BMW's latest crossover has a cool design matched with hot-hatch handling
Excellent BMW X2 The BMW X2 offers a firm ride and quick and taut steering, with minimal body movement. ST PHOTOS: KUA CHEE SIONG

Ever since it unveiled the X5 in the late 1990s, BMW has been trying to convince the world that its sport utility vehicles are different from the rest - that is, they are sporty and sexy.

Its strategy includes equipping occasional models with obscenely powerful (and thirsty) engines, and by insisting its cars are SAVs - sport activity vehicles - and not SUVs.

Despite polite nods at company-hosted cocktails, no one is really convinced. Possibly until now, with the arrival of the X2.

This compact crossover is the sportiest car in the X stable. No, it does not have a massive engine with ballistic tailpipes poking out of it (at least, not yet). Instead, the car's credentials are underpinned by one solitary factor: It is built like a tarmac-hugging hatchback.

From the side, the car appears no taller than some of the regular hatches. Fitted with sport suspension - a standard issue feature - the car is barely 2.5 per cent taller than the Volkswagen Golf.

Against the BMW X1, it is more than 7cm shorter bumper to bumper, while maintaining the same wheelbase. Its super-short overhangs give it a coupe silhouette, while the extra BMW emblems on the C-pillars remind us of the sizzling and legendary BMW CS and CSL racers.

The interior sets the mood further. The trim is decidedly racy, with a styling language that is more track than trail. The emphasis on enthusiastic driving is also clear in the cockpit orientation.

Start up the car and you get a slightly louder bark than you would expect of a 2-litre four-cylinder. Set off and it becomes immediately clear that the X2 stands apart from its X stablemates in terms of driveability, urban relevance and sheer handling abilities.

Body movement is minimal, the ride is very firm and the steering taut and deliciously quick.

The front-wheel-drive X2 attacks bends with the gusto of a Golf GTI. It leans ever so slightly into a turn, with a level of certainty conveyed to the helm matched by its impressive roadholding. Exiting a corner is just as neat, with hardly any rebound.

Performance-wise, the X2 sDrive20i sits between the Golf 1.5 and GTI. On the road, it often feels quicker than its stated 7.7-second century sprint implies. It is a slightly bigger car than the Golf, which translates to a wee bit more utility.

All in all, this BMW fits the bill of a big hatch with a coupe outlook and road feel.

So, where does the X element come in? Mainly in the visual aspects. Large bumpers, with a gaping manta ray-like hexagon-mesh intake below the kidney grille flanked by high-set fog lamps, give the car a hint of ruggedness.

Squared-off wheel arches and side rocker panels extending the hexagonal theme - very stylish - add to the outdoorsy look. As does its higher boot access.

Who are its rivals? Well, it is cooler than the Mini Countryman and more premium and more engaging than the Audi Q2. You decide if it is worth the higher sticker price.