When people talk about the BMW 2002, it’s usually with praise, thanks to the nostalgia of the car. The 2002 means so much to BMW and to BMW fans, as it created a segment of car that still exists today and a car that has defined a generation — the BMW 3 Series. So the BMW 2002 is often recalled as one of the best drivers cars of all time, even by people who haven’t driven one. However, was it really as good as we remember or are we looking at the 2002 through rose-tinted glasses?

Well, the folks at Top Gear got their chance to find out. They tested the top-dog BMW 2002 Turbo. You know the one, it’s got the craziest body work of any car from the ’70s, with its riveted fender flares, massive front lip spoiler and some stunning livery. It’s gorgeous is a strange sort of way, in the same way that a Picasso painting is beautiful, despite it’s madness. Lucky bastards.

The BMW 2002 used a 2.0 liter four-cylinder engine with a massive KKK (no relation to the white-hooded racist group, thankfully) turbocharger slapped on it. This developed 168 hp, which sounds puny by modern standards, because it is, but it can rocket the little 2002 Turbo with some pretty impressive force. It’s actually a little scary with its power delivery, being that this is a mid-’70s turbocharged engine, so the boost comes in like an anvil at 4,000 rpm. But if you’re careful with the throttle and can pre-judge when the turbo will be in full boost, it’s actually quite controllable.

That’s the beauty about the 2002 Turbo, you have to learn how to drive it. Modern performance cars practically drive themselves, enabling clumsy idiots like myself to be able to flog them around a racetrack. However, cars like the 2002 Turbo need to be learned and skill needs to be acquired. You must first build a relationship with the car, create a rhythm and establish a connection. As you wind down a road, you’ll learn to wait for the boost and then lean on it, allowing yourself to maximize the power without spinning the car like a top. That level of challenge creates a rewarding experience and gives the car character, a personality.

The steering, brakes and chassis are the same way. The steering, being a car from its era, has a massive dead spot on center and is completely vague at first. But turn in harder and you’ll be rewarded with beautiful steering feel as the front tires bit and the car clings on. You’ll learn how much steering lock is required to turn in, and it’s a lot, which allows you to really get into a rhythm with the car, working the wheel from corner to corner. The 2002 Turbo is a car you have to work at to drive, but it’s all the more rewarding for it. Learning how to drive it feels like an accomplishment. Something that can’t be said for its modern equivalent.

That level of effort and skill which needs to be learned helps one bond with the 2002 Turbo. It becomes personified in a way, as it has a distinct character and actually gives back to the driver. The upcoming BMW M2 is on its way and it vaguely resembles the spirit of this car. The M2’s exclusivity, performance, size and character are all to today’s world as the 2002 Turbo was to its world. So now that many people will compare the M2 to the 2002 and look back on the classic with nostalgia, we can honestly say that it was one of the most rewarding cars history to drive. And that’s without rose-tinted glasses on.

[Source: Top Gear]