Then vs. Now: 1972 BMW 2002tii Vs. 2014 BMW M235i

Daniel Byrne
#BMW, #M235i

Joe Montana or Tom Brady? Madonna or Lady Gaga? The first love or the new flame? It’s in our nature to look in the rearview mirror, to measure the brightness of the present against the best of the past. It’s no different with car enthusiasts. For all the areas in which automobiles have improved -- safety, performance, efficiency, reliability—they still live in the shadow of the past. The great thing about cars, though, is that we don’t have to rely solely on our memories. We’ll never know how twenty-eight-year-old Michael Jordan would have fared against twenty-eight-year-old LeBron James, but we can find well-kept classic cars—the icons that enthusiasts worship -- and pit them against their modern equivalents. That’s just what we did with these seven matchups. It’s throttle cables versus direct injection. AM radios versus infotainment screens. Old-car patina versus new-car smell. So, was it really better then? Come back next Thursday for the next entry in this series.

The oldest car I’ve ever driven is a 1938 BMW 320 that belongs to the Lane Motor Museum in Nashville. That 320, with its robust straight six, felt incredibly modern given its vintage. The 1972 2002tii we’ve borrowed doesn’t feel as ageless, perhaps because the expectations are so high for a car that is central to BMW’s mystique, a car that Automobile Magazine founder David E. Davis, Jr., anointed as the beginning of a new movement.

Don’t get me wrong -- you definitely do not want your girlfriend to have coffee with a guy who drives a 2002, because if she does she won’t be coming back. How did an object this perfect exist in the age of linoleum-floored, opera-windowed, cotton-poly crappiness?

Aesthetics and functionality are sometimes independent entities, however. For one thing, the 2002 is sized for a race of smaller creatures. This 2002tii’s slender key has a hinge in it, and I worry that I’m going to inadvertently twist it off in the ignition. I could snap the window crank and door handle like uncooked pieces of linguine. The tires are 165/13s. In contrast to all this daintiness, the unassisted steering is like arm-wrestling Ernest Hemingway at a bar in Havana.

You can adjust speed purely with the throttle. Let off the gas at 85 mph and engine braking takes over as the 125-hp 2.0-liter winds down below 4000 rpm with a palpable sigh of relief. On the highway, I repeatedly drop my hand to the shifter to go for fifth gear before remembering that there isn’t one. Body roll recalls my dog when he’s looking for a belly rub.

But you’ve got to remember that the ur-model of anything is usually improved upon. I used to own a 1979 323i, and even that buzz bomb was far more modern than the 2002. Fast-forward a few more decades, and the M235i retains the essential intimacy of the 2002 -- the 4-series’ motorized seatbelt presenters are unneeded here -- but brings performance that would trump BMW’s first supercar, the M1. The BMW turbocharged straight six remains one of the very best engines you can wish for beneath the hood of your car.

Yes, the 2002 laid down the formula, but its successors improved upon it. I mean, the 2002 has a warning light labeled “brake failure.” Brake failure needed its own light?

The M235i is a better car in every way, even if it doesn’t offer the element of rebellion that the 2002 had going for it. It’s impossible that it could, since it picks up a thread that started in the 1960s.

The 2002 was the first of its line, a revolutionary machine that won a new audience for BMW and established a formula that was constantly refined over successive decades. That description will never fit the 2-series. But it just might apply to the i3.

