Progress report: BMW 2002tii vs BMW 128ti | Top Gear
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Progress report: BMW 2002tii vs BMW 128ti

Settle down, it's time for a bright orange history lesson in naming structure

BMW 2002tii vs BMW 128ti
  • Phwoar. That looks lovely…

    BMW 2002tii vs BMW 128ti

    Let’s assume you’re talking about the Inka Orange 2002 and not the resale grey (with red lipstick) 1 Series. I’d argue few designs have aged as delightfully as the 02 Series, a bunch of compact cars chiselled down from the Neue Klasse saloons which kickstarted BMW’s modern era back in the 1960s. There’s a new, all-electric Neue Klasse coming this decade, which yes, does mean a potential design reboot at Munich.

    Photography: Jonny Fleetwood

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  • But will the cars be this classy?

    BMW 2002tii Inka Orange side profile

    Impossible to say, but it’s easy to assume ‘unlikely’; the 2002 is devilishly well appointed even without such an arresting hue. There’s another pertinent reason for revisiting it: this one is the tii, launched 50 years ago and here providing some context for why the heck the ti badge has been stuck on BMW’s first ever front-driven performance car, its Golf GTI-beating 128ti.

  • So what do the letters mean?

    BMW 2002tii engine

    The ‘ti’ stands for ‘Turismo Internazionale’, the extra letter of ‘tii’ denoting ‘Injection’. We never got the original 2002ti in the UK, but the newer, more powerful 2002tii did land on these shores. This is a BMW from a period when names actually meant something – 2002 translates as 2.0-litre engine, two doors. Peak power is 130bhp, driving the rear wheels through a 4spd manual gearbox. It’s an easier going, more approachable performance car than the 2002 Turbo, much like a 128ti is more of an everyday proposition than an M2. The numbers in the newer car’s name are much less literal – a 2.0-litre turbo sends 261bhp through the front wheels via an 8spd automatic.

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  • I assume they’re different to drive.

    BMW 2002tii Inka Orange cornering

    Well, first impressions of the 2002 are that it’s an old car, despite how crisply it still sits. The upper section of its top-hat shape is almost entirely glass, and the panels below so thin and unappealing to crash that its boot looks as commodious as a Volvo V90’s. And just look at its dinky 13in Minilites. But it drives very well – there are no histrionics on start-up and the only thing it sorely lacks is a fifth gear. Its contact patches may be weeny, but it grips gamely and corners deftly, despite its simply enormous steering wheel. There’s a huge shove of torque if you want it or comfy (if slightly loud) cruising should you wish to relax, its ticking analogue clock gently punctuating the calm.

  • It looks quite funky inside…

    BMW 2002tii interior dashboard

    I’ll concede the carpets aren’t original, but they’re very sympathetic to the vibe of this example, kindly loaned to us by its loving owner Mark Brooks. It’s covered 160,000 miles since new. The inside wears them well, and the glimpse of real, actual wood as you peek at the dials is oddly thrilling. The oversized wheel houses four dinky little horn buttons – easily pressed by accident as you manhandle the non-assisted steering, but joyous enough in the beep they emit that no one will mind. The manual ‘box may cry out for another ratio but its short-throw action remains lovely and taut.

  • Does the new one live up to the name?

    BMW 128ti grey and red side profile

    It’s a curious fish, the 128ti, albeit a very appealing one. There’s a whiff of skunkworks about it, for it’s essentially the result of some BMW engineers taking umbrage with the over-complication of the 4WD M135i hot hatch and stripping out all the unnecessary bits to make a lighter, simpler, cheaper car.

  • A successful result?

    BMW 128ti interior dashboard

    The fact most people still just lease the 135 suggests their effort might’ve been in vain, but the 128 is a sweet thing to drive and with twice the gear ratios of the tii – and one pedal fewer – it’ll play the ‘Turismo’ act more adeptly. Just not, with its bold graphics and bluff front end, with quite as much elegance as its Neue Klasse ancestor.

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  • 1973 BMW 2002tii

    BMW 2002tii badge

    1991cc 4cyl, RWD, four-speed manual
    130bhp, 131lb ft
    0-62mph in c8.5secs, 120mph
    1026kg
    £40,000 (price now)

  • 2021 BMW 128ti

    BMW 2002tii vs BMW 128ti badges

    1998cc 4cyl turbo, FWD, eight-speed automatic
    261bhp, 295lb ft
    0-62 in 6.1secs, 155mph
    1445kg
    £33,885

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