Dr Kong gets off his high horse and into a high car.

Portrait of Tammy Strobel

Dr Kong gets off his high horse and into a high car.

My Reading Room

These crossover alphanumerics are not anathema to the car-loving columnist.

BALANCE. Everything kept within a narrow tolerable range. Temperature, blood pressure, sodium, acidity, red blood cells, white blood cells, clotting factors. All maintained in the “green zone”.

Our bodies are armed with countless regulatory systems constantly balancing too much against too little. We call that homeostasis, and it is how we stay alive.

Sometimes, and increasingly often in first-world Singapore, the body’s compensatory mechanisms for glucose are damaged from exhaustion to the point that the body needs medications to help with blood sugar suppression.

Which results in Prime Minister Lee’s newly nominated enemy of the state – Diabetes Mellitus Type 2.

Funny thing is, sometimes when freshly admitted inpatients are given their regular dose of diabetic medicines, their blood glucose levels fall too low. Given that hospital food is by design nutritionally optimal, it can only mean that their pills are being used to compensate for excessive sugar intake at home. That, of course, is not ideal.

Which brings me to the insufferably unstoppable phenomenon of the citybiased sports utility vehicle.

Ever since SUVs began taking over the automotive marketplace like the plague, I have had a reflexive animosity towards them. Why? Because they are unnecessary.

They are heavier and taller than regular hatchbacks and sedans, and barely more practical. Consequently, like Johnny Diabetes, they need stiffer suspension and more complex technology, all to still remain more unwieldy and uncomfortable than “normal” cars.

I have never encountered an SUV that would not be substantially improved by simply not being an SUV.

They are anathema to the ideals we car lovers – growing up on a diet of dainty Alfas, twinkle-toed Porsches and cuttingly athletic BMWs – hold dear. Why, pray tell, is the HR-Vezel in the least bit necessary when the Jazz exists?

SUVs are to fast estates what silicone breasts are to natural beauty. Fake. But the whims of the snobbish, self-indulgent purist are often at odds with the desires of the buying public. So the road-going SUV continues to proliferate like a virus.

A wise man once told me that the worth of a car goes beyond how well it drives.

But I smugly countered by pointing at the Jeep Wrangler, which drives like a pig but I love and respect, and said, “Sure, but it has to be conceptually consistent”. I refused to budge. There was still no point I could see to the compact crossover.

Until I met the XC40. Volvo calls it a “tough little robot”. Not “tougher than a V40 robot” or “taller than an S60 robot”, but an android all of its own. One that, finally, in a eureka moment, gives the erstwhile cynically bland segment its first credibly unique identity.

The XC40 is devilishly cute and handsome at the same time on its stocky, blocky frame. It feels ready to meet the city’s thronging challenges with gusto, and that’s how it feels to live with – empowering.

The V40, itself not the sharpest tool, will still run rings around the XC40 for handling, of course, but somehow it does not matter here. I like the outside, I love the inside, I even like the idea of the whole thing.

The wise man may be on to something after all.

Then PML BMW’s PR guy presses the key to an X2 into my hand, and I experience a wave of internal conflict so strong it could rip the space-time continuum.

The X2 looks pug-like and purposeful, and like the XC40, stands creditably on its own. It is made even better by the flourish of a BMW logo on its C-pillar. Problem is, that very design cue comes from the historic 2800 CS, a low-slung sports coupe cherished as part of the brand’s soulful centre. And they’ve only gone and put it on an SUV. The balls on these Bavarians.

They say the X2 is “great to drive”, as they would. But to apply that ambition and those historical reminders to a type of car thus far so conceptually incongruent with BMW’s core value of “sheer driving pleasure” is one hell of a gamble.

It could yet turn out to be an impressive display of rejuvenation and forwardthinking. Get it wrong, though, and BMW will arrive at the cynical nadir of its own abandoned principles.

Happily, and to my immense relief and joy, the news is good. The BMW X2 goes down the road with enthusiasm and terrier-like verve.

Previously, and inclusive of the Volvo XC40, driving a compact SUV was merely an exercise in waiting. Waiting for the body to settle. Waiting for the squat and dive to flatten out. Waiting for the car to respond. Not here.

Grip and roll are things that present themselves and ebb away in tandem with your inputs, rather than contradictory to them. The X2 is truly enjoyable, in a recognisably BMW way, to hustle around.

Maybe it would be better still if it weren’t an SUV, and there actually is a reference point for that in the form of its MINI Clubman platform-mate. But the difference is imperceptible – small enough that the increased height of the thing can even be enjoyed as a virtue.

That is quite a feat. You can love this car for reasons one always loved BMWs, and it could be the one to bring the segment into the light.


My Reading Room

Germany’s extrovert Sports Activity Coupe and Sweden’s “tough little robot” prove there is magic to be found in the small-SUV segment.

My Reading Room