It’s been over forty years since David E. Davis, then writing for Car and Driver magazine, sang the praises of BMW’s then-new 2002. Likening the upright 2-door to a “pretty girl who will expertly cook, scrub floors, change diapers, keep the books and still be the greatest thing since the San Francisco earthquake in bed,” Davis went on to describe the 2002 as “an inexpensive little machine from Bavaria that really can perform the automotive equivalent of all those diverse domestic and erotic responsibilities.” Although it’s been a while since we last associated anything from BMW with ‘erotic’, these are different times. The 2002 is long gone, and with BMW’s recently launched 4-Series so – presumably – is BMW’s corporate memory.
There was a time when BMW’s marketing tagline – The Ultimate Driving Machine – seemed so much more than just a marketing tagline. To be sure, those of us with at least some familiarity with the marque (I sold them from 1980 thru 1985) knew that ‘ultimate’ didn’t mean ultimate speed or ultimate cornering capability; those attributes were the domain of the supercars and Corvettes. Instead, it seemed to suggest a sense of connectivity and balance you simply didn’t find in competitive machinery. You might have found it in a Porsche showroom (until the advent of the 996), but a Benz was too isolated and Audi, for the longest time, simply irrelevant.
The 2002, born of a ‘big block’ four dropped into the 1600’s oh-so-light-and-right 2-door bodyshell, was everything a driver and his or her young family might need, and absolutely nothing they didn’t. With but 114 horsepower propelling its minimalistic footprint, you could reach 60 in second, 80 in third and top out at just over ‘the ton’. Of course, today a Fiesta ST (or, for that matter, the SE) would absolutely tromp it, but within the context of real-world traffic and driving, who needs to go faster?
The magic of the 2002 was in the moment, opening the door, surveying the minimalistic – albeit beautifully executed – interior, climbing behind the wheel and then turning the key. This was precision, with just the right amount of ‘visceral’ built in. The 2002 wasn’t, to be sure, as flamboyant as Alfa’s GTV, but then, when hustling in traffic discretion isn’t necessarily a bad thing. And with a greenhouse as expansive as, well, a greenhouse, everything was visible, including your smile.
With a base price of under $3K, various options and dealer add-ons might have pushed the 2002’s sticker to around $3,500. And that, coincidentally, is what you’ll spend on the 428i’s M Sport package, which provides 18-inch alloy wheels, adaptive suspension, sport seats, a few interior trim bits, shadowline exterior trim and an anthracite headliner. And for those thinking adaptive suspension is the same as Dynamic Handling, well, no…that’s another thousand.
Now, we know the dollar is down, the Euro is up and inflation (remember that?) has certainly taken its toll over four decades. In point of fact, the only ones making the same money today as they were making in 1970 are freelance writers. That said, if you need proof that certain marques have lost their way, it’s in a Monroney that requires another 10% above and beyond the car’s $40K base to supply what you would typically expect in a BMW showroom, just after ‘hello’.
BMW’s zig from ‘3’ to ‘4’ for their 2-door coupes is one we won’t argue with. While we always enjoyed the duality of the 3-Series, where 4-doors could be sporty and 2-doors could be practical, there is a nice symmetry when the 4-Series aligns with the 6-Series while remembering the 8-Series; they’re all, if you will, divisible by two. But in making a 428i there’s this aching (right around the wallet) suspicion that the move was made to bolster the bottom line. And while there’s absolutely nothing wrong in making money, BMW seems to have completely walked away from its value argument, a conclusion easily reached when paying 10% more to get what you should be obtaining in the base price.
As John Matras suggested in his ‘First Drive’ of the 4-Series, there’s a lot to like in the 428i’s sheetmetal, platform and accoutrements. But at the end of an abbreviated week – and maybe a ½ tank of gas – we also sensed that there was in this new coupe simply a lot: unnecessary complexity, electronic intervention and weight. At twice the price of Ford’s Fiesta ST the 4-Series is roughly ½ the fun. And this week’s Regal GS (that’s right, a Buick) is almost as entertaining, provides two more doors and is some $7,000 less.
Mr. Davis – who passed away in 2011 – may not be spinning in his grave, but neither is he trading his 2002. For us, we’ll wait for BMW’s soon-to-be-launched 2-Series, with fingers crossed and wallet folded. At least they’ve appropriated the right numeral…