Battle of the X's: Is the BMW X2 the Anti-Volvo XC40?

2019 Volvo XC40, 2018 BMW X2

Question all you want BMW's decision to multiply its lineup with in-between cars. (We certainly have.) But the automaker's latest example, the X2, at least lands in a popular class: small SUVs. We recently drove the X2, a hatchbacky crossover that shares many parts with the X1, and comparisons arose with another luxury micro-SUV we recently tested — the Volvo XC40.

Related: First Drive: 2018 BMW X2 Makes a Better Second Impression

"In some ways, the X2 is the antithesis to the Volvo XC40," L.A. Bureau Chief Brian Wong declared. "The XC40's strengths are value, lots of passenger room — headroom, especially — and materials quality. The X2 sucks at all those things, but it's fun to drive."

Do the SUVs indeed play opposite roles, a sort of Andrew Clark meets Brian Johnson? (That's a "Breakfast Club" reference, kids.) Cars.com editors didn't exactly spend a whole Saturday in the Shermer High library discussing the topic, but we offered plenty of deliberation in the unvarnished forum of our reviewers' online message board. Put three — no, four — of those chin-stroking emojis here.

The Jock Meets the Brain

At face value, the two come from opposite approaches. BMW promised "undiluted driving fun" when it proffered the X2 nine months ago, while Volvo touted the XC40's myriad storage provisions and high level of safety equipment when it unveiled the XC40 around the same time.

How much of an athlete is the X2? Senior Editor Mike Hanley lauded its power and design, opining that "the X2 gets the sporty-looking SUV aesthetic right in a way that the X4 and X6 haven't been able to do." Copy Editor Patrick Masterson commended the SUV's nimbleness and steering feedback, while Managing Editor Joe Bruzek thought it "handled competently."

Executive Editor Joe Wiesenfelder declared the smallest of BMW's coup-ified SUVs as its best-realized.

"This is the first even-numbered BMW X I've had any use for," Wiesenfelder said. "If the idea is you get a sportier, cooler-looking vehicle at the expense of some utility versus the odd-numbered version — the X1 in this case — it's best if the vehicle is sportier and cooler looking, and I don't think the X4 and X6 deliver in these regards. To me the X2 is pretty good looking, and it has a lower center of gravity and feels more like a car. Being front-drive-based doesn't hurt the dynamics too much, and it has quick steering."

Still, every editor, including Wiesenfelder, called its drivetrain — a turbocharged 2.0-liter good for 228 horsepower and 258 pounds-feet of torque — merely OK. Versus the XC40 — from an automaker without BMW's performance heritage — the X2's drivetrain "didn't feel wildly different," Masterson said. And Production Editor Brian Normile said he found the BMW's driving experience "frustrating," as it "didn't seem to offer much of a sporty driving experience except for a firm-to-harsh ride and limited outward visibility."

Masterson drove the two SUVs back-to-back and deemed the X2 short on its billing.

"My biggest bone to pick with the X2 may be in the way it was pitched as BMW's idea of a World Rally Championship car," he said. "Which: What? BMW wants us to think of the X2 in the same way we think of a Ford Fiesta or Toyota Yaris ... but the experience of driving it is hardly comparable. It's a subcompact SUV, nothing more."

The XC40, meanwhile, was the brainiac of the pair — a pragmatic choice among micro-SUVs for utility and occupant space. It "does a much better job of offering value, style and functionality than the X2," Normile said. "The X2 doesn't outdo the XC40 in any particular category outside of existence of physical controls. The X2 isn't really the antithesis of the XC40 as much as a less successful attempt to achieve the same goals."

Or Maybe the Regular Kid Meets the Regular Kid

Comparisons accompanied disagreement with the whole premise. Is the X2 really the XC40's opposite? Bruzek thought the SUVs are "more similar than dissimilar, at least in how the stack up within their own lineup. Both are stylistically more youthful and less pretentious than their bigger siblings."

Masterson found the difference between the X2 and XC40 "much closer" than, say, the X3 and XC60 in Cars.com's Compact Luxury SUV Challenge: "The X2 was nimble and feedback was favorable. The engine wasn't noteworthy, but it didn't feel wildly different from the XC40 T5."

Hanley noted disagreement with the whole setup: The XC40's comparison belongs to the taller X1, not the hunkered-down X2.

"I'd argue Volvo doesn't really have an X2 competitor yet — they're still filling out their SUV lineup while BMW is coming up with new ways to slice the class even further," Hanley said. "From a space, price and utility standpoint, BMW's answer to the XC40 is the X1, which was revamped a few years ago to better fit the subcompact SUV mold."

Cars.com's Editorial department is your source for automotive news and reviews. In line with Cars.com's long-standing ethics policy, editors and reviewers don't accept gifts or free trips from automakers. The Editorial department is independent of Cars.com's advertising, sales and sponsored content departments.

 
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