It all be­gan with the X5, and now we are at an­other stage of the X Line’s evo­lu­tion. Please wel­come the X2

Top Gear (Philippines) - - Bmw X2 - WORDS BY DINZO TABAMO PHO­TOG­RA­PHY BY TOM KIRK­PATRICK

‘the stan­dard re­ac­tion to an­other new X model is, “what? what for?”’

you’d think that af­ter 14 years in this job, I’d have done it all. For almost a decade and a half, I’ve at­tended Tokyo Mo­tor Shows, Mid­dle East test drives, and Thai­land road trips. But one ex­cit­ing ac­tiv­ity has eluded me: a Euro­pean me­dia drive in a Euro­pean car.

I’ve driven in Europe in a personal ca­pac­ity, thanks to my mom’s for­mer em­ploy­ment in Italy. As a Top Gear writer, I’ve driven a G-Class in Aus­tria, but only briefly and in a closed course. I’ve never truly known the plea­sure of getting to know a new au­to­mo­bile in the charm­ing con­ti­nent it was de­signed in (and for).

Un­til now. I was in­vited by BMW Philip­pines, re­cently ac­quired by the San Miguel group, to ex­pe­ri­ence the all-new BMW X2 in Por­tu­gal.

The stan­dard re­ac­tion to yet an­other new X model is, “What? What for?!” It be­gan way back in 1999 when the Ger­man car­maker un­leashed the first X5 to the world. Ar­dent Bim­mer fans were aghast that the blue-and-white pro­pel­ler badge would adorn the vul­gar Amer­i­can ve­hi­cle category known as the SUV.

But the X5 found a mar­ket, and even doubters were si­lenced be­cause it was ac­tu­ally good. In a savvy bit of mar­ket­ing, BMW never called it an SUV, pre­fer­ring the term ‘sports ac­tiv­ity ve­hi­cle’ (SAV). It couldn’t carve cor­ners like a 3-Se­ries, but it could seat five com­fort­ably and even haul a few pieces of lug­gage. And enough DNA was re­tained for the X5 to merit be­ing called a driv­ing ma­chine. Never mind the ‘ul­ti­mate’ part.

BMW was only getting started, ap­par­ently. The smaller X3 ar­rived next—a log­i­cal fol­low-up. But the X6’s de­but in 2007 raised eye­brows again. A five-door mid­size coupe-cross­over... thing? What were the Ger­mans smok­ing? But again, the sales vindi­cated BMW’s gamble. By the time the X1 ar­rived, we had al­ready crossed the point of no re­turn.

I con­fess I have a soft spot for the X line. I saw the first X5 at the 1999 Tokyo Mo­tor Show as a col­lege stu­dent. Like most peo­ple, I had my reser­va­tions, and I wrote about my doubts in my on­line blog (yuck, blog­ger). That blog en­try formed the ba­sis for my sam­ple ar­ti­cle when I ap­plied for a po­si­tion at Top

Gear Philip­pines, and now here I am. Our fam­ily even­tu­ally bought a first-gen­er­a­tion X5. All it took was a drive up to Baguio to con­vince me that this ‘SAV’ made per­fect sense. As I ne­go­ti­ated a hair­pin on Ken­non Road, with “Nes­sun Dorma” play­ing in the in­su­lated cabin, the X5 clung to the road and trans­mit­ted ev­ery kick­back-rid­den rut on the road to my fin­gers. My un­der­stand­ing of physics was broad­ened that day.

And now we ar­rive at yet an­other stage in the X

evo­lu­tion—the X2. Like the X4 and the X6 be­fore it, it’s the ‘coupe-fied’ ver­sion of an ex­ist­ing model, which, in this case, is the X1.

The pro­gram BMW has pre­pared for the global launch is sim­ple: fly in, sleep, re­lax, at­tend dinner pre­sen­ta­tion, sleep, drive, re­lax, sleep, fly home. Trust the Ger­mans to craft a fun itin­er­ary in 13 words.

