The Small BMW Sports Sedan That Made A Big Impact

Sports sedans are little miracles of the automaker's art. Delivering track-day speed and daily driver comfort — wrapped in a modestly stylish package with a halfway-achievable MSRP — a good sports sedan is about as close as the car world comes to delivering all things to all gearheads.

If you've ever enjoyed a four-door, four-seat car that could take the kids to school, then blast over the horizon at too many miles per hour, thank the BMW 2002. The '60s-vintage Beemer set the template for modern sports sedans. The 2002's success provided proof of concept for its whole market segment, demonstrating to achievers in the space like Mercedes, Lexus, and Audi that it was possible to deliver top-end performance alongside comfortable, practical design.

Of course, what the 2002 did for competitors couldn't hold a candle to the paradigm shift it incurred at BMW itself. The Bavarian brand's best performers trace lineage back to the same little sedan.

The art of acceleration

As Car and Driver rightly reports, when the BMW 2002 — the numbering signifies "two-liter, two-door sedan" — hit pavement for the first time in 1968, it flipped the script on what a high-performance car should be. It followed none of the available paradigms. 

It wasn't an American-style muscle car: the body was light and stiff, and even at the top of the range, the 2-liter inline-four put out a thoroughly average 140 horsepower. It wasn't a stripped-back marvel of European engineering in the style of a Porsche or a Lotus, either. The 2002 was a proper sedan, complete with four seats and room to stretch.

Instead, the 2002 relied on build quality and top-tier parts to deliver performance. It couldn't compete with sporting peers on acceleration or straight-line power, but it ate them alive through the corners thanks to an independent rear suspension and a fantastic manual steering rack. The combination was enough for the 2002 to earn laurels as a race car, as Road and Track can confirm.

The clearest proof of the 2002's quality is its legacy. Modern BMW 2 and 3-series performance sedans trace their DNA straight back to the 60s standout; as eBay Motors points out, the very first 3-series was the 2002's direct successor. 

Per Silodrome, the 2002 is also one of the most popular performance cars of all time, with almost 400,000 manufactured from 1968 to 1975. The 2002 was BMW's original "ultimate driving machine," and for thousands of enthusiasts, it remains the finest expression of the company's design ethos.