Wheel Life

By Steve Siler –

GETTING EVEN

BMW sexes up its entry-level X1 and X3 SUV to create the all-new X2 and X4.

 

The BMW X4

Byerische Motoren Werke—i.e., Bavarian Motor Works—has built automobiles and motorcycles for some 95 years, but since the X5 appeared in 1999, the company has embraced SUVs, too. Indeed, the X5 proved that SUVs and BMW’s famous “Ultimate Driving Machine” mantras weren’t, in fact, incompatible, but rather they could be nimble, quick, and rewarding to drive. Since then, BMW’s family of SUVs, which BMW insists on calling “Sport Activity Vehicles,” has steadily grown to include the X1, X3, X4, and X6. Six SUVs? Actually, there are just three models considered core models, wearing traditional SUV profiles and odd-numbered name badges: X1, X3, X5. Each of the three has sprouted more style-driven alternatives that trade some utility in favor of sexier packaging, with individual models donated by even-numbered names: X2, X4, and X6. Once the range-topping X7 appears in the not-distant future, the number of SUVs models in the BMW lineup could match its range of sedans, coupes, and wagons—a remarkable development for the company that built its legacy on nimble, charismatic automobiles with names like 2002, 320i and Z8. My how things change—or do they? This year, BMW welcomes two of its sexiest-ever SUVs to the family: a redesigned, second-generation X4 compact crossover and the first-ever subcompact X2, both prudently sized and decidedly sporty, much like BMWs of yore. Time will tell if the X2 and X4 are the stuff of automotive legends, but of all the sport-utility vehicles—ahem, Sport Activity Vehicles—BMW has introduced to date, these bear the closest kinship to their legendary forebears.

The BMW X2

If you looked at the X2 and said, “Aww, cute!”, you’re not alone. Indeed, trying as it does to look strong with its long nose, brooding headlamps, “inverted” kidney grille, and chunky body contours, it looks at least  as cute as it does serious. An “M Sport X Design” package yields a visually lowering body kit in gray and more aggressive front fascias, though the gray “mask” upfront reminds me of my neighbor’s adorable pug. Interestingly, the X2 doesn’t make its design statement by way of a fastback rear window, à la the X4 and X6, but through a steeper windshield, slim windows, squat body, and thick C-pillars \ brandishing BMW’s iconic roundel—an homage to BMW’s legendary 3200CS and 3.0CSL coupes, among others. All told, pug face and all, I think the X2 is BMW’s best-looking SUV.

It’s also BMW’s smallest SUV, based on the sub-compact X1, only with three fewer inches  of length, a fraction of an inch less width and a two-inch-lower roof. Naturally, this presents certain packaging compromises: yielding less cargo space, less rear headroom, and don’t even think about squeezing three full-grown adults back there. Folding one or more seats or the center section opens up more space, but make no mistake, this is a bite-sized BMW. Most of the X2’s interior comes from the X1, including its sophisticated gauges, sensibly arranged buttons banks, available Wifi and navigation, and a refined iDrive infotainment system operated via 6.5- or 8.8-inch touchscreens, voice control, steering wheel controls, and iDrive’s famous scrolling device. The X2’s color palette includes bolder choices that the X1, including “Galvanic Gold’ and Misano Blue, and a terra cotta-like Dakota Red leather. At night, six ambient lights colors are selectable via iDrive. The X1 and X2 are unique among BMW SUVs in being front-wheel-drive-based, though its handling remains nearly as sharp as its larger, rear-drive-based brethren. It’s not really fast yet it feels light, with superb brakes bringing it down from speed with poise.

2018 BMW X2

(BASE PRICE: $37,395)

• BMW’s smallest “ute,” lower and smaller than X1

• Stout body with expressive styling

• Excellent handling despite front-drive basis 228-hp four-cylinder engine/eight-speed automatic is sole powertrain

2019 BMW X4
(BASE PRICE: $51,445)

• An X3 with a fastback rear window

• More spacious than the first-generation model

• Choice of 248-hp four-cylinder or 355- hp six-cylinder engines

• Considerably pricier than X3

BMW X4

When BMW introduced a hatchback version of the X5 called the X6, many scoffed at its utter disregard for utility in favor of swoopy style. Later, when BMW crafted the first-generation X4 from the proverbial rib of the smaller X3, the result was an awkwardly tall, ridiculously impractical X4. Yet people love them, and so BMW does, too. For its second iteration, the redesigned 2019 X4 is lower, longer and a bit wider than the X3 and has grown where it really needed to— in the back seat and cargo area, adding an inch of rear legroom and an extra cubic foot of cargo space, which remains modest—but, hey, any added space is appreciated. The X4 is more voluptuous now, its rear window is situated further back, its body sides smoothened and its windows enlarged, resulting in more bulbous-looking rear end. Some details like the fender vents seem superfluous, while others—like the taillamps—are sublime. The overall look is decidedly modernized yet remains both awkwardly tall and delightfully weird. I wouldn’t change a thing. The X4 goes on sale this June starting eight grand higher than the redesigned 2018 X3 on which the X4 is based at $51,445. I haven’t driven the X4 yet, but I have driven the X3, and expect it to be just as superb to drive, whether one chooses the 248-hp turbocharged four-cylinder or the zestier, $10K-pricier 355-hp turbo six. Nearly even weight distribution combined with BMW’s chassis expertise should ensure stellar handling, too. Anyone unsatisfied with its dynamics might be advised to check out a 3-Series wagon or its stylish alternative, the 4 Series Gran Turismo, traditional cars though they may be. At least BMW gives you choices.

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