The BMW X2 M35i has been completely redesigned with a more coupe-like style, more refinement higher, levels of tech and… less performance. Can the new, more expressive design, higher levels of tech and an increase in room overcome the performance deficit? We went to Portugal to find out.

A Slight Downgrade in Performance

The drop in performance isn’t much and it really depends on where in the world you are. In the EU BMW has had to drop the the X2 M35i’s power output from 306 to 300 hp due to new emissions standards. In the US the X2 M35i actually gets an upgrade to 313 hp.

BMW X2 M35i xDrive

But there’s a (global) change in torque that actually feels noticeable. This downgrade has nothing to do with emissions and everything to do with BMW sourcing a new transmission for the B48A20T2. The new Getrag dual clutch is only rated up to 400 nm or 295 ft lbs of torque. Thus BMW has had to turn down the torque of the B48A20T2 from 331 to 295. Cue sad emoji.

The result is a car that should be about .3 seconds slower to 60 mph. That’s partially due to the torque but it’s also tied to a gain in weight as well. The new X2 M35i is up to 3,840 lbs, 97 lbs heavier than the previous version. That may not sound like much but coupled with the lower torque it does add up to a (just barely) noticeable change.

BMW X2 M35i xDrive

A More Focused Driving Experience

But straight line perforce has never been the hallmark of BMWs – even M Performance products like the M35i. What has been is the way they feel.

While power in the EU and torque is down globally, the actual experience of driving has been improved. The steering is now lighter and quicker than before. That may help with a sense of immediacy but it doesn’t actually create feedback. There BMW has worked to recalibrate the EPS software and improve the suspension set-up to allow for a sharper response than in the previous X2 M35i. There’s real feedback in the wheel and with that a confidence in how the car will respond. When was the last time we’ve said that about a front wheel drive based BMW? Maybe never.

This all makes the X2 M35i feels more eager and ultimately more engaging in ways that we simply haven’t seen in a small BMW crossover in a long time. This was a real surprise for us. Having extensively driven the previous X1 M35i and X2 M35i there was a soullessness to their impressive performance. While BMW hasn’t turned this new X2 M35i into an M2, it’s M Division dialed in a sharper driving experience that is compelling and begs to be driven hard on the right roads.

BMW X2 M35i xDrive

Despite this new found engagement, the X2 M35i is even more comfortable and compliant than before. It’s damping is particular impressive with its ability to soak up imperfections while still delivering feedback. Even on some of the more uneven pavement of Portugal’s country roads the car remained poised and unsettled, ready to attack corners and brush off the irregularities of the road.

BMW X2 M35i xDrive

The X2 M35i’s combination of a fast acting xDrive and mechanical provides excellent grip in a torrential rain storm allowing us to not miss a beat on mountain roads.

7 speed dual clutch transmission may have had the unintended consequence of limiting torque, but it does bring a new level of refinement. In our time with the car the DCT felt both quicker and overall smarter than the previous Aisin sourced 8 speed auto. Shifts were less noticeable which helps the entire package feel a bit more refined. But they weren’t always as quick as we’d like. There were several times during spirited driving that upshifts weren’t nearly as quick as we’d expect. The DCT has gone a long way in eliminated the awkwardness that previous 8 speed auto could have when downshifting, but it’s still not close to the ZF we find in rear wheel drive based BMWs. It’s interesting given BMW’s long held excellence with its ZF 8 speed that they can’t seem to find perfection in front wheel drive application.

But the overarching vibe we had stepping out of the X2 M35i was just how much BMW and M engineers have improved the overall experience of driving experience. If you can get past the slightly slower straight-line speed this new X2 M35i is the most compelling front wheel drive based BMW we’ve ever driven.

The new X2 has grown in every dimension.

Sizing Up and Out

The X2 has grown in every dimension. Unfortunately it’s not necessarily in ways you’d want if you care about proportion and performance. But if you’re looking for increased utility, it delivers. Boot capacity is up 90 liters with the seats up and 115 when down. That’s a noticeable improvement and one that will appeal to many buyers.

But in our minds it’s an unfortunate change. Why push the X2 to be bigger when there’s really a X1 that, by design, is intended to be more functionally and family oriented? Why not let that be the car that delivers the extra capacity and the X2 focus on style and performance? Which leads us to the other area of disappointment…

BMW X2 M35i xDrive and it’s questionable rear 3/4 view

The Questionable Design Evolution of the X2

BMW X2 M35i xDrive

This is purely subjective but look above and tell us that’s attractive. Or even handsome. The desire of BMW designers to push the X2 further away from the X1 seems right on paper. But the execution – especially the angular form language – is jarring at best. At worst it’s awkward.

There were some on the launch that preferred it to first generation X2. But to our eyes it’s forcefully applying a design direction that work on much larger cars (the X6 for instance) into a smaller package that simply can’t handle them.

But the biggest issue we have are the size of those overhangs. Driven by pedestrian safety and a need for a larger boot, the X2 looks unbalanced in many angles and doesn’t read as a typical BMW.


A Huge Leap in Technology

One thing the new X2 M35i has going for it is a huge leap in technology on offer. The L2 Driving Assistant Professional is the same system we’ve become familiar with in larger BMWs and it works flawlessly here. This coupled with the new BMW iDrive 9 means the X2 is now up to spec with even the larger, much more expensive BMWs.

BMW X2 and it’s new iDrive 9

However this new touch screen only version of iDrive isn’t perfect. Gone is the multi-function iDrive controller and in its place a 100% touch experience. It’s an interesting move given that BMW has for over 15 years proclaimed multi-function controllers as the safest way to use an infotainment system while driving. Yes consumers have become well acquainted with touch-based systems since those statements were made. But there is no denying that it takes more concentration to use a touch-based system on the move. 

Once you get used to it, the system is rewarding and does offer way more in the way of functionality. But unlike previous iDrive systems there is a learning curve.

BMW X2 M35i xDrive
BMW X2 M35i and it’s best angle.

X2 M35i First Drive Conclusions

We may eventually fall in love with the X2 M35i. But that will have to wait for a longer test. In our first drive we found a lot to like. The increased feedback and engagement was a welcome surprise and one that goes along way in our minds. But the reduction of torque and performance doesn’t help its case. And the overall aesthetics are challenging compared to the handsome first generation X2.

But the new X2 is a huge leap in so many areas. Material quality is way up as is comfort and compliance. BMW has done an admirable job refining the X2 into something that clearly feels more premium and more multi-faceted than before. At $51,400 it may not be cheap, but given the rather bland competition, you can’t say it doesn’t stand out.