Opposites Attract: BMW X2 & Volvo XC40

Being a one-man driven hobby, it’s not often (or ever) that I’ve had the chance to do a back to back comparison, but with the keys to the BMW X2 in my hands, this just had to be done.

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Having just driven the BMW X2 and enjoyed its engaging drive characteristics. It’s not exactly what you’d call, economical, especially given its intended target audience. Of course being that it has quite a number of BMW badges on the body, it should command a premium. But this premium also means it has to square off against some very strong competition.

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Ladies and gents, here comes a new challenger, the Volvo XC40. And indeed it is new, the XC40 is Volvo’s first foray into the now very hotly contested small luxury SUV segment. It isn’t just a new car built on existing underpinnings either, the XC40 is Volvo’s first car to be built the new CMA platform (To be shared by future compact Volvos, Geely and Lynk & Co models).

It might seem more natural to bring an X1 to the fight, the last time we drove one was back in 2015 and it wouldn’t be fair to pit a 3-year-old car up against Volvo’s latest baby. And while these two are pretty much polar opposites in their approach to the baby luxury SUV market, their local selling prices tell a slightly different story because these two cars are pretty much sandwiched between each other. With the X2 coming in just above the XC40 Momentum but below the range-topping R-Design, which means cross shopping between these two is inevitable. So, let’s see what we’ve got.

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In the (Galvanic) yellow corner, we have the eager beaver from Bavaria, the BMW X2 sDrive20i. Weighing in at 1,535 kilos with 2 litres of turbocharged power. Enabling this X2 to pump out a cool 189 German horses coupled with a twisting force of 280Nm.

And…… in the (Ice) white corner, we have Thor’s very own (rather small) chariot, the Volvo XC40, also with a turbocharged 2-litre heart but Volvo has managed to kraft out quite a bit more juice. For a total of 248 Swedish Horses and 350Nm of torques.

While these numbers might paint a rather unflattering picture for the BMW X2, they only really tell half the story and one only needs to drive either of these to understand why. But first, let’s take a step back and marvel at what we have brought together in front of us.

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The BMW sits low and wide with a high shoulder line heavily tapered towards the front with a multitude of supporting elements to create a rather dynamic visual. Coupled with numerous creases to create a taut and more athletic aesthetic.

The Volvo, on the other hand, is unashamedly chunky. Straight, clearly defined lines and a very clean exterior design with minimal fussiness. It is as restrained as the BMW is flash. If there was one automotive segment where Volvo’s much loved “boxy” aesthetic can once again shine, the SUV demographic is it. It is a very handsome design with just the right touches to make it interesting. For those wishing to inject a bit more Scandinavian sauciness into their ride, the XC40 can be paired with a contrasting roof colour for that extra splash of contrast. My pick would have to be Tiffany colour combo of Amazon blue and white.

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Unfortunately for the Volvo though, what you see here is not exactly what you get when you buy an XC40. We’ve matched up the X2 with an XC40 Momentum spec which comes in at a slightly lower price point than the BMW and while Momentum trim allows you to choose a contrasting white roof to go with your choice of body shade, it does also come with a rather boring (ugly?) set of 18-inch wheels which let’s be honest, are absolutely engulfed by the car’s generous wheel arches. Should you choose to pony up the extra cash (beyond the X2’s asking) for the R-Design, 19-inch rollers will come standard. But then again, in most of the promotional images, the R-Design cars wear 20s. Don’t even ask us how much those options cost, it’s quite mind-boggling.

While most of the promotional material shows the car running on a set of cool mirror finished 19s, to have a set of those fitted from the dealer is a cool S$9,000 option. We really think not. Those fitted on this car here are a set of lovely 19s from Japanese Volvo Tuner ERST. Really sets off the car don’t you think?

The X2, on the other hand, is pretty much what buyers will be getting. Trick 19-inch alloys, M Sport X trim and even an additional M Sport rear roof spoiler which isn’t on our test car.

Aesthetically, these two really are chalk and cheese don’t you think?

