As much as crossovers take heat for rarely shaking up the styling status quo, or delivering a more-than-milquetoast driving experience, in the luxury segment it's still possible to seek out a couple of dramatically different interpretations on the premium hauler concept available at very nearly the same price point. This can make it somewhat of a challenge when trying to decide which tall wagon to park in your driveway, especially if you're relatively brand-agnostic and are looking for the best fit—not the best badge—that money can buy.
Case in point: consider the 2018 BMW X2 xDrive 28i and the 2018 Alfa Romeo Stelvio. Each of these entry-level SUVs features pricing that hovers around the $40k mark, and both aim to pair European styling and design with a reasonable dose of practicality and comfort. Past those similarities, however, the two continental classmates couldn't be more different in execution. I spent a week behind the wheel of both the BMW and the Alfa to try and get a sense of which buyer matches best with which crossover.
STYLE, WITH MINIMAL SACRIFICE
The 2018 BMW X2 is a bit of a departure for the German marque. Built on the same bones as the more staid-looking X1, the X2 shares its platform with the Mini (mega) Countryman, which means its roots are sunk deep into front-wheel drive territory - not exactly the heart-warming premise for a model that BMW is advertising as the "fun" rung of its compact crossover ladder.
Still, much has been done to buff up the small SUV's proportions and personality to overcome any perceived shortcomings related to its genetic heritage. To start, by shaving down the X2's roof and gently tapering it towards the rear, as well as lowering the vehicle close to three inches as compared to the X1, BMW's design team have done much to draw the eye away from its admittedly short front deck. Combine this with the vehicle's rake and muscular haunches, as well as the plastic cladding that frames, but doesn't completely seal off, its rocks and wheel arches, and the visual impression made by the X2 is one of sinew and strength.
Of course being lower (and shorter) than the vehicle its based on gives cause for concern in the utility department, with the BMW X2's 22 cubic feet of space behind the back seats showing a 25 percent decrease compared to its X1 sibling (although once expanded by folding flat that rear row, there's roughly 50 cubes available). How much this matters to you will depend entirely on whether you're needing more cargo space than the average hatchback, but my gut feeling is that anyone interested in the X2 over the X1 has already made their peace with the "style over substance" demon.
The xDrive 28i trim I tested denotes standard all-wheel drive—a less expensive front-wheel drive model is also available—but both fill their engine bays with a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine that's good for 228 horsepower and 254 lb-ft of torque. An eight-speed automatic handles the gear-shifting duties, and 60-mph arrives from a standing start in 6.4 seconds.
The xDrive all-wheel drive system goes a long way towards helping mitigate the X2's front-wheel bias, and although torque steer occasionally tugs at the wheel, for the most part the BMW feels smooth and spirited even under heavy acceleration. My tester's M Sport suspension and upgraded 19-inch rims also gave the SUV a respectable level of athleticism that caught me almost completely by surprise. I had been expecting a competent, somewhat boring ride, but instead found myself enjoying a comfortable and lively chassis. Throw in the usual BMW cabin design and more second row room than you probably bargained for (an almost exact match for the X1), and it's clear that the X2 is far more than just a cynical cash dive into a new segment for the brand.
ITALIAN FOR "NERVOUS"
At first glance the 2018 Alfa Romeo Stelvio AWD might seem like an unusual foil to the near-subcompact X2. After all, this is an SUV that measures nearly a foot longer end-to-end, and which features a wheelbase boost of more than five inches compared to its German rival.
Wouldn't it make more sense to square the Stelvio off against the X3? If you're buying based on the tale of the tape, then sure. If style, design, and being "different" are more your thing, however - and let's face it, buying an Italian sport-utility vehicle has already landed you outside the crossover herd - the xDrive 28i model of the X2 is a far more likely bogey. With its swooping curves and sultry good looks, the Alfa Romeo stands beside the BMW as examples of how to do things differently when putting pen to paper (or stylus to digital tablet) for a premium people mover.
Then there's the nagging detail that the Stelvio's girth advantage over the X2 doesn't translate into increased practicality. There's actually LESS room between the second row seatbacks and the Alfa's hatch than you'll find in the BMW (19 cubic feet in total), and just 56.5 cubic feet available in total once you've kicked your rear passengers to the curb. It's a significant drop from what you'd find inside an X3, which further pushes the Stelvio into X2 territory when cross-shopping.
That's not to say that the Alfa Romeo Stelvio doesn't offer any numbers than can trump the over-achieving X2. The SUV's standard 2.0-liter turbo four is rated at 280 horses and 306 lb-ft of twist, which allows it to sprint to 60mph in a straight line at a clip that's a second or so faster than the BMW. All-wheel drive is also standard across the board for the vehicle.
In my time with the Stelvio it certainly felt quick with the throttle mashed. It also felt nervously excited about every single bump in the road, upcoming corner, or slight wiggle of my foot on the accelerator, especially when its DNA drive mode selector was in "D," the most aggressive of its available configurations. This twitchy character got old fast, especially in contrast to the assuredness of the X2's Sport mode, which didn't ask me to trade in a smooth ride for a modest increase in drivetrain aggression.
That the Alfa Romeo was more trampoline than tango partner as compared to the BMW might have been forgivable were that the only area where the Stelvio trailed the X2. Unfortunately, the vehicle's relatively spartan cabin accouterments and laggy, difficult-to-use infotainment system paled in comparison to the swankier digs in the BMW, which featured the well-rounded iDrive communications and entertainment hub.
PRICE TO MATCH
There's one final caveat to mention when comparing the 2018 BMW X2 xDrive28i to the Alfa Romeo Stelvio, and that's real-world pricing. While the xDrive28i starts at $38,400, you won't find any zero-option models in BMW showrooms. They simply don't exist, as they've been hunting to extinction by commission-hungry salespeople and profit-seeking product planners.
That means you're much more likely to land an X2 whose window sticker hovers somewhere in the mid-$40k range, which is much more in keeping with the 2018 Alfa Romeo Stelvio's $41,995 price tag. Check too many boxes on the order sheet and you can easily spend as much as $50k on either of these SUVs if you wanted to. I suggest you don't, as both the Alfa and the BMW are much more appealing to the pocketbook the closer you keep to their initial ask.
I'll go even further and state that unless you're besotted by the Stelvio's sheet metal, that the X2 is the better all-around purchase, in terms of features, cabin quality, and on-road character, while still looking just as posh. If you simply must be quicker from one stoplight to the next, then the Stelvio will certainly deliver that advantage—just be prepared to be disappointed in nearly every other driving situation.