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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 20 July 2018

Road test: 2018 BMW X2 and X3

The small SUVs offer subtly different sporty charms

Complaints about the homogenisation of modern car design is usually a precursor of a sleep-inducting rant, but the moaners might have a point when it comes to a notable amount of the big German manufacturers' output. We probably don't have to name names.

It is particularly pertinent when you drive two models that sit next to each other in the nomenclature of a carmaker's line-up. In this instance, BMW's new X2 and long-standing X3, both at the modest-size end of the SUV market. Naturally, they aren't identical, or else that would completely defeat the object of different designations, but in terms of styling, it's undoubtedly an economy of scaling. They're family members with so many shared facial features that nobody could be under any illusions of the shared parentage.

So what exactly is the X2 here to do? Well, for the thick end of a decade and a half, the X3 has made a successful enough niche occupying an uninspiring middle ground beneath the road-hogging likes of the X5 and X6. It's probably fair to say that few drivers buying them had much in the way of sporty ambitions, which is the kind of liveliness that the X2 is supposed to offer. Only now, the X3's latest trick is the M40i, a 355hp bundle of fun that could very well beat its little brother at its own game. You wait for one bus to come along...

In the sDrive20i form of my test car, the X2 has a comparatively meagre 192hp, but it's sufficiently nippy – and not everything is about the power outputs, anyway. The fetching interior somehow even renders omnipresent red leather – answers on a postcard if you can explain its popularity in the UAE – really quite agreeable. Other interior perks include a neat configurable central storage console/armrest with built-in wireless phone charging and pleasantly subtle ambient lighting.

At first glance, it's a slightly awkward looker from outside, particularly in the goldish-green that seems to be the model's signature paint job, yet after a couple of days in its company, the X2's more car-like silhouette begins to grow on me, even if the design elements of the nose don't quite mesh.

There's some bad news, too. Whether it's just my driving position or a wider problem, but the X2 isn't the first BMW in which I have encountered difficulties with side-mirror blind spots, from the i8 hybrid sports car down. Mercifully, there are alerts, even if they can be a touch oversensitive when you don't need them and entirely miss vehicles when you do, although I always prefer visual cues to accompany bleeps and warning lights.

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There are a couple of other troubling minor red marks against the X2: asthmatic air conditioning and folding mirrors that after being stowed don't, for whatever reason, always unfurl themselves when you start the vehicle or even kick it into motion.

Both my X2 and X3 M40i enjoy the option of flappy paddles or sequential stick shifting, but it's in the former where that really comes into its own. This particular X3's twin-turbo 3.0-litre inline six-cylinder engine jets the SUV from 0 to 100kph in 4.8 seconds – and it feels as potent as that makes it sound. It seems an odd car to want to give the right-foot treatment, but that is the exact effect of its newly found sportiness.

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By the end of my respective time with the two cars, I have almost talked myself out of the homogenisation argument. Because while the X2 and X3 might, on the face of things, seem like different-shaped peas from the same pod, the X3 suddenly has an option with lashings of life, while the X2 chews up and spits out city driving without barely breaking sweat. And when you're behind the wheel, BMW's reputation for engaging driving experiences is maintained, times two. Or should that be times three?

The specs: 2018 BMW X2 and X3

Price, as tested: Dh255,150 (X2); Dh383,250 (X3)

Engine: 2.0-litre turbocharged inline four-cylinder (X2); 3.0-litre twin-turbo inline six-cylinder (X3)

Power 192hp @ 5,000rpm (X2); 355hp @ 5,500rpm (X3)

Torque: 280Nm @ 1,350rpm (X2); 500Nm @ 1,520rpm (X3)

Transmission: Seven-speed automatic (X2); Eight-speed automatic (X3)

Fuel consumption, combined: 5.7L / 100km (X2); 8.3L / 100km (X3)