The BMW X-series car revolution began in 1999, with the X5. Since then we've had X6, X4, X3 and X1. But BMW has never made an X2. Until now.

So what is it? The X2 shares much of its underpinnings with the X1 SUV. But, shock-horror for a BMW, it's based on a front-wheel drive set-up if you want the petrol version.

Which might seem odd, as the X brand implies off-road and four-wheel drive – which is exactly what you can get with the not-so-snappily named X2 xDrive 20d M-Sport, as on test here.

If you're looking at it thinking 'it looks like a slightly higher 1 Series', then you'd be right. While the X2 shares its wheelbase with the X1, it's 20mm shorter and 69mm lower. It's only 100mm higher than a 1 series hatch.

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In reality, this X car is a high-riding hatchback – and a direct competitor to the Mercedes-Benz GLA. While the X2 is a little smaller, you'll also likely be considering a Volvo XC40, Jaguar E-Pace and Audi Q2 or Q3

On the face of it the X2 might seem like a niche too far. Yet, in reality, it's not. Most people want to sit slightly higher up when on the road; they want a better view out; they want a car which looks a little bit 'off-road' without the bulk; they want a bigger boot, too. The X2 is all of those things. So our prediction is that it'll sell like hot cakes.

The X2 is an unusual looking affair, too. This M-Sport model is all colour-coded blue, but on other variants you get a grey lower body clad, which dials up the SUV look a bit more.

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Curiously, as if the designers weren't sure you'd be convinced it's a BMW, so they've stuck the badge on the roundel on the C-pillar for good measure. An approach normally reserved for BMW's most exclusive, high-performance historic coupes.

Does it work? Nearly. It needs the biggest wheels, and if you're not a fan of SUVs then, well, let's just say 'haters gonna hate'. But the looks grew on us during our time with the car, as it certainly stands out from the crowd.

Can the X2 justify the premium it'll cost you over a mainstream crossover? And does it drive like a BMW given its front-wheel proposition?

It might surprise you to learn that the X2 answers one of those questions emphatically. It feels like a BMW: the steering wheel is thick, the steering is heavy, the ride is hard. The might make it sound rubbish. But if you've driven other Beemers, you'll feel right at home.

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In four-wheel drive format, as sampled here, it refuses to push off-line in corners, digging in hard if you really throw it round the bends. There's even a feeling that the back axle is helping to steer – not unlike a rear-drive BMW. The steering confuses weight for feel, but at least the wheel gives the impression it's connected to something at the front of the car, unlike plenty of rivals.

The X2's ride may be distracting at first, but as our week with the car went on we got used to it – and realised it's genuinely well controlled. It doesn't get crashy, it's just firm, especially on 19-inch wheels. But all that's part of the reason the car is fun and responsive in the bends.

Our test car came with BMW's seemingly default issue 2-litre diesel. Making 190hp in this 20d format, it provides a constant slug of power from 1500rpm round to a high-for-diesel 5000rpm. It never feels slow, and does 40mpg come what may. Drive it in EcoPro mode sensibly and 50mpg is easily achievable. CO2 emissions are a competitive 126g/km, too.

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In this variant, the engine was attached to an excellent ZF, 8-speed automatic, complete with steering wheel paddles. The gearbox is standard on the 20d M-Sport version and we really would recommend it. It's smooth, quick – it always seems to be in the right gear, almost reading your mind and kicking down exactly when you want, but equally never hanging onto gears too long when you're just pootling along.

What lets things down out on the road is refinement, which could be better. There's some wind noise, plus those 19-inch wheels create road roar, so the X2 isn't as quiet as you'd expect of a BMW. At least the engine is hushed and free of clatter once you're past the start-up phase.

We'd begun to doubt BMW's premium credentials – because the interior perceived quality felt like it was dropping behind Audi, BMW and Volvo in some of its recent cars. However, in this spec, the X2 rights plenty of those wrongs.

The leather dashboard, wrap-around console, blue-contrast stitching and hexagonal decoration elements of the interior really elevate the X2's sense of quality. That premium, stitched leather is an £800 option though.

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Meanwhile, extended interior lighting, which backlights the deco elements in an orange (or green, purple, blue, etc) glow dials up the atmosphere at night and every knob or button you grab moves with a really satisfying firmness, clacking and clicking with precision.

Perhaps more importantly on the road, BMW's on-going commitment to haptic elements means it's (mostly) all very easy to use.

If you're stepping out of a 1 Series, it's the X2's space you'll perhaps appreciate most. It's that bit roomier up front, in the back there's more head and legroom too. But it's in the boot where the X2 wins out, with 477 litres. That's only eight litres short of a 3 Series Touring.

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Despite the roomy interior and chunky SUV looks, the X2 feels compact and easy enough to park. At 4.36m long, it's certainly not 3-Series-long, which helps keep things easier in town.