Dur­ing the dinner, I’m for­tu­nate enough to be seated next to Wolf­gang Stutz, head of BMW’s en­gine tech­nolo­gies de­vel­op­ment. I learn that the X2 will be made in the Ger­man city of Re­gens­burg, and that—in M Sport spec—it’s 10mm lower than the X1 and 7cm shorter from the street to the roof. Thee vari­ants will be avail­able at launch: sDrive 20i, xDrive

20d, and xDrive 25d. Later on, the sDrive 18i, xDrive 20i, sDrive 18d, and xDrive 18d will join the lineup. But the only op­tion we have for our test drive is the xDrive 20d M Sport.

BMW is rightly proud of the mill in this vari­ant—it’s a new en­gine, and the X2 is the first model to use it. Mated to an eight-speed au­to­matic, it’s good for 190hp and 400Nm. This diesel pow­er­plant uses a se­lec­tive catalytic re­duc­tion sys­tem, also known as an NOx setup. A blue ad­di­tive must be added

‘The X2 is low and squat, un­like its taller X1 sib­ling’

to the en­gine ev­ery 10,000km to man­age emis­sions. As far as I know, BMW Philip­pines—or any lo­cal car brand, for that mat­ter—has not yet made such a sys­tem lo­cally avail­able, so if we get the xDrive 20d, it’ll be a first for our mar­ket.

The BMW fan­boy in me raises his hand, and I ask Herr Stutz if the big­ger in-line-sixes will make their way to the X2’s en­gine bay. He says that X2 en­gines are mounted trans­versely, and in­line en­gines are quite long, so there. But he says they’re happy with the diesels, and their tar­get was smooth power de­liv­ery dur­ing de­vel­op­ment. I guess I’ll find out soon enough if they’ve ac­com­plished this.

On the day of the drive, I take a few min­utes to soak in the de­tails of the gleam­ing X2 be­fore me. BMW driv­ing events are rather chill—some­thing I didn’t ex­pect from the ex­act­ing Ger­mans. You just present your driver li­cense, get a key, go to the row of parked demo units, press un­lock on the key fob, then drive the BMW that lights up. Then just bring it back in one piece be­fore the 3pm dead­line.

Is there love at first sight? I’m go­ing through a gold phase right now, and this unit in Gal­vanic Gold metallic is call­ing to me. BMW says it is reach­ing out to a young mar­ket with this model, thus this bling hue and new colors like Sun­set Or­ange and Misano Blue. These sound more like Air Jor­dan col­or­ways than car-paint op­tions. But the Gal­vanic Gold finish is not tacky. You can see the deep lus­ter of the metal, and the shade looks more mus­tard-yel­low than full-on rap­per bling.

Af­ter getting over the color, I an­a­lyze the body shape. The X2 is cer­tainly at­trac­tive, but is it beau­ti­ful? My brain doesn’t give me a ver­dict right away. It’s low and squat, danc­ing be­tween the cross­over and wagon cat­e­gories. Its X1 sib­ling would look pos­i­tively tall be­side it.

The om­nipresent kid­ney grille is here, but this time it’s wider at the base than at the top—a first for a modern Bim­mer. On ei­ther side of it are halo­gen head­lights with hexag­o­nal LED DRLs as stan­dard. Full LEDs are op­tional. While star­ing at the

bumper—the en­gine has been started by now—I see flaps be­hind the grille open­ing au­to­mat­i­cally to let in air. They close a minute later. Whoa.

