Marketing campaigns are often nothing more than to get potential customers intrigued in a specific product enough to take a closer look. Often times these campaigns compare a specific product to something entirely different (cars are compared to airplanes, running shoes to jungle cats, etc). But sometimes, products are compared to older versions of themselves, a kind of “things were better in the old days and that’s what this new product is like” style of marketing. That last kind is something BMW recently did with the 2 Series. Marketed as a sort of BMW 2002 reincarnate, the 2 Series, according to BMW, is supposed to be the second coming of how BMW was back in the good ole days. Well, Car and Driver seems to have actually put that notion to the test.
Car and Driver also looked at itself in a similar scope, as it did this test in New York City, the former home of Car and Driver. In the Big Apple, C&D took a 1972 BMW 2002 tii, the car that gave BMW its reputation, and its spiritual successor, the M235i on a little adventure to see if there is any merit to BMW’s comparison.
For a little background, the 2002 is the car that put BMW on the map, in terms of sports sedans, and set the benchmark for the segment moving forward. But C&D’s own David E. Davis wrote the first glowing review of the 2002 back in the day, in which he spoke about people who bought cars like the Chevy Impala over the 2002 “To hell with all of ’em. If they’re content to remain in the automotive dark, let them.” Clearly, the BMW 2002 means a lot to Car and Driver, so testing it against its spiritual successor is a big deal.
Anyway, onto the test. It’s actually quite remarkable how enjoyable and inspiring the BMW 2002tii is even today. For the time and for today, not many cars are built with the sole purpose of putting a smile on your face. Even the ones that do make you grin today still manage to spoil the fun with too many electronic aids. The 2002tii’s simplicity was admired then and is admired today. It’s also remarkable how usable and enjoyable it is in comparison to today’s metal. But the most impressive thing, by far, is how similar the tactics used to make the M235i are to the ones used on the 2002tii. BMW still knows how to do it.
In today’s world, enthusiasts constantly claim that BMW’s lost its way and that it caters more to the mass luxury crowd than the true fans that it used to. But when C&D can put a car from both generations back to back, it’s surprising how similar they are in scope. Both seat 4-5 passengers in relative comfort, both are small and light for their respective time periods, both have smooth, linear and accurate steering and both handle extremely well for their times. They’re both the small, practical yet fun BMW for their generation and they’re both better than everything else in their respective segments.
Having recently driven the M235i and owning a slightly older BMW 3 Series myself, I can attest to the fact that they felt similar. There’s no doubt that the lineage is there and that the collective knowledge of how to make a fun yet practical sports car gained from decades of experience is still running through each new BMWs veins. Sure, subtle things are different, like how light, fast and numb the M235i’s steering is in comparison to the 2002’s or how smooth and easy the M235i’s shifter is to operate in comparison to the 2002tii’s. But the essence is still there and that’s what matters most. Much like how Car and Driver moved from NYC to Ann Arbor Michigan, it needed to change to improve and flourish yet it remains the same quality publication, BMWs can change to improve yet still remain the same practical sports cars. Sometimes things really are better in the old days, but sometimes good things remain the same.