It is 3-Series-priced, though. Well, that's not strictly fair. As specced, our X2's on-the-road price is a steep £44,185. That's against a list price of £36,590 before options. Whereas a 320d Touring M Sport is £38,070. So there's not a lot between them.

Options really make the X2 shine. But picking through which long list of additions you'd spend money on is a trickier business.

Our standouts are the tech pack (£1260), which despite being pricey is a key addition. It brings a wider centre screen, with a better connected navigation system, and critically a wireless phone charging unit in the centre arm rest. It includes (newly wireless) Apple CarPlay, which worked flawlessly and feels like the ideal set-up for those wanting phone access on the move, thus removing the temptation to pick up your device. You also get a head-up display (HUD) and Wi-Fi hotspot thrown into this pack, which makes the hefty spend easier to justify. Note that BMW doesn't do Android Auto - it seems to be a rule that all BMW drivers have iPhones...

The electronic dampers (£150) will be key if you want big wheels but to not upset the drive; while parking sensors front and rear (which BMW rather meanly charges at £340, but feel like essentials in the modern car) – but can be upgraded to the vision pack (£710), as shown here, which adds a reversing camera and anti-dazzle mirrors.

Keyless opening and start is hard to live without once you've had it, but factor in £350 for that if you're coming from a car which has it as standard and it's less appealing. One other must-have is the Harmon Kardon HiFi (£600), allowing you to enjoy your tunes far more than the otherwise weak standard BMW offering.

Throw all the above on, along with the nicer leather interior and metallic paint, however, and you've arrived at an X2 that costs £40K.

BMW has led the way with in-car tech. It wasn't always loved, but iDrive was the first modern interface of any car. And it's now on so-called version 6.0.

If you've used iDrive before, the basics are fundamentally the same – just that now there's a lot more colour and information is presented in a more pictorial way, via tiles and split screens.

Which sounds great, but the reality is that binning the menu lists might look more modern, but doesn't work quite as well. The issue, really, is complexity. There's so much stuff on offer and so many ways of displaying it (and accessing it) that often it becomes a frustratingly involved experience to turn something off or find what you want.

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For instance, the navigation input forces you to input via the correct submenu (postcode, address, online search, POI?) rather than just allowing you to enter in one box and doing the hard work in the background. The head-up display adjustment only seems to be accessible via the option button on the console-based controller – which is odd, because with everything else there is more than one way of getting at things (you can use touchscreen, or the rotary controller or in some cases write and input commands via the touchpad on top).

To be fair to BMW, once you've set-up iDrive as you like you'll begin to learn it and get used to the shortcuts and best ways of doing things. It's possible to bypass the BMW system most of the time, as the first time you pair your phone and grant it permission to use Apple CarPlay, each time you get in that system then takes over the centre screen (at least part of it). Thankfully, you can also do basic key CarPlay controls via the steering wheel – skipping tracks, for instance – which some other cars don't allow.

Verdict

Put aside any pre-conceptions for a moment and it's not hard to see why people are buying cars like the X2. This new BMW looks less utilitarian than an estate, there's more room than a hatchback, you sit higher up inside, and the image says you have a life outside of work.

Jump in and start using it, and this opinion-splitting car will win you over with a blend of space, drive and tech. This is the first time we've used wireless Apple CarPlay, which transforms the on-board technology experience for the better.

You might not expect it of a front-driving crossover vehicle, but the X2 truly feels like a BMW behind the wheel – i.e. it's fun to drive. That's the core differentiator from its rivals.

Buyers will come from cars as diverse as coupes, hatchbacks and estates. Though its true rivals are hard to pinpoint, the X2's most obvious competitor – the Mercedes GLA – is outdated, and completely outshone by the X2. Beyond that there's the Volvo XC40. But the biggest X2 rival is probably sat right in BMW's showroom: and that's the BMW 3 Series Touring

Overall, the BMW X2 certainly makes for an appealingly new crossover kid on the block.

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The XC40 is a little bigger than the X2, thus it feels more of a full-on SUV. However, it's similarly priced, while providing you with more space, more standard kit and arguably a better interior. The real surprise is that it drives well. Not quite like the BMW, mind, but certainly enough to surprise and impress.

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The E-Pace is a classy operator, with a lot more room than the X2. It doesn't drive as well, however, and it's very spec sensitive (we hated the petrol, we liked the lower powered diesels). Like the BMW it gets expensive, but if anything it's more worthy of it.

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In its dimensions, the GLA is the X2's closest rival. Like the BMW, the Merc feels like a jacked-up car, rather than a full-on SUV. While it rides well, it's showing its age (the A-class on which it is based is being replaced around now), with an interior that feels less premium and a much less rewarding drive than the BMW offers.