1972 BMW 2002tii2014 BMW M235i
Engine2.0L I-4, 125 hp, 130 lb-ft3.0L turbo I-6, 320 hp, 330 lb-ft
Transmission4-speed manual6-speed manual
Curb Weight2300 lb3505 lb
Price$4470 ($25,000 after inflation)$44,025
Value Today:$15,000-25,000
I did a 10k mile /30 day tour of continental US in my 2002 back in '74...and it was spectacular running up and down Rocky Mountain switchbacks...I could tune it with a screwdriver and a paper clip. Fond memories.
fred stewart
I started selling BMW's in 1975. I recall trying to talk customers out of installing a/c and away from automatics.The Behr a/c units leaked freon as soon as charged, made an amazing amount of noise and robbed useful storage space from the center tunnel.I taught many customers how easy it was to learn the four speed, and Getrag made a nice one until the synchros gave up.The keys broke so often that I also taught how to duplicate with a file and vise.There was little  could do about the window regulators. I still loved those ugly little boxes though.My first impression was it looked like a planeria under a microscope.Here was a company that was the first to combine a car you needed with a car you wanted. What a concept!In those days sales were about 19000 per year or one tenth of one percent. I knew they had hit upon the right formula though. I think the coolest car they made was the Bavaria with a four speed transmission. Sort of like an Impala ss 327 with a four speed and independent rear suspension trimmed down.I drive a 2003 325 xit today that I bought new. 234,000 miles and a great improvement over the rusty old days. Still the DNA is there though. a/c still works and is standard now thank heavens!Soo many on the road today!!I knew you then, loved the idea of engineers running things, still works fine for me today.328d wagon is nextAll the best to everyone!!
Rachel Chava
I had a '72 2002 and loved it.  And would still love it if I could buy the same car.  Yes.  No air bags, No power compared to today, but it was responsive and fun to drive,  and way beyond what anyone else offered. I would not buy a new BMW - it's all computers and no talent required. Like being in an elevator.   The 2002 was unique at the time.  Everyone knew it was not American.  My husband even had to buy Metric tools :-)  
  I've also had a 914, a 1970 911, a Mercedes 280, and now the best fun is my 6 sp manual 225hp, 2004 Audi TT.  It is so much fun on curving hill roads!  Turn off the ESP, Floor it thru the corners!! It handles much better than my 911 which once did a 180 at Road America with the Porsche Club of Chicago.
  Cars should be fun to drive, and should allow you to make mistakes.  Today's affordable cars all look the same and are boring to drive.
Christian Schmidt
I prefer newer cars so for me the M235i thanks
Gary Toyama
I wish I'd never sold my '76 2002, 4-spd, mit sunroof and moderate engine and handling upgrades. No, it wasn't the fastest or best-handling car out there, but it was a blast to drive and I learned more about vehicle dynamics than anything short of my vw bug. And I could tinker with it! What can I say, I still love the old, low-tech boxy Bimmers!
I take the 1972 BMW 2002tii!  It is easy to do maintenance on and is better handling then the current model here!
John Shea
The biggest BMW in 1972 was the 6 cylinder 3.0 which had the same wheelbase as the M235i and was lighter!
Car Specs
if you know these car specs click it !
Alexander Stewart
No contest the 2002
Ishan Ji Shrivastava
i take 1972 's BMW
I've owned/restored several cool cars over the years, such as an early 911, Lotus Elan, etc. and always lusted after the BMW 2002. This was the enthusiast car to own when I was in my early teens, along with Alfa GTV, Lotus Europa, and others. I now have a Lotus Elise and an E90 335i with the same drivetrain as the M235i. 
One of the biggest letdowns I've experienced recently was driving my brother-in-law's 'roundie' 2002 with a VERY robust Metric Mechanic 170+ bhp engine. It was nice enough, but felt like a motorboat compared to my modern stuff. After re-restoring stuff that I had already restored on my 60's/70's classics, owning modern versions of these cars is a welcome relief. Sure, you can work on the older cars, which is a good thing as you're going to get the opportunity on a regular basis. Modern vehicles just don't require as much service mile for mile.
Don't get me wrong - I love these old cars, as they're icons from my youth. It's just that the modern versions run rings around them in safety, comfort, performance, and reliability. I've had zero problems with my 335i in 3 years and only recalls on the Elise, which is nearly 10 years old. Sure they have electronics that cannot be worked on by the owner, but this is what allows these cars to perform like they do.
The performance of these cars would be mind-blowing back in the early 70's, besting the supercars of the day. If you maintain the moderns properly using old-school BMW maintenance vs. the goofy 'free' maintenance schedule and stay away from warranty-busting mods, most problems in 100k miles of ownership will be minor. If you worry about BMW's reputation for withering post-warranty repair costs, just get the 100k extended warranty.
I've been a fan of the 1 & 2 series coupes from day one.  I have often expresses to my wife that should I replace my '76 2002 project car, it would be for one of these. This article was a nice overture to the two cars, but the 235i should have been compared with the 2002 Turbo. If you've never driven a 2002, do so. I guarantee that afterwards, you'll long for the days of simpler - dare I say it - purer, cars. My neighbor has an E60 M5. Despite the modern beast that it is, there's something to be said for the driving experience of a lightweight car with the power and handling of a Miata. In the end, that's what it's about.  Side note: I converted mine to a 5-speed ;^)

Marc Adam
1972 It 's fun ;)
Eric Henry Mongeur
The new one
Sasan Geranmehr
Bhupender Verma
Awesum man avcose 2002 model
Parth Kalariya
Mark Grant
2014!! The older one is hideous!!
Richard Divinagracia Ochoa Sr.
I still like it old skul.
Muhammed Aslam C
Bmw m 235i
Noah Brigdan
Of course the 2002.... Unlike the M235i it won't be worth 15gs in 8 years.
Armando Soto
I want to drive the 2002.
@BMWUSA M235i all day
Daniel Houck
old and slow or new and fast... lets see here... GO FAST!
Kyree S. Williams
If I had to pick one or the other, I'd take the 235i. It's a different kind of fun than the 2002tii, but it's got modern conveniences, modern gadgets and modern safety standards, and those two things are very important to me.
@BMWUSA @automobilemag one for work the antique one for weekend drive who could say no to that I wont
Jose Juan Morales
@BMWUSA @automobilemag The 2002. A proven winner and you can work on it in your backyard. The 2 series is an electronic nightmare.
Mohammad Mehdi Fattah
Jaspal Bhatti Rajput
TJ Leonard
Visibility is not what it used to be!
Mario Andreé Villanueva Martínez
Mario Villanueva Aguilar
@BMWUSA @automobilemag why not both?
@BMWUSA @automobilemag the 2002 duhh
Deal Maker
235 is overpriced... 50k for that car is overkill
@BMWUSA @automobilemag Both of course!
Reda Issa
Hasnaïne Fidahoussen
@BMWUSA both. The classics are timeless and fun! The new 2 series looks great and drives wonderfully!
Mark Schmidt
@BMWUSA @automobilemag walk
@BMWUSA @automobilemag THE VINTAGE!!!
@BMWUSA @automobilemag 2002 allllll the way
Jimmy Pham
Galen Tschumi-Dion
Kevin Burns
Lee Klein
No doubt the 2002 is more engaging.
Imov Erit
Jim Bur
Always loved the classic 2002tii...hard to go wrong
Mattso Samsonite
The M235i design is questionable. The 2002... timeless.
@automobilemag @BMWUSA is the 2002 a tii?....if so the 2002

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