Every time there’s a new small BMW, we hear the talk about the “Spiritual Successor to the BMW 2002.”
This was BMW’s small 2-door that around 1970 took the quite pleasant 1600 2-door and stuffed a larger 2.0-liter 4-cylinder motor in it – classic hot-rodding, actually – and basically turned the automotive world on its ear.
With the 2002, you had a totally practical, roomy and innocuous little sedan that outperformed the traditional sports cars of the day, and when the later fuel-injected 2002tii appeared, it was hunting down bigger game – including expensive European cars and powerful domestics, too.
In the U.S. it was the beginning of the BMW legend, and that car still has scores of followers. Recently, cars like the BMW 128i Coupe and the 228i coupe have been called the new 2002.
But we feel the true successor to the BMW 2002 is the X2 M35i.
Let us explain.
Today’s crossover is the new small car.
I think we can say that in general terms, SUVs and crossovers have become the family vehicles of choice. What started out as vehicle that was plain but loaded with utility has become everything to everybody – luxury, safety, performance; you can get it all in a crossover now.
And the X2, which BMW likes to call a Sports Activity Vehicle (it’s a crossover), is a perfect blend of practicality with a sporty, squatty stance. Based on the much more conventional-looking BMW X1, the X2 has a muscular stance with a top that sits low like a baseball cap pulled down, a long hoodline with an aggressive grille, and a squat rump. Quite sporty.
The M235i takes it to another level, with M Performance elements, and full LED head and fog lights, Cerium Grey contrasting trim including mirror caps, massive side air intakes to feed the hungry motor and cool the brakes, and around back, an M rear spoiler and an M Sport exhaust system.
We loved the look of our tester in its Alpine White, and combined with the optional 20” M Sport light alloy wheels – also in Cerium Grey – our X2 looked serious about getting down to the business of driving.
A Perfect Office for the Business of Driving
Step inside, and It gets even more exciting. It starts with bright splash of color, thanks to the Magma Red Dakota leather – which smells lovely – available with the optional M Sport seats. Sporty they are and aggressively bolstered to hold you in place. Other connection points are a chunky leather-wrapped M Sport steering wheel and paddle shifters.
Instrumentation is typical BMW with a big clear Speedo and Tach, with a large 8.8 -inch hi-res tablet handling the info-tainment duties. Controlling said info and tainment is BMW’s iDrive controller in the center of the console – one of the first – now it’s one of the best, with easy to follow menu-driven components that seem natural and logical from the get-go.
Keeping you connected is standard Apple CarPlay, and especially useful here, a heads-up display that tells you the local speed limit that you’re most likely blowing past.
In fact, all of the controls feel familiar. If you’ve been in any BMW in recent times, everything is in the same place. Familiarity breeds appreciation here. All is well in the front seats, there’s plenty of room, and the hunkered down lines make it feel like you’re in an aggressive little sport coupe. Visibility to the rear is a little tight, but you get used to it quickly.
Adults in back will find it a little too hunkered down – there’s room and the front sport seats have nice cut outs to give some foot room to those in back, but it’s probably best for short trips.
Where the X2 owns up to its Crossover/SAV heritage is cargo capacity. Fold down the rear seats and you’ve got loads of room. Like the original BMW 2002, it’s a friendly and useful interior.
And now, down to the business of driving
Ok, first we’ll point out the obvious. The X2 M35i is all wheel drive. While the BMW traditionalists may yell “foul!” We would point out that when the original 2002 was built, rear wheel drive was the standard for most cars. AWD was a rarity. Today, which wheels get driven seems less important. Some of the greatest current small performance cars like the Honda Civic Type R are even fwd.
The X2’s resume starts with a powerhouse of an engine. This is BMW’s most powerful 4-cylinder sold here, and the numbers are impressive. The 2.0-liter turbo kicks out 302 horsepower and a stout 332 lb.-ft of torque at just 1750 rpm. This is no quick turn-up-the-boost job; almost every major component was beefed up to handle the power.
In daily driving, it has a rorty, but not obnoxious exhaust note in standard mode, and it’s quick and always on its toes.
But put it in Sport mode, and it becomes possessed, with a loud bark and cabin-filling exhaust sound that’s kind of obnoxious, and kind of addicting. Plus, the smooth 8-speed automatic gets into the act snapping off shifts and making the M35i seriously fast. Oh, and don’t forget the advanced Xdrive all-wheel drive system with an M Sport differential on the front axle – a BMW first.
We’re talking 0-60 in the mid 4-second range. Part of that is thanks to the available launch control mode. And that makes just about any other sports car, muscle car, or super coupe fair game – you’ll be paying lots more to find something quicker. It could easily keep up with the
$96,000 Lexus LC500 we tested! Plus like the original 2002, even with the big 20-inch rims, the X2 looks kind of cute and sporty – few realize what a monster lies beneath those chunky lines.
The ride also shows the genius BMW has at building a chassis. This is a firm – make that very firm – suspension, helped in no part by the large wheels and tires, and yet it never feels harsh. That said, if you live in an area with broken, bumpy roads, we’d at least opt for the standard 19-inch rims to give your backside a rest. Otherwise having a good Chiropractor might come in handy.
And a massage therapist too – with that all wheel drive, and the massive rims, the cornering grip is phenomenal – your neck will feel it. The steering is beautifully weighted, with a faster steering ratio than other X2’s, and it hard wires you to the drive. Thank goodness BMW also fitted M Sport brakes here!
Overall, the X2 feels like you have your own personal rally car – it’s full of enthusiasm, a bit loud, totally exuberant and you won’t stop grinning for hours after driving it hard. You’ll also notice a palpable sense of confidence, thanks to standard Forward Collision Warning with City Collision Mitigation and Lane Departure Warning.
How Much for this Little Slice of Driving Heaven?
Well, this is a special vehicle. Brimming with all the goodies BMW could throw at it without making it a true M car like an M2, M3 or so. The X2 M35i starts at $46,450. Our tester added the 20” wheels for a bargain $600, M Sport front seats for an also bargain $500, Magma Red Dakota Leather, $1,450, Premium Package for $1400, Panoramic Moonroof for $1,350, Harmon Kardon Surround Sound system for $875, add in $995 for Destination, and we totaled $53,620.
There is one similar competitor – the Mercedes GLA45 AMG. With a mouth-watering 375 horsepower from its 2.0-liter turbo 4-cylinder, performance might even be slightly better than the X2 M35i. But there is a catch. Comparably equipped, we were in it for over $67,000. $14,000 more is a huge sum. There’s also the all-new Range Rover Evoque, a comparable build ran $58,915 – but with a 246 hp 4-cylinder turbo, and Range Rover quoting a 0-60 of 7 seconds, it would be left far, far, in the BMW’s dust.
Let’s just call the X2 M35i a performance bargain in the rare stratified air that it competes.
We loved our time with the BMW X2 M35i. You can argue whether or not it is the second coming of the BMW 2002.
The X2 M35i is an amazing vehicle: looks, capability and blindingly fast. It’s sure to be a legend in its own right.
Ben Lewis grew up in Chicago, and after spending his formative years driving sideways in the winter – often intentionally – moved to sunny Southern California. He now enjoys sunny weather year-round — whether it is autocross driving, aerobatics, and learning to surf.