GLAMIS, Calif. – It’s not rare to see a BMW on the podium in a pavement motorsports event, but a second-place finish in the longest off-road navigational rally raid in North America? That’s just plain crazy.
BMW made the impossible possible at the Rebelle Rally last week when the 2024 BMW X2 M35i xDrive piloted by Rebecca Donaghe with navigation courtesy of Sedona Blinson took a second-place finish in the X-Cross category. The team dodged rocks and washes as they navigated without GPS over 1,300 miles using just a compass and a paper map, searching for checkpoints over seven days of competition. Team 205 braved camping in overnight temperatures as low as 14 degrees near Mammoth Lakes, Calif., and suffered through 110 degrees during the final few days in the Imperial Sand Dunes, the largest dune complex in North America located in Glamis, Calif.
BMW let me take a quick drive in the pre-production X2 at the end of the rally. It’s the requisite longer, lower and wider. The headlights are angrier, the kidney grille a bit bigger and more angular, the intakes slightly chunkier, and as this is the M35i, a beard of gloss-black trim surrounds them. The hatch is somewhat more sloped and the rear fascia has a bit more sheet metal, highlighted by twin exhaust pipes on either side and a slick black diffuser. In all it’s a handsome package.
Jumping behind the wheel of the X2 I immediately notice the supportive seats. The bolsters hug my rear and there is plenty of shoulder support as well. Reading the press release later I learn that BMW has dubbed the animal-free material, and I’m not kidding here, Veganza.
At any rate, the next feature to draw my attention is the large single piece of curved glass housing the infotainment system and digital gauge cluster. The X2 gets BMW’s new, Android-based iDrive 9 infotainment system. It seems pretty snappy, but I don’t get a ton of time to mess around with it, so we’ll have to wait for another time to see if BMW has corrected the many issues Autoblog has had with iDrive8. I definitely can’t tell you anything about the navigation system as it’s been disabled, per Rebelle Rally rules. This is a map and compass challenge, after all.
Other cool-looking interior bits include aluminum trim with cut-out cube-like details, Alcantara trimmed dash and door panels, and all the M badging you can shake a stick at.
But I’m not here to talk design. I’m here to drive in the dirt. This X2 eschews the standard 20-inch wheels and all-season run flat tires for a set of 19-inch Rotiform ZMO-M wheels wrapped with Falken Wildpeak AT Trail tires. A Thule roof rack houses four Maxtrax recovery boards and serves as a mounting location for a set of Morimoto off-road lights. With only 8 inches of ground clearance, custom skid plates are essential and the team has a custom spare tire carrier installed in the hatch.
I take off from base camp with driver Rebecca Donaghe riding right seat with me. After some experimenting during the rally she found that sport mode with comfort steering to be the best set up. The X2 doesn’t have any kind of off-road mode, but Sport mode holds gears longer, especially useful in the soft sand where this quick drive takes place. But before we can leave base camp Donaghe clicks through the infotainment system to turn off forward collision warning and braking.
“You have to do this every time you start the car,” she explains. “Otherwise it will brake at the worst moments.”
We head up a wash full of soft sand that’s getting softer by the minute thanks to the 100-degree-plus temperature. While the X2 will be available in the less-powerful xDrive28i, the Rebelle Rally rig is the 312-horsepower xDrive M35i. This little 2.0-liter turbocharged inline four-cylinder engine puts out 295 pound-feet of torque and is mated to a dual-clutch seven-speed automatic transmission.
Aided by a limited-slip differential up front, the all-wheel drive system here is front-wheel-drive based and sends as much as 50% of total power to the rear wheels as needed . However, there is still enough play on the soft sand here that I can get the car to rotate a bit through the turns. Soon I’m zipping up the narrow wash, bushes skimming the sides of the XPEL-protected paint. Manual mode gives me the most control and the car seems to really love third gear here. It’s a blast.
The wash empties out into a field of small dunes, which the X2 conquers easily. Donaghe tells me the course took them into some pretty gnarly dunes on the last two days of the rally, requiring the use of Maxtrax and shovels to dig out on more than one occasion. The team also had a bit of an overheating problem in the all-wheel-drive system, which is perhaps not surprising given the extreme and extraordinary demands on a system intended for road use. More than once they had to stop to let the differential cool down, but the car gives me no quibbles during my short drive.
We scout our exit back into the wash, looking for a descent that won’t challenge the X2’s tiny approach angle. It’s hot and I’m not in the mood to dig. The front fascia of the X2 consists of the kidney grille, a larger vented grille underneath and two side air intakes that all catch every sort of off-road debris. From small rocks to sticks to just plain dirt, the team spent each night cleaning everything out.
We take the hard way back to base camp, a route plagued by deep whoops and a few steep ledges. There isn’t much wheel travel and the BMW’s suspension is definitely on the stiffer side – it is, after all, supposed to be driven on pavement. I have to keep the throttle slow and steady but the ride is easy, if a bit uncomfortable.
Ledges must be scouted and if too steep, another way must be found. After scooting around one I encounter a second ledge that could spell disaster. However, by going up diagonally and placing the passenger wheel on the slope first, the X2 climbs it with just a bit of scraping.
Miraculously, the team ended the Rebelle Rally with no serious mechanical issues and no flat tires. While other teams broke shock mounts and axles and sliced open their sidewalls, the X2 kept on keeping on, earning two stage wins and the overall second place trophy.
On sale next March, the 2024 X2 M35i starts at $52,395, including $995 for destination. The less-powerful X2 28i starts about $9,400 less. Falken Wildpeak tires and Morimoto off-road lights not included.
BMW was confirming whether the X2 defaults to FWD and throws power to the rear when the computer thinks it needs it, or if it’s a constant 50/50 or 70/30 split or whatever.