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Things start to get more interesting when getting into the interiors. The BMW, while featuring very high-quality fit and finish is once again high on flash, featuring at least 3 distinct textures in upholstery and trim. Alcantara, Fabric and Aluminium are all fighting for your attention in the cabin amidst the contrasting thread stitching and colour coded floor mat trimmings. There are of course some redemptive areas, the seats are amazingly huggy, the M Sport steering is a joy to hold and behold, and the interior lighting system is a nice touch. All switches and buttons feel good to use. There’s probably an engineer somewhere in BMW measuring push buttons for weeks just to make it feel “right”.

Unfortunately, because the X2 was built on the underpinnings of the BMW X1, much of the basic interior layout was carried over to the newer car. And it is starting to look quite dated, this is especially apparent when we swap over to the XC40.

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If you only needed to know one thing about the XC40’s interior. It is that it looks and feels like a car that’s almost one segment above what it is competing against. It is spacious, airy, beautiful and feels like a generation ahead of every other car it is up against. With its giant touchscreen in the centre, ala Tesla, and the lovely materials used throughout, the interior of the XC40 is a fantastic place to be in. And whereas the X2 utilizes a traditional analogue instrument cluster (one that sadly no longer has BMW’s trademark night-time amber lights), the XC40’s readouts are clearly shown on a wide digital screen.

There are of course some drawbacks, the steering wheel is not as tactile as the BMW’s and some of the XC40’s interior trim pieces lack the Germanic “feel” that its rival possesses. The interior cabin lighting on the XC40 also pales in comparison to the BMW X2 with only front map lights as standard equipment on the Momentum trim. In a day and age where rear cabin lights are a given, having them omitted in a car competing in the luxury segment is quite simple, a joke. Thankfully the local dealership is looking into this issue as we speak and will be offering rear cabin lights as an option. (Again, don’t ask us how much THAT will be!) Space-wise it really is a no-brainer with the XC40’s slightly larger footprint equating to more head and leg room overall with a larger boot space. So those needing that extra room, do take heed!

On the go, once again, these two cannot be any more different. The BMW is like we mentioned earlier, an eager beaver with an engine that responds very keenly to inputs with a fantastic 7-speed dual clutch gearbox to egg punters on each time they get behind the wheel. The X2 just wants to go and progressively nudges you to take each corner quicker than the last. The official figures quote a 0-100 time of 7.7 seconds but it really does feel quicker than that. Prod the throttle in sport mode and the engine just wakes up. It’s not a revvy heart though with power tapering off towards the upper regions of the rev band, but with the quick DCT gearbox shifting cogs as and when required, getting back into the torque band is just a simple paddle shift away. The best way to sum up the driving experience of the X2 sDrive20i? Think of it as a Golf GTi on stilts.

The XC40 might have quite the power advantage on paper, with a cool 350Nm on tap and a quoted 0-100 time of 6.4 seconds but it actually feels slower. Perhaps this could be down to the extra weight it carries, you really can feel it or maybe, it’s due to the slightly lazier Aisin 8-speed automatic mated to the engine. Either way, it just doesn’t feel like it wants to be rushed. The engine is also more vocal than the X2’s and not in a good way. Push it hard and it starts to sound rougher, almost agricultural, unlike the X2’s rather smooth crescendo pull.

The XC40 might have an extra power advantage over the BMW but it just doesn’t feel like it wants to use them as often and if the roads ahead were anything other than straight or long flowy bends, a Volvo XC40 wouldn’t stand a chance against the BMW. Instead, drive the Volvo sensibly and everything will start to fall into place, relax, enjoy the journey and arrive at your destination free from the stresses of attack angles and cornering lines.

In the end, do we really have to choose which is better? These two cars might compete in the same segment and share the same price bracket but each marque has tackled this new category in their very own unique way that you can’t help but appreciate each car for excelling at their chosen path.

To arrive quicker or to enjoy the journey? That’s the final question potential buyers will have to answer for themselves. I know we did. The XC40’s ours.

 

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