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The 2019 BMW X2 M35 compact crossover.

Brendan McAleer/The Globe and Mail

If you’re a BMW purist, please avert your eyes and mutter a prayer. The latest model from the M-division seems designed to rile up the faithful. It’s a four-cylinder crossover with an automatic transmission, built on a front-wheel-drive-based platform.

And yet heresy turns out to be surprisingly tasty.

Like you, I grew up believing all BMWs, or at least the M-models, should adhere to the accepted holy text: inline-six engine, rear-wheel drive and a manual or dual-clutch gearbox in the middle. Yet, here we are, with the M5 equipped with all-wheel drive, and no fewer than five different M-badged SUVs under the BMW banner.

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There's just one problem. If you remove the baggage that goes along with BMW heritage and judge the X2 M35 on its merits, it's quite good fun. Drat. And I had this big pile of blue and white stones all ready for throwing.

Admittedly, the X2′s not a very good-looking car, with a face like a happy robot piglet. Still, its transverse-engine roots are well disguised by a long nose, and a slight flare to the wheel-arches adds muscularity. It’s a little taller than your average hot hatchback, but doesn’t look like it’s standing on stilts.

A slight flare in the wheel-arches adds muscularity to what is not BMW's best-looking vehicle.

Brendan McAleer/The Globe and Mail

In all appearances, the X2 M35 is yet another pricey German compact crossover with a name like an accident at an alphabet soup factory. But just pop it into sport mode and go for a blast.

This is BMW's most powerful four-cylinder engine yet, and it's likely putting out more than the claimed 305hp. The X2M scampers off the line thanks to its all-wheel-drive, and rockets up to highway speeds eagerly. BMW claims about 4.9 seconds to 100km/h, but the X2M is probably a few ticks quicker than that.

The real surprise is in how BMW-like the handling is. Equipped with a limited slip front differential and taut suspension, the X2M turns in with aplomb and corner flat. Pour on the power and the all-wheel drive blasts out of the turns with all the verve of something like a Golf R. Braking, long a BMW strength, is excellent.

I was having so much fun whizzing along a winding desert road that I forgot to be outraged. And, when a road-closed sign appeared, owing to sands drifted across the tarmac, I simply nosed the X2M around the soft shoulder and kept going for a bit.

There are a few drawbacks. The X2M is not really an off-road machine, and its slight ground-clearance advantage over a conventional hatchback is really only useful for the odd snowfall. The suspension is also extremely firm on anything other than the smoothest tarmac, and the drive is a little noisy. Rear visibility is akin to that of a coastal defence pillbox.

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But over all, the X2 M35 is not just the type of crossover that’s going to please BMW’s accounting department, it’s genuinely fun to drive, too. Those of us who’ve got a roundel tattooed over our hearts should avert our eyes and think about how happy we are that BMW also builds the snorty little M2 coupe (and you can still get that with a proper manual). Anyone else in the market for a luxury crossover with a pulse should add the X2 M35 to their shopping list.

The writer was a guest of the automaker. Content was not subject to approval.

Looks

BMW roundels attached to the rear pillars are a tribute to the svelte CS coupes that preceded the 6-series.

Brendan McAleer/The Globe and Mail

The blue-and-white roundel stuck to each rear pillar of the X2 looks a little like designers were concerned people wouldn’t consider the vehicle a genuine BMW. However, it’s actually a tribute to the svelte CS coupes that preceded BMW’s 6-series lineup. Whether or not the X2 deserves to wear the mark is up to you.

Interior

Rear-seat passengers have little visibility, due in part to the low roofline.

Brendan McAleer/The Globe and Mail

Inside, the X2 should appeal to BMW fans. It’s a typically spartan affair, fitted with a classic three-spoke steering wheel and dashboard canted towards the driver. The grippy seats are very snug, and feature adjustable bolsters. Rear seating is adequate but provides little visibility for passengers, especially as the X2 has a lower roofline than the X1 upon which it’s based.

Performance

In order to get 302 hp out of their 2.0L four-cylinder, BMW beefed up the engine internals and cranked up the boost with a larger turbocharger. Peak power arrives at 5000 rpm, with a peak torque of 332 lb-ft of torque from 1750-4500 rpm.

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Technology

The 8.8" display can be used as a touchscreen.

Brendan McAleer/The Globe and Mail

The X2′s 8.8” display can be used as a touchscreen, but BMW’s rotary dial system is easy to use hands-free, and less distracting. Apple CarPlay is an optional extra, and while a few more USB charging points up front wouldn’t go amiss, there’s wireless charging for your phone.

Cargo

At 623L, the X2′s trunk is a little smaller than the X1, but still livable for day to day. However, anyone looking at demands of hauling a family around should probably step right up to the X3 – which will also be available in an M version shortly.

The verdict: 8.5

A sleeker, hotter version of the X1, the BMW X2 M35 is a 325is coupe for the modern age. Never mind the rules about what a BMW should be, it's just plain good to drive.

Brendan McAleer/The Globe and Mail

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