BMW X2 xDrive20d M Sport
List price when new £37,530
Price today £25,500*
Available from 2018-present
Based on the X1 but sacrifices some of its practicality at the altar of style
Volvo XC40 D4 R-Design Pro
List price when new £36,870
Price today £27,000*
Available from 2018-present
Our former Car of the Year is practical, plush, safe and good to drive
*Price today is based on a 2018 model with average mileage and full service history, correct at time of writing
The Contenders (cont.)
Whether it’s to fill a niche or satisfy a desire, it seems you can have your SUV in nearly any flavour these days.
If, for example, you’re not completely happy with the rugged appeal of the BMW X1, you could instead opt for the X2, a car that at first sight seems to be the result of a midnight liaison between an SUV and a coupé. Yes, there’s the swooping roofline of a coupé, but it’s also attached to a (fairly) high-rise SUV body.
The Contenders (cont.)
Here, we’re pitching it against the Volvo XC40. True, it doesn't have a swooping roofline or look particularly sporty, but it still manages to be eye-catching in a hip-to-be-square sort of way.
Bought at two years old, as we’re testing them here, both of these family SUVs offer a decent saving on the price of an equivalent new one. But which of these two best mixes style with substance?
Next: What are they like to drive?
Driving - Performance, ride, handling, refinement
At first glance, you’d think there would be very little to separate our two protagonists for performance. After all, they both have 2.0-litre diesel engines with similar muscle, they both send drive to all four wheels via an automatic gearbox and they’re both about the same size.
But the X2 is lighter and therefore quicker. It can sprint from 0-60mph in a hot hatch-rivalling 7.6sec, while the XC40 manages the dash in a still-respectable 8.4sec. That same order is repeated in rolling acceleration tests (30-70mph), with the XC40 being not too far behind the X2.
The XC40 can be a bit dithery when you initially push the accelerator pedal, while the X2 responds much more quickly and really thumps up through the gears in Sport mode. The X2’s gearbox is the smoothest in more relaxed driving, too, even though the XC40 slurs pleasingly between ratios.
In corners, the X2 is more impressive than the XC40. Its steering weights up nicely at all speeds, so it’s easy to place the car’s nose precisely. Pitch it into a corner with gusto and there’s a small amount of body lean before it settles and sails around with ease. Indeed, the way the X2’s front end hangs onto your line through corners genuinely puts a smile on your face; it’s more akin to a sporty hatchback than a family SUV. That said, it is a good few inches lower than the XC40, giving it a big advantage.
The XC40 handles nicely, though. It’s very grippy, too, but it isn’t much fun to drive briskly, due in part to its light steering, which gives little sense of connection to the front wheels. Still, it’s safe and secure, with no nasty vices.
The X2 doesn’t ride very well, though. Even if you find a used car fitted with the optional-from-new switchable dampers set to their most comfortable setting, it crashes over imperfections on urban roads. At least things improve at higher speeds, although the ride remains firm.
As for the XC40, it’s much more comfortable, aside from a tendency to sway from side to side, absorbing bumps and potholes well – a remarkable achievement, given that it comes on big 20in wheels as standard.
The penalty for those big rims is a fair bit of road noise at 70mph, although the XC40 is the quieter of the two at 30mph. In fact, the X2 is the noisiest at all speeds, with constant tyre roar over all road surfaces.
Next: What are they like inside?
Interior - Driving position, visibility, build quality, practicality
Remember that we mentioned the X2 feels more like a sporty hatchback than a proper SUV? Well, that’s how it feels from behind the wheel, too. Yes, it has a slightly raised ride height and the option of jacking the seat right up, but the only people you tower over are those driving sports cars.
The low-slung X2 does without the electric seat and lumbar adjustment of the XC40, but most of our testers were still able to find a reasonably comfortable driving position. That said, our shortest testers found the adjustable under-thigh support didn’t go in far enough, leaving the seat base digging into the backs of their knees.
There are no such issues in the XC40; its electric seat is very comfy, with its seats mounted much farther from the ground beneath a loftier roofline, giving you a towering view of the road. Okay, you won’t be fooled into thinking you’re in a Range Rover, but you at least feel like you’re driving a proper SUV.
It isn’t just the X2’s low stance that leaves a black mark against it; its sloping roof, chunky rear pillars and tiny rear screen make reversing tricky, too, even with standard rear parking sensors. A rear-view camera was optional from new, but you couldn’t get a 360deg camera, whereas you could have found one on the XC40’s options list.
