From the archives: 1970 BMW 2002

An era begins with romance and a road test

Published: July 17, 2014 12:00 PM

The BMW 2002 set the tone for generations of ultimate driving machines to follow, packaging European sports sedan dynamics in an attractive coupe. BMW’s 2002 spirit has, more or less, carried forth through the ensuing decades, leading to the present-day (and exquisite) M235i coupe that recently wowed us in our testing. This attractive, performance-focused coupe even stands tall against the Chevrolet Corvette and Porsche 911, at a fraction of the cost.

In revisiting the July 1970 road test of the original 2002 in Consumer Reports magazine, we were struck by how even at the time it was held in high regard and also noted for its quirks. An old BMW commercial on YouTube conveys the essence in stylistic fashion.

In the ad there is no dialogue, just breezy music to match the mood of the driver whose eyes are not on the road but on a moving train that he is paralleling and a woman who appears to be its only passenger. She is staring back at the BMW and its driver intently, undeterred by the long strands of hair flying in her face.

Faster than a speeding train?

In the commercial, the BMW is able to keep pace with the train; Our 1970 road test found that acceleration was its strong point, with the 113-horsepower, 2.0-liter engine going from 0-60 mph in 12.5 seconds. (Not bad for the era, but dog-slow today.) The 2002 was the fastest of the cars in our testing group of 1970 imported sedans that included the Audi 100 LS, Peugeot 504, and Saab 99E. In fact, the BMW bested the 504 and 99E by a full five seconds in this sprint.

A delight to drive

The driver in the ad seemed to enjoy the ride as much for the performance of the car as for his pursuit of the train lady. Though our engineers did not drive parallel to a Metro-North train in their “normal driving” tests, they found the car “lived up to its sporting image during normal driving.” Adding that “Steering response was very quick and predictable, and the car was a delight to drive.”

We were even more impressed with the M235i, stating in our road test that the modern descendent: “Is a fresh, exhilarating coupe that has been faithfully forged in the classic BMW mold. The car feels taut, quick, and eager. In short, it's a joy to drive.”

The leading man in the BMW commercial is navigating a straight section of highway, but if he were to meet some curves in the road, our test track run found that the 2002 “cornered well in the fast turns,” and we judged the steering “quick and predictable and the overall handling good.” But we held back a “very good” handling assessment, as the car's inside rear wheel tended to lift from the road in the tightest track turns, causing oversteer—although we reported that this was controllable. In comparing the 2002 to the other cars in the imported sedan test group, the ride was much stiffer and more “tightly damped,” a trait that continues to define modern BMWs. The 2002 felt busier and jerkier over small bumps and pavement joints than the other cars, but control over large bumps was tight.

Who’s in first, or is that reverse?

Further into the commercial, the BMW drives in pursuit until the train stops in the middle of a field and the lady from the window disembarks. Our driver and train lady walk together to the car (note that neither has a hair out of place now), and a frame later she has left the world of public transportation behind, sitting in the 2002’s passenger seat. The driver appears to pull away with no difficulties, without buckling up. Our engineers reported that the four-on-the-floor transmission shifted quickly, but “it was way too easy to end up in reverse when searching for first.”

From Consumer Reports, July 1970

Ground clearance and cabin room

The BMW couple does not appear to have luggage. For a light-load scenario such as theirs, our testers judged the 2002’s ride to be fair. But we found that the 2002’s rear suspension would bottom under weight. Consequently, backseat passengers would suffer a combined assault of firm rear cushions, too-erect seatbacks, and inadequate head and knee room that would make them wish they took the train.

Loading the car to its 840-pound capacity changed our ride rating to “poor.” The car, in this state, repeatedly struck the road and lost its “straight-line steadiness on the freeway.” To help our readers visualize the tight 2.2-inch ground clearance of the car (at maximum weight capacity), we published a photo of a package of Kool cigarettes on its side just fitting in the space between the undercarriage and the pavement. Cigarettes and slow cars; yes, the 1970s were a long time ago.

Middle-aged paunch? No worries.

The TV ad stars appeared to be tall (as we assessed from the scene where they walk to the car together). Based on our evaluation of the 2002, they’d be most comfortable in the front seat, with ample leg room and firm support. But on a hot summer day, the nonporous vinyl covering of the seats would be sticky. Even if our leading man gained weight, he would not have to give up any front-seat comfort. We wrote that the “large, rather distant steering wheel clears even advanced cases of middle-aged paunch.”  

From Consumer Reports, July 1970

Signaling left in the dark

Our BMW driver picked up the train lady in the light of day, but if he drove into dusk and needed to turn on the headlights, he might have mistakenly turned on the directional signal, as it was situated on the right side of the steering wheel instead of the usual left. And on the left was an identical stalk that controlled the headlight beams.

Not a family car

Despite those drawbacks, we did recommend the 2002, as long as the consumer was looking for a car for personal transportation and not a family car, due to the tight backseat and poor performance with a fully loaded ride. For a lone gent trying to impress a lady on a train, we judged the BMW a good choice with its “quick acceleration and nimble handling,” pronouncing the 2002 a “car that's fun to drive.” That simple description is readily applicable to today’s 2 Series.

Interestingly, the extras on the original test car included such basics as anti-freeze ($4), power brakes ($45), vinyl trim ($45), and anti-roll bars ($20). Of course, our modern M235i had a few options that drove the test price from a $43,100 sticker up to $50,400, with a Premium package ($2,300), Technology package ($2,150), and other popular essentials padding the bottom line.

The commercial ends with a German-language lesson that translates:

"Moral: Once you start something with a BMW, you won't be able to end it."

Read our detailed 2014 BMW M235i road test.

Sharon Riley

  1970 BMW 2002 2014 BMW M235i
MSRP $3,581 $43,100
Wheelbase (in.) 99 106
Length 167 175
Width 63 70
Height 55 56
Curb weight (lbs.)
2,234 3,450
Engine 2.0L 4-cyl. 3.0L Six
Horsepower 113 320
Transmission 4-speed manual 6-spd manual
0-60 mph (sec.) 12.5 5.2
Overall fuel economy (mpg) 26 25

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