1972 BMW 2002, 2014 BMW 228i. Click image to enlarge
Review and photos by Simon Hill
Back some 46 years ago, before the days of Steptronic gearboxes, electric-assist power steering, twin-turbo engines, menu-driven infotainment systems and 40-series tires, BMW launched into the consciousness of North American buyers with a small, simple, lightweight two-door sedan that trumped many of the sports cars of the day in terms of power and handling. It was called the 2002, and while it was neither BMW’s first entry into the North American market nor even the first of its line (it was based on the lower-powered 1602), it was the first BMW to make a serious impression. Critics raved (Car and Driver editor David E. Davis Jr. famously wrote “Turn your hymnals to 2002” in his glowing 1968 review) and buyers snatched up the spunky little “sports sedan” by the thousands.
It wasn’t really until a decade later, following the introduction of replacement 3 Series for 1977, that the 2002 started to become known as the 2 Series, and since then BMW has been content to let the name lie dormant. That is until now, with the introduction of the new 2014 2 Series.
Like the 2002 before it, the new 2 Series is actually based on a previous model, in this case the 1 Series (that model designation will now be reserved for small four- and five-door models). BMW has been quick to capitalize on the 2002’s name recognition and legendary driving dynamics, directly comparing the 2 Series to the 2002 on its company website.
Having owned several 2002s over a 17-year period (and a succession of 3 Series BMWs since), I was keen to drive the new 2 Series. My test car’s Valencia Orange paint reminded me a little of my first 2002’s bronze colour (see photo), but could the modern 2’er really offer the kind of pure, engaged driving experience I remembered from its namesake?
Externally, the new 2 Series is slightly larger than the outgoing 1 Series, and while the tendency for models to bulk up as they age is generally regrettable, in this case it’s actually a good thing: The 23 mm of additional length and 26 mm of extra width translate into small but useful gains in cabin and trunk space, bringing the 2 Series closer to the compact-but-usable size of the early 3 Series cars. In this sense, the 2 Series genuinely is the model closest in spirit to the cars BMW became famous for.
Stylistically, the 2 Series borrows cues from the current 3 and 4 Series to present a somewhat more mature, aggressive look than the outgoing 1 Series. From a direct-side-on perspective it has a vaguely bubble-topped appearance, but from every other angle (and especially head-on) it looks every inch the serious sports coupe. As BMW’s website comparison tool illustrates, the 2002 may have been cute in a boxy sort of way, but the 2 Series is downright sexy by contrast.