The 19in M Sport wheels are gor­geous, no con­test. Stan­dard X2s will get 17in rollers, but you’ll feel bad if you don’t get the M Sport trim. What sur­prises me the most is the ap­pear­ance of the BMW roundel on the C-pil­lar, be­side the Hofmeis­ter kink. Bim­mer fans will know this badge from the clas­sic 2000 CS and

3.0 CSL from the ’70s. This is an unexpected—but wel­come– throw­back.

The cabin is as fine as the ex­te­rior. An el­e­gant leather steer­ing wheel, pad­dle shifters (op­tional), driver-ori­ented in­stru­ments, and a joy­stick trans­mis­sion greet you when you en­ter. A high-res­o­lu­tion in­fo­tain­ment screen—stan­dard across the range—dom­i­nates the cen­ter of the low dash­board. The metallic trim has an in­tri­cate mesh pat­tern that I can’t re­sist run­ning my fin­gers over.

The seats are cov­ered in al­can­tara-like fabric with yel­low stitch­ing. I don’t know if these have been de­signed to match what­ever body color the X2 has, and I don’t want to ask around be­cause I’m itch­ing to drive at this point.

From our hotel in Lis­bon, the route is set to take us to

the Ribeira D’Il­has Surf Restau­rant & Bar, about 60km away, and back. That’s only an hour’s drive away and we have about six hours with our test cars, so we have time to take pho­tos and go around the coun­try­side.

Like most of Europe, Por­tu­gal has amaz­ing roads— su­per­nat­u­rally wide and well-main­tained com­pared to our road net­work. I find the X2’s driv­ing po­si­tion is great, and this in it­self is an ar­gu­ment getting a cross­over. You sit snugly in the well-bol­stered seat, but you have an ex­pan­sive view of what’s ahead. In Metro Manila, where sur­prises in the form of dis­tracted pedes­tri­ans and un­car­ing taxis jump at you, ad­vance warn­ing is pre­cious.

Herr Stutz is ab­so­lutely cor­rect—the en­gine is smooth as but­ter. The diesel hum is still there to bother finicky titos, but to me, it just fades into the back­ground. Mash the pedal and the Bim­mer surges forward with alacrity, but I feel the chas­sis can handle much more. Be­ing the low­est model to the ground in the X lineup, the X2 dis­plays the least body roll among its cross­over sib­lings. Even then, road im­per­fec­tions are eas­ily ab­sorbed by the chas­sis and the sus­pen­sion.

My light­bulb mo­ment with the X2 ar­rives when the navigation sys­tem leads me to a se­ries of very tight streets—it almost feels like I’m back in Manila. On ei­ther side of my gold BMW are inches sep­a­rat­ing me from an em­bar­rass­ing apol­ogy to my Ger­man hosts. But the X2’s com­pact di­men­sions, ac­cu­rate steer­ing, and ex­act throttle feed­back en­sure that I won’t be re­mem­bered as that portly Asian jour­nal­ist who struck gold paint.

My con­voy stops to take pho­tos, and as I en­ter the X2 again, the side of my head hits the door frame—a re­minder of this cross­over’s diminu­tive size. I have a chance to sit in the back (with Sin­ga­pore­ans in the front seats), and it feels com­fort­able. The top of my head doesn’t brush the ta­pered roofline, so six-foot­ers should have no trou­ble rid­ing in the back. I do feel a lit­tle dizzy once we hit the moun­tain curves—a pos­si­ble down­side to hav­ing a small cabin ro­tate so quickly. But over­all, it’s still a plea­sur­able ride.

As I re­turn the key of the X2, I pon­der on the weak­nesses of this new model. At 10-11km/L, fuel econ­omy could be bet­ter, but we’ve also done a lot of throttle mash­ing. The de­sign looks a lit­tle awk­ward from some an­gles, but that’s sub­jec­tive.

Like all the even-num­bered X mod­els, this will boil down to taste, be­cause the driv­ing feel is prac­ti­cally guar­an­teed. If you’re turned off by the look and the idea of the X2, then don’t bother. But if it strikes a chord within you and you’re up for some­thing bold, ver­sa­tile, and fun to drive, then all you have to do is wait till BMW Philip­pines brings this in and pick a color.

There’s some­thing about a three-spoke tiller that we love

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