The XC40 scores for having much bigger windows and slimmer rear pillars, but again it has only rear sensors as standard. Meanwhile, when night falls, you’ll be pleased to find that both cars have powerful LED headlights.
Although the X2 clearly isn’t perfect, you won’t hear us grumbling about how its interior looks and feels. It’s clearly based on the X1’s – no bad thing – but BMW has introduced some even more expensive-looking trims, a gear selector that looks like it’s from the 5 Series and contrasting stitching on the dashboard. There are also plenty of soft-touch plastics and some seriously high-quality switches and stalks. However, it’s disappointing that the X2 doesn’t have leather seats as standard.
As good as the X2 is, the XC40 runs it exceedingly close. Although there are a few more hard plastics inside and some of the switches aren’t quite as precise, we’re splitting hairs – and many will prefer the XC40’s more minimalist interior design.
We doubt anyone will have any issues with the space in the front of these two. Both are within a couple of centimetres of each other for shoulder room, no one is likely to find their head brushing the ceiling and the front seats slide back a long way to accommodate longer legs. Although the XC40 has the least front head room by some margin, this was largely down to the presence of the optional panoramic sunroof in our car.
Those in the rear will notice more of a difference. The X2’s roofline makes it the worst for rear head room, and rear leg room isn’t wonderful, either. So the XC40 is the best for head and leg room and has the widest rear seat area.
The X2 has the least storage for your odds and ends. There are a couple of cupholders in front of the gear selector, plus a tiny shelf. Look under the central armrest and you’ll find a shelf for your phone, while underneath that is another cubby with a USB port.
The XC40 has much bigger door pockets up front and there’s more space for oddments around the gear selector. Between the front seats is a bigger cubby that even has a removable bin with a spring-loaded lid. The rear door pockets are less impressive, but there are trays between the outer rear seats and the doors.
The X2’s boot may look relatively small, but it has a huge underfloor storage area that can (just) swallow a couple of carry-on suitcases. The downside is that there’s a sizeable lip to contend with at its entrance, and there are no buttons or levers to fold the rear seats from the boot.
Even with a spare wheel fitted, the XC40’s boot can accommodate seven cases with ease. It also has storage cubbies to stop your stuff from rolling around, plus the option of a pop-up divider to hang shopping bags from. Factor in a low load lip and it’s easily the best boot here, even if Volvo charged extra for a powered tailgate from new.
Next: How much will they cost to run?
What will they cost?
New, the X2 would have cost you slightly more to buy than the XC40, but here, at two years old, it’s actually cheaper by around £1500. That’s good news if you’re buying one now, but bear in mind that it’s lost more of its value over two years than the XC40, and that heavier depreciation is likely to continue over the next few years, adding to your overall running costs.
The X2 is likely to cost you less to fuel, but both its insurance and servicing costs are higher than the XC40’s.
What will they cost? (cont.)
In the most recent What Car? Reliability Survey, the X2 didn’t feature, but the similar X1 finished in 12th place in the family SUV class, while the XC40 finished in a commendable second place. BMW as a brand finished in 21st place out of 31 manufacturers, while Volvo ended in 11th place.
Next: Our verdict
We like the stylish BMW X2, but it’s the Volvo XC40 that triumphs in this test.
You see, given that these SUVs will mostly be bought as family cars, it’s hard to ignore the extra space you get inside the XC40 for people and luggage. Real thought has gone into the layout of the interior, and it’s really well screwed together. And it isn’t just a big box; it’s also a fantastically comfortable and refined way of getting from A to B in a totally unflustered manner.
If you fancy a sportier drive, the X2 is still worth a look. It may be less practical than the X1 on which it’s based, but it’s the cheaper car here to buy, and there’s no finer-handling car in this class. It’s also pretty rapid in a straight line and has a class-leading infotainment system.
1st – Volvo XC40
For Roomiest; best boot; decent performance; well equipped; comfiest
Against Average infotainment; seats could be more flexible
What Car? rating 5 stars out of 5
Specifications: Volvo XC40 D4 R-Design Pro
Engine size 2.0-litre diesel
Torque 295lb ft
Top speed 130mph
Fuel economy 56.5mpg (Official average)
CO2 emissions 133g/km
2nd – BMW X2
For Quicker; sharp handling; high-quality interior; top infotainment
Against Cramped rear; not as refined at all speeds; stiff ride; expensive to run; poor visibility
What Car? rating 3 stars out of 5
Specifications: BMW X2 xDrive20d M Sport
Engine size 2.0-litre diesel
Torque 295lb ft
Top speed 137mph
Fuel economy 58.9mpg (Official average)
CO2 emissions 126g/km