SUV Comparison: 2018 BMW X2 vs. 2019 Volvo XC40

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Welcome to Dude Said, Punk Said — a special series devoted to skewering the automotive ramblings of young punk Nick Tragianis with the infinite wisdom of old dude Brian Harper. This week, the duo pitch against each other two new players in the luxury crossover world — BMW’s coupe-like X2 and Volvo‘s stylish XC40.

Nick Tragianis: If you build it, they will come. Apparently, that’s BMW’s mindset regarding the X2. New for 2018, this is yet another one of those four-door “coupe” SUVs BMW seems to love so much. With the soon-to-arrive X7, BMW will have an SUV (or crossover) for every number, from one through seven.

I suppose it’s warranted — crossovers and sport-utes are big money for BMW — but there’s no good reason for the X2 to exist. There, I said it. The X2 is little more than a restyled and somewhat less practical X1. Yet, here we are: BMW is building it and the buyers are coming. I don’t get it; if you want a small luxury crossover with a BMW badge, is the X1 not enough?

The X2 isn’t the only new kid on the block, though. Also new this year is Volvo’s XC40 and, unlike the X2, this thing makes sense. Volvo needs a player in the segment to take on the likes of the Audi Q3, the Infiniti QX30 and Mercedes-Benz’s GLA twins — and apparently BMW’s X1 and X2 — with some good old-fashioned Swedish minimalism.

Brian Harper: Yes, BMW’s product direction seems to be looking less like fast sedans and coupes and more about crossovers or, using BMW’s preferred term, sports activity vehicles. No less than seven distinct, all-wheel-drive soft-roaders for 2018. Wow! Talk about jumping into a market with both feet — one that is hugely profitable and insanely competitive, I might add. So, young Nick, if BMW sees an opportunity to make money by building impractical coupe-style crossovers that stress style over utility (X2, X4 and X6), let it sink or swim on that decision. Besides, we’ve had the impracticality of coupe and coupe-styled cars for decades. You got a beef with them?

Volvo, too has succumbed to the lure of the crossover segment, first with the full-sized XC90, then the mid-sized XC60 and, now, the compact XC40. And, while the X2 focuses on BMW’s traditional precept of sportiness, the XC40 plays to Volvo’s strengths of safety and practical utility, while adding welcomed style to the equation. Yet, while both companies take a slightly different tack in their approach to the compact luxury crossover niche, there are a lot of similarities — engine size and drivetrain, dimensions and pricing being the primary ones. So, which one is turning your crank?

NT: Well, it’s tough to tell these two apart, based on their spec sheets. Both cute-utes are powered by 2.0-litre turbo-fours — because of course they are — and both have eight-speed automatic transmissions. Oh, and both are all-wheel-drive. The Volvo packs a bit more kick, though. It’s good for 248 horsepower and 258 lb.-ft. of torque, the latter of which is available nice and early at 1,500 rpm. It’s a sprightly, smooth and composed little thing, hardly breaking a sweat on the highway and keeping the ride hushed, while soaking up bumps, potholes and rough pavement in the city like nobody’s business. Seriously, for something with 21-inch wheels, the XC40 rides incredibly well. Wish I could say the same for the X2, though.

BH: Ah, yes, the optional P225/45R20 performance run-flats. They do compromise ride quality, don’t they? Run over a set of railway tracks or a piece of patched tarmac and you will feel it. Sure, the X2 has a short wheelbase and its optional M Sport suspension lowers the crossover by 10 millimetres and features much firmer spring and damper tuning than does the XC40, but no, there ain’t a lot of give in those sidewalls.

If you can live with a stiff ride, though, the X2 does a very good job of impersonating the light and lively cars that BMW used to build. I know the purists will sniff, but truly the X2 hangs on when the tarmac gets twisty, wet or dry. Giving credit where due, the xDrive all-wheel-drive system as well as the dynamic stability control setup keep the crossover pointed in the right direction. For me, this is an acceptable compromise. But, then, I’m a sporty kind of guy.

NT: It’s easy to see why the X2 is the better driver in this duo — it’s essentially a rebodied and rebadged Mini Countryman. OK, that too is enough to make BMW purists scoff, but the Countryman is a fun little hauler in its own right. Putting out 228 horsepower and 258 lb.-ft. of torque — same as the JCW-tuned Countryman, by the way — the X2 can certainly dance. In fact, although it’s down on power compared to the XC40, both apparently take 6.2 seconds to hit 100 km/h from a standstill.

Inside, the X2 is what you’d expect from an entry-level BMW. That is to say, it’s “good enough.” No, it won’t knock your socks off with plush carpeting, ultra-soft leather upholstery and BMW’s gesture-controlled infotainment, but the leather feels good, there isn’t much in the way of cheap and hard plastic, it’s easy to find a comfortable driving position, and it’s roomy enough — at least, up front. For a crossover whose existence doesn’t make a lot of sense, the X2’s overall package does come together fairly well, I’ll admit.

But the XC40 uses its interior space better, with far more nooks, crannies and pockets for your stuff, some nice trim bits that class up the interior, and the most important part — visibility. Seriously, looking through the rear-view mirror in the X2 is like peeking through a mail slot. That’s not the case with the Volvo. And, for the record, if you’ve ever used a tablet or an iPad, you won’t have any problems mastering the XC40’s infotainment.

BH: Agreed — BMW interiors, except for the really high-end vehicle stuff, is all about function over form. The Volvo cabin is IKEA-cheerful, with light, bright colours and complementary trim bits. Still, I’m not a fan of the XC40’s tablet-like infotainment; I much prefer the X2’s rotary knob. Actually, what I found particularly interesting is how close the two were in most dimensions; the XC40 was about 50 millimetres longer in length and a more substantial 126 millimetres taller, while the X2 was wider by almost 200 millimetres and about 30 or so kilograms heavier.

Trunk volume was very evenly matched, at 470 litres for the BMW versus 460 for the Volvo with the rear seats in place, and 1,355 litres for the BMW versus 1,336 in the Volvo with the seats folded. As for pricing, the XC40 starts at $39,900 while the X2’s base price is $42,250. You can option the BMW to a substantially higher price tag than you can with the Volvo, though.

For me, picking between the two was a very tough decision. Truly, both crossovers would be welcomed in my driveway. That said, as I prefer my vehicles with a decided sporting bias — sacrificing comfort in many instances — my nod goes to the X2. And if the missus gives me stink eye over that decision, I could slide the more formal roofed X1 by her without (I think) her being any the wiser.

NT: It’s a tough call. It depends on what exactly you want out of a luxury crossover. If you’re seeking something easy to live with, the XC40 is tough to beat. The interior is on point, it’s spacious for the size, it’s fairly stylish inside and out, and because it’s a Volvo after all, it takes safety very seriously. But like you, old dude, I like my vehicles to have some sporting intentions. I can forgive the fact that there’s no good reason for the X2 to exist, because it’s quick, spacious enough, and being careful with options keeps the price reasonable. I’d do two things differently, though: I’d swap out the run-flats, and I’d also wait for the X2 M35i.

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