Curbside Classic/CC Comparison: 2016 BMW 228i xDrive and 1988 BMW 325ix – Different But The Same

As a car lover and seasoned Curbivore, it’s always a treat when I see a “classic” and its modern descendent parked next too each other, making me wonder if it was on purpose. Naturally, I usually will park near an elder relative of my car when the opportunity presents itself and it is convenient to do so. Of course, the time I worked at a BMW dealer made these opportunities more plentiful, and interesting.

There was a time when BMW’s lineup was far simpler, with the logical small-medium-large hierarchy of 3 Series (sedan, wagon, coupe, cabriolet), 5 Series (sedan, wagon), and 7 Series (sedan), along with at least one separate coupe series (6 Series or 8 Series), and maybe a Z Series roadster.

However, with the physical size of cars in general growing and luxury automakers in particular creating totally new bodystyles left and right, BMW has greatly expanded its lineup in recent years, filling gaps one never knew existed.

One such chain reaction has been the 3 Series coupe. Once BMW’s smallest, entry-level coupe, each succeeding generation of 3 Series increased in levels of size and luxury to the point where these levels exceeded those of 5 Series from several generations before. As a result, the 1 Series coupe was introduced to reclaim the compact dimensions, price point, sportier handling, and overall “basic-ness” of 3 Series coupes of yore.

Fitting in with BMW’s seemingly more logical series hierarchy of odd-digit series having 4-doors and even-digit series having 2-doors, the 3 Series coupe and convertible (“cabriolet” to some) became the 4 Series and the 1 Series coupe and convertible became the 2 Series in 2014. Nevertheless, BMW confused us further with the 4 Series Gran Coupe, a 4-door fastback with a hatchback trunk built on the 4 Series’ chassis, and using the 4 Series’ body, which is wider and lower than that of the 3 Series sedan and hatchback bodystyle, known as the GT (Gran Turismo).

The 2 Series has of course spawned additional, largely unrelated variants including the front-wheel drive-based 2 Series Active Tourer (small MPV), and the soon to be released front-wheel drive-based 2 Series Gran Coupe that will compete directly with the Audi A3 and Mercedes CLA. Alright, my mind is spinning enough for the time being, how about you?

At least as far as the current 2 Series coupe and sedan are concerned, they are the present day successors to the smaller 3 Series of yesteryear and historic 2002. With qualities such as rear-wheel drive, available manual transmissions, the most natural steering feel in a non-M BMW since the days of hydraulic steering, the 2 Series is the purest expression of traditional BMW virtues in a current offering.

Obviously, not everything can be the same as it was. Naturally-aspirated inline-6s have given way to turbocharged inline-4s and -6s, for one. While the 1988 325iX is powered by the M20 2.5-liter inline-6 making 168 horsepower and 164 lb-ft torque, the 2016 228i xDrive is powered by the N20 2.0-liter turbo inline-4 making 240 horsepower and 258 lb-torque. The 10.3:1 compression ratio of the 228’s N20 is also superior to the M30‘s 9.7:1, for better power efficiency and fuel efficiency, not to mention zero-60 times of 5 seconds flat versus 8 seconds flat.

Additionally, steering is now electric-assisted, suspensions are more advanced, crash-worthiness is greatly improved, number of airbags have gone from zero to eight, and of course, in-car technology is lightyears ahead of analogue 1988. What hasn’t changed all that significantly, much to even my