BMW 2002 Vs Today's BMW 2 Series: Charting the Evolution

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Today’s BMW 2 Series has a rich history dating back to the original BMW 2002 from the sixties, but can it really compare to the most incredible car ever made?

The BMW 2002 is a family of executive sports cars produced from 1966 - ‘77. By the end of its twelve-year run, the 2002 was a staple of BMW’s sales in the US, selling nearly 26k units annually. Today’s BMW 2 Series continues the German automaker’s commitment to quality engineering and performance.

When Max Hoffman, an Austrian-born car dealer, purchased the exclusive right to sell BMWs in the US in 1954, the decision required vision and a whole lot of faith. Even though few people understood what a fantastic automobile the BMW truly was, Hoffman made it his business to educate everyone he could. Despite his efforts, sales were poor to non-existent, as the minds of many consumers were still preoccupied with the idea of buying a German-made car. But then BMW created the 02 Series and released it to the American market in 1969, and Americans began to take notice. The BMW 2002 would establish Bavarian automaker as the “ultimate driving machine” brands like Mercedes and Porsche a run for their money. Today, the 2 Series model continues to cement the legacy and vision that Hoffman foresaw over 75 years ago. Let’s examine how far BMW has come since the days of the 2002.

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The BMW 2002 Vs. BMW 2 Series Evolution

To understand the development of the 2002 vs the 2 Series, we need to turn back the pages of history.

BMW Finds Its Footing

During the fifties, BMW struggled to recover from the war, finding the domestic market difficult. Eventually, it found markets for the Issetta, an Italian bubble car, and the 700 mini (a VW-type two-door subcompact). Unfortunately, even though sales were progressing, sales were not enough to keep BMW from teetering into financial ruin. With Daimler eyeing a takeover, company executives launched a sedan model that proved to be very successful (1500). Combined with a line of motorcycles that were very well-received (in America especially), the company pulled back from the abyss.

BMW Develops A New Class Of Sedan

In 1962, BMW introduced its “new class” of sedans, but they perceived that there might be a market for smaller two-door versions of the 1500 sedan. (The lone auto dealer in the US, Max Hoffman, who had purchased the rights to sell BMWs in the US market, had been clamoring for the company to produce an executive sports car for years).

The 1600-2 (1602) made its initial appearance at the Geneva Motor Show in 1966, with a larger 1.6 liter M10 four-cylinder engine. BMW produced a high-powered version of the 1602 the following year, and in less than two years (1968), they were producing the 2002 (a two-door sedan) with a 2.0L four-cylinder engine. At the same time, BMW began racing the 2002 model, winning races and further helping its pedigree.

The 2002 Takes Off

As the 2002 began to make its way to the states, BMW continued to tweak the power outputs of the car, offering it in two states of tune. The standard version had a single carburetor producing 99 hp, while the higher-compression, dual carburetor version bumped the power to 118 hp. Initially, the 2002 had a manual transmission, but by 1969, an automatic was offered, and sales in the US began to take off. Early reviews like the one in Car and Driver helped when it rated the 2002 as being able to outperform any car under $4000 with ease. With reviews like that, Americans were hooked.

Even though BMW tweaked the 2002 with a couple of high-performance Ti and Tii versions, Americans had to settle for the “detuned” base version. (The ti model did not meet federal emissions standards). Still, even though the “Americanized” 2002 didn’t have much power and offered a pedestrian time of 9.6 seconds 0 - 60 mph, the car sold well. By the end of the production run in 1977, BMW was selling 26k models every year. Sales were strong enough to allow BMW to purchase the rights to the American market back from Hoffman. During the mid-seventies, BMW developed the 3 Series as a replacement for the 2002 that it had been producing for a dozen years.

The 2 Series Is Born

BMW launched a series of executive sports cars called the 2 Series in 2014. The 2 Series was created when BMW spun off its sports coupe and convertible 1 Series models into a separate designation. Since the 2 Series was a subcompact executive sports sedan, comparisons with the iconic BMW 2002 were often made.

While initially offered as rear-wheel drive models as a coupe (F22 model code) and convertible (F23 model code), a year later, BMW produced the Active Tourer Gran MPV as a front-wheel drive model, and in 2019, a new BMW 2 Series Gran sports sedan joined the family of BMW models.

BMW offered several versions of the 2 Series (218, 220, 228, 230), powered by a turbocharged 2.0L four-cylinder, reminding customers of the classic 2002. A higher-performance BMW M2 class sports coupe made its way to the States (where it was trendy), and these specialty models were powered by a turbocharged six-cylinder engine. As you might imagine, the first generation F22 F23 models were faster than the 2002 predecessor, posting a 155 mph top speed and a 0 - 60 time under five seconds.

BMW had built its reputation on providing the “ultimate driving experience,” and the engineering of their vehicles bore that slogan out with a 50/50 weight distribution, exceptional performance and power, and interior luxury to make any driver more than comfortable. In 2014, BMW had its finest year ever, selling over 1.8 million models.

The Second Generation 2 Series

In 2021, BMW introduced the second generation 2 Series coupe (G42) as the successor to the F22 series coupe and F23 series convertible. The 2 Series coupe rear wheel drive configuration continues, sharing many of the components of the 3 and 4 Series models. In 2021, BMW released the Active Tourer with a mild hybrid diesel engine. In 2022, BMW released the M2 version, which reminded reviewers of the CS models like the F82 M4. The quality of the engineering is still there, which Road and Track acknowledged when they reviewed the car, indicating that as the times change, so does the car. Still, the Spirit lives on.”

The current model of the BMW 2 Series (G42) is powered by a choice of two turbocharged engines, a 2.0L four and a 3.0L six-cylinder, and are offered as rear-wheel or all-wheel drive models. The only transmission offered is an eight-speed automatic (the manual transmission is missed). The 230i (four-cylinder) is plenty capable, producing a hefty 255 hp, while the M240i produces 382 hp from the jazzed-up inline-six. Even the smaller engine motors the G42 down the track, posting a 0 - 60 mph time in 5 seconds. (For those wishing for a faster time, the 3.0L engine posts 3.6 seconds with a 12.6 quarter mile time).

Surprisingly, the car gets impressive fuel economy for being a turbocharged engine. The four-cylinder engine is rated 26 mpg in the city and 35 mpg on the highway. The more robust 3.0L engine posts 23 city/32 highway, comparable to most competition models. BMW has helped by having auto stop-start on their vehicles for several years and was one of the first companies to offer the technology.

The turbocharged inline-six engines transfer plenty of power to the coupe rear-wheel drive, and the handling between the two cars (four-cylinder and six) is nearly identical. As far as driving experience goes, the second generation 2 series coupe has all the latest features that one might expect from modern cars, including a complete safety suite. There are many driver assistance features, including front and rear parking sensors, backup cameras with cross-traffic alert, adaptive cruise control, and an option for parking assist in tight parallel parking spots.

The interiors are very matter-of-fact, which you might consider almost executive, but they are comfortable with plenty of amenities and driving assist features. The current version is a lot safer and fun to drive than its 1970s ancestor, which is saying something because even as pedestrian as the original 2002 was, it was a blast to drive (which is why so many Americans loved it). BMW continues to sell well in the US market, having posted an 11.9% increase over the previous year in 2023.