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A Styling Comparison:
New BMW 2-Series Vs. Old 1-Series

August 12, 2014 by Matt

BMW 2-Series Red

BMW 1-Series 135i Orange Maroon Bronze E82 Coupe

Call it the anti-Peter Pan treatment.

With the replacement of the outgoing BMW 1-Series by the new, more upscale 2-Series, the Bavarian automaker “grows up” the styling, with less-than-successful results.

The differences between the generations are somewhat subtle, but impossible to dismiss once discovered. The most obvious 2-Series upgrade comes at the front end, where the headlights squint amid more surface detailing. At the rear, the 1-Series’ C-pillar makes a more pronounced break with the trunklid in comparison to that of the 2-Series, which flows and tapers together. And proportionally, the new car sits lower and looks larger, having lost the older BMW’s somewhat controversial “dipped” rocker panel.

The effect of the aesthetic changes reinforces a styling and character similarity between the 2-Series and its big brother, the 4-Series. And while that may be desirable from a marketing standpoint, where a salesman can more easily sell a 2-Series to a customer aspiring to “upgrade” to a 4 at some point, the changes have robbed the baby BMW of much of what made the 1 so distinctive.

BMW 2-Series White

BMW 1-Series 135i E82 White Coupe Rear

Sure, the older car may look a bit more awkward on first glance, but at least it’s confident in its awkwardness; it’s not striving to be something it’s not. The 2-Series seems like it’s trying too hard to emulate the larger 4-Series, while the 1 is simply happy to be a small car. Furthermore, the superficial ungainliness of the older car recalls the great upright BMWs of the ’70s and ’80s like the 2002, E21 and E30. Those cars look aggressive and distinctive precisely because their lack of aerodynamic, flowing lines. They look agile, eager and above all, confident—appealing qualities projected by the 1-Series and lost, or at least muted, in its successor.

I suppose, in the end, it all boils down to a matter of taste: How would you like your small BMW served? Mature and swoopy or playful and pugnacious?

Full disclosure: The 1-Series is one of my all-time favorite BMWs, and one of the few post-E46 BMWs I would consider. A 6-speed manual, Blue Water Metallic 128i with the Sport package is very high on my bucket list of cars to own.

Image credits:,,

Filed under: Aesthetics, BMW


  1. John D says:

    The 1 series M Coupe was a car I took note of to look up and buy used one day. The looks aren’t extremely attractive, but it is a strangely handsome car with lots of character. You’re not just another 3 series in a sea of identical Beemers. And I felt that the size and performance would make it a great progression as a more ‘mature’ successor to my beloved FD. There’s nothing wrong with the 2 series in my eyes, but you run the risk of becoming ‘one of the herd’ of upwardly mobile yuppies who want to be branded as successful. I have always liked the 3 series, but never could seriously consider buying one because they became such a popular cultural status symbol. If you drive a 3 series (or variant/clone thereof) you are going to be stereotyped. And usually people who do so wish to be stereotyped. I feel that the 1 series was for the enthusiast. The person who wants to get back to the roots of what made BMW great, without having to contend with the modern stereotypes. No one who cares about status would buy a ‘1’ series. Those people start with 3 and move up as quickly as their careers allow. That leaves people like me and you free to enjoy the more ‘fundamental’ BMW as a true driver’s car without having to contend with the stigma of Beemer ownership. Too bad the 1 series M coupe is so rare and didn’t last very long. Probably means they wont drop down into my price range any time soon…

    • Matt says:

      FWIW I think all BMW owners are stereotyped, regardless of what they drive. Think about it: At a get-together, if someone asks you what you drive, you don’t say “I drive a 335i with the 6-speed manual so I’m a true enthusiast;” you just say “I drive a BMW.” Bam. Stereotype applied. As someone who’s owned 3 BMWs now, it’s just one of the facts of ownership.

      That said, you’re absolutely right in that the 1-Series seems more made for the enthusiast than the average 3- or 5-Series. Personally, I think it’s the last “true” BMW made for the enthusiast before the latest generation of offerings started really softening the automaker’s product line in earnest.

      The 1M is destined to be a collectible for sure. Prices will probably never dip much if at all. For me, I’ll take something lighter, simpler, more accessible, hence the desire for a 128i/6. YMMV.

  2. Ryan says:

    I think John summed it up perfectly. This may surprise you Matt but I too have considered buying a BMW, most recently considering a 3 or 5 series for my wife. But I just can’t get over the stereotype that goes along with them. Even if you buy one and modify/personalize it, you’re still lumped into a particular category of car folks that quite frankly I’m just not sure I want to be a part of. And I’m not talking about enthusiasts such as yourselves, it’s the other 95% of BMW owners that I just consider posers… or those that make enough money to buy a nicer car and guess what it’s going to be?

    So as of tomorrow, assuming everything checks out, we’re picking her up an ’07 TL Type-S. We loved her ’03 and felt it was a great balance of sportiness, performance, size, looks, quality, reliability, price, gas mileage, and resale value. I think the new one is going to be everything her ’03 was just better. We’ll be shipping it from TX so it better be! Wanna buy a super clean Jeep SRT8?! ;)

    • Matt says:

      Congrats on the new Acura! I’ve thought about recommending a first-gen MDX to my wife; they just seem like such “together” cars. But she’s quite happy with her XC90. :)

      The BMW stigma has been discussed at length on the BMW boards, obviously… The consensus from the more rational enthusiasts over there, including myself, is that it’s unfortunate, since on a fundamental level they’re just really good cars, especially the older ones, and more would-be owners are averse to picking one up because of the association. It’s similar to what’s happened to the VW scene, except in that case it’s internally-generated by the stupidity of the owners themselves rather than imposed on the brand by non-enthusiasts, and so a VW still seems like a good, sensible purchase in most circles, but not wanting to be a part of the “Dub” crowd is a big deterrent for me. When I owned a BMW, and when (hopefully) I own another, I’ll just enjoy driving and tinkering with the thing and not worry about the stigma. :)

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