The rest of the interior is pretty much standard X2 fare with a thick-rimmed M Sport leather steering wheel finishing off the package.
Like other X2s, on the safety and technology fronts, there’s a full-colour head-up display incorporating traffic sign recognition, and driver assistant systems, like active cruise with stop-and-go function, always handy on the always jammed highways.
As hateful a concept as performance compact crossover utes may be to BMW purists, the reality of the world that we live in today is that coupe sales are down, but SUV and crossover sales just keep rising. BMW has to build what the customers are asking for in order to remain in business.
If one just takes a step back and looks at the compromise, there is certainly more that has been gained than that which has been lost.
For those shopping for an upmarket all-weather hot hatch, the BMW X2 M35i may not exactly be an obvious choice, nor is it that much of a bargain. However, the vehicle bares strong consideration since it is that remarkable of an overall package.
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