One Or Two, Asks Henry From Derbyshire

We might be one of the least influential car websites but we are responsive. Sam the Eagle raised the question yesterday. This is the answer.

2007-2013 BMW 1-series coupe: source
2007-2013 BMW 1-series coupe: source

The start point of the discussion is a fictional letter (sent by post, imagine!) from a fictional reader, Henry. Henry is based in northwest Derbyshire and sells office furniture cleaner. He wants to trade down from his 2004 SsangYong Rodius which is too large for him and his wife. Henry wants a new, small BMW but can’t decide if he wants the 1-series or 2-series. In fact, in the letter Henry says he can’t tell the difference between the two cars. He has seen both in the office car park and considers both “quite smart”. Is the 2 worth more than the 1, he asks. They will look almost the same when ordered in black with badge delete option, he notes.

I turned to BMW’s own website to see what is on sale in the United Kingdom. The BMW 1-series has been on sale since 2004 and has rear-wheel drive. It succeeds the cynical and ill-formed BMW Compact (which was nominally a 3-series relative). For most of the time since 2004 the 1-series has comprised four different models.

As well as a pretty 2-door convertible and distinctive three- and five-door hatchbacks, there was a 2-door coupé (E82), in production from 2007. That’s what you have seen outside your office, Henry. But manufacture of that car ended in 2013. So, your plans to choose between the 1-series coupe and 2-series coupé don’t work if you want only to buy new.

2014 BMW 2-series coupe: source
2014 BMW 2-series coupe: source

So what is this 2-series? BMW’s current product structure now also has a 2-series range and still features a pared-down 1-series range. The 1-series cars are merely 3- and 5-door hatchbacks as per days of yore. The newish 2-series range features a two-door coupe and a convertible. The coupé is the F22 and has been on sale since 2014. It is still a rear-drive vehicle.

In case you are curious, the modified nomenclature is supposed to be consistent with the 4-coupés and 6-coupés so as to move the very different small coupé away from the humdrum, workaday banality of the 1-series cars. So, even numbers for two-door cars and odd numbers for saloons. And GTs.

So, let’s now say that you are still interested in the One and the Two. What do you get for your money? The E82 (2007-2014) has a 2,660 mm wheelbase. The F22 (2014-to date) has a 2,690 mm wheelbase. That’s not a lot, is it? If you plump for the older car you can get a different range of engines, less boom and bam than in the newer car (apart from the 340 hp M-Sport). The 1-series coupe had a 140 hp diesel, a 174 horsepower diesel and 167 horsepower petrol engine. The E82 stretched 4360 mm from its aggressive nose to its taut, pert little tail. We have no difficulty understanding, Henry, why your eye wandered to that attractive behind.

If you turn, as turn you might, to the younger sister you find it comes in 220i, 230i, M240i and M240i X-drive versions. The 2-coupé demands a measuring tape of 4432 mm to reach from its frontmost tip to its eye-catching derriere. The little car weighs in at 1380 kg unladen so it it’s a bit of a porker. The 220i produces 184 horses. The 230i produces 252 horses.

In the olden days the -30i suffix would have signified a six-cylinder engine. These days it implies that but in fact the 230i is just an overbored four-banger such as the Americans have been cranking out since Nixon was in office, if not before. Back to topic, the M240 produces a mind-blasting 340 horsepower (but still has the same lame 52 litre petrol tank). In compensation, it does have an in-line six. Without wanting to go into much more detail, the X-drive is pretty much the M240i with four-wheel drive and weighs even more.

So, in summary, Henry, while you were sleeping BMW dramatically changed the character of its smallest coupés in 2014. Whether you like it or not, the 1-series coupé is a friendly and less intense sort of car compared to the 2-series which “kinda sorta” replaces it. So you can see that BMW probably were justified in changing the name. That means the 2-series is not really a replacement for the 1-series even if they look the same with the lights off. So you’re not comparing like with like.

BMW’s decision to separate the coupé from the BMW 1-series line makes sense as the newer coupé is a beefier machine. But that logic is exploded by its number-pairing with the utterly unsporty 2-series Active Tourer MPV (which is outgunned in the attractiveness stakes by the Kia Carens.)

BMW´s strict model-naming hierarchy: source
BMW´s strict model-naming hierarchy: source

What I extract from all of this is the BMW’s naming system is a mess and isn’t it amazing they can sell a car for two years without people becoming aware of it? Well, now you know, Henry.

DTW’s advice is that you get the best 1-series petrol coupé your money can buy as it is most certainly likely to feel nimbler and less self-important than the overblown 2-series.

Author: richard herriott

I like anchovies. I dislike post-war town planning.

21 thoughts on “One Or Two, Asks Henry From Derbyshire”

  1. It is strange. I feel that I should prefer the 2 Series Coupé as the old 1 Series version was usually deemed a bit stunted and had that Bangle swage down the lower side flank. But, I agree with Richard. I look at that earlier 1 Series in all its guises and see something far preferable to today’s mix of 1s and 2s. This goes to confirm my theory that Bangle’s Beemers mature and improve with age. The 1M, for example, is a brutish yet quite adorable little scamp, and the convertible, well, is pert and perky.

  2. It also shows up BMW’s confused naming. There’s still space for a 1 coupe because the 2 is so much like the old 3 from the 90s and 00s. The 1-coupe is a handy sort of car and makes a stronger case for its appearance than the indistinct 2er.
    I found getting information on the 1-series coupes less handy than I expect. BMW don’t have spec sheets for their old cars – shouldn’t they? Would that not signal pride in their heritage?
    How many Henrys are there out there unaware of BMW’s range?

  3. Thank you Richard. I was following a 2 Series last week and thinking ‘what exactly is that’ and ‘I prefered the old stunted 1 Series ‘coupe’. So now you have explained it clearly and comprehensively, yet I’m still no wiser. Are BMW planning on keeping all the 2 Series, except of course the Not-So-Active Tourer, RWD when the 1 Series goes FWD? Or has the 1 Series gone FWD and I missed it?

    It’s a good point about historic details. Car manufacturers expect us to think that their cars are so bloody important yet, once they’re superseded, unless they are a Gullwing or similar, they suddenly lose all interest. Even some makers of throw-away electronics will keep an accessible archive of old machines. I suppose they don’t want you looking at the spec sheet and thinking the new car seemed better than the old.

    1. The naming change problem turned out to be the biggest surprise of the research. Wouldn’t the Active Tourers be better under the 3-umbrella or left with a name (or is that unthinkable?)? Or put the Active Tourers in with the hatches which will be FWD or electric before long.

  4. The ‘Active Tourer’ doesn’t look too bad to my eyes. It’s the ‘Gran Tourer’ that’s visually challenging in my opinion.

    1. Well one looks really clunky, and the other one looks like a KIA. The only problem I can see with the Carens is the limited choice of paint and engines.

  5. Perhaps airbrushing past vehicles from their history books will make it easier to move towards fwd and away from their gorgeous (but thirsty) straight sixes. These two “brand values” are surely close to the end in all but the very top models.

  6. I get the confusion about the name structure. This will no doubt be resolved when all BMWs are based on a transverse-engine natively front drive platform, sadly.

    But why the derision for the 2 series coupe? It seems like a very faithful replacement for the 2 door 1 series it replaced to me. It doesn’t look great, but then neither did its predecessor. In these days of increasingly homogenised cars, it seems quite faithful to the delightful E30 3 series of the 1980s. And that is a good thing.

    1. Who cares what it’s called? You may not have noticed but the 3-series coupé is now called 4-series. Does it matter?

    2. I get a little confused and slightly irritated by the high regard for the E30. In six cylinder form with the correct suspension and damper settings – (not the standard factory set up) – they were a suave, swift and (in their day) rather dashing device. In four cylinder ad-executive form, they were anything but. I drove a number of standard issue 318’s back in the ’80s – and found them to be spectacularly average. Very well finished, yes. Sparsely equipped, certainly. Overrated? Definitely.

  7. Development creep has always been a problem in this business, as people wants exactly the same but only more so of it. They want their cars to be newer and faster and with better quality, larger on the inside, more premium than before to a lesser price, it’s inevitable what they end up with is something porkier and more expensive.

    And it seems the old 3-series coupe, now known as the 4-series, had become too big and too expensive. I’d say the new 2-series is a direct replacement for the more nimble E36 3-series coupe of the 90’s. There’s a difference in price between a boy racer and a business mans express, and the former 3-series now known as the 4-series has simply become what the 6-series was before. And the 2-series is set to capitalize on the more boy racerish cars of yore…

    1. This makes me think of starlings on an aerial. One lands, one falls off. Elephants’ teeth: they fall out at the front and move forward into the gap. In this case BMW’s 1 becomes a 2, 2 replaces 3, 3 becomes what was a 6 and people give up on 6s.
      The 2 has engines that are too extreme, no?

    2. The current 2 Series coupe is within millimeters of the E36 coupe’s dimensions, but a damn sight heavier and less spacious. Which doesn’t make it a bad car, but there seems to be a wilful effort to make it look wide and imposing, rather than neat and nimble like the E82. Perhaps the fact that neither generation of 1 Series hatch has ever been sold in the USA has some bearing – they only got the coupes and convertibles.

      There’s a puzzling lack of logic in the code numbering sequence. The 5 door hatch, which arrived first, is E87, but E81, the three door hatch arrived nearly three years later, alongside the E82 coupe.

      The 1 Series hatch was a massive disappointment for me after the CS1 concept shown in 2002. I’d rather hoped for something more 2002-like when BMW got round to putting a roof on it, after all this was the golden age of retro. However, since a 120d coupe is the present flagship of the Parazitas fleet, I clearly wasn’t put off by the design which eventually transpired.

  8. The e82 1 series was produced with two different power steering setups. The usual hydraulic is great, a little bit heavy at stillstand but very communicative without being intrusive. The electric setups as fitted to cars with the ‘co2’ package is, unfortunately, nowhere near as good. Also, the M suspension package (when fitted) is rather stiff, the normal setup is more pleasant for a daily driver imho (and not slower on a racetrack, if this matters to you). Try to Drive both setups before you buy, there is a noticeable difference. One more thing, on the e82 135i the automatic is a Getrag dual clutch unit, double check for proper operation, as a replacement is very expensive. I would take a manual one in any case.

    Get a good one, and let us know 😉

    1. The earlier 135i automatics are conventional slushies and very good. Mine’s 2010 and I love it. I get it reset to factory settings periodically, which makes it shift like warm butter
      One gets used to the M suspension, or it seems to have softened with nice long open road work and as the km have increased (79000 now vs 44000 when I got it).

  9. Roberto – I fully agree about the ‘M’ suspension package. The harshness and propensity to transmit sudden shocks are a hard payback for the puerile pleasure of having ‘M’ badging on the kickplates, road wheels and that thick-rimmed steering wheel.

    A more functional M-Sport benefit is the “flappy paddle” selector levers. My “anti-family” car is very much a daily driver, for a miserable 40 mile daily commute mostly under the eyes of average speed cameras, so the selector lever doesn’t get snapped leftwards too often. When conditions allow, I launch it up a slow truck-infested dual carriageway incline holding second and third – all in the cause of warming up the diesel particulate filter, of course.

    The 135i and M Coupe remain objects of lust, but the diesel / automatic combination has proved thoroughly satisfactory, a relaxed and undemanding companion on the miserable commute.

    On the steering matter, I must check. I suspect mine’s electric, but I can’t really fault it. I find it preferable to the hydraulic system on the E91 which preceded the coupe; that car’s steering was absurdly and pointlessly heavy, with no compensating virtues.

    1. The steering on my E82 135i M is hydraulic and sublime, not heavy and even more precise after an alignment of course. The fanboy websites claim Michelin Pilot Supersports improve both ride and handling, but that means carrying an inflator Apparently not all run flats are created equal either. I replaced the Dunlops as Bridgestones allegedly give a more harsh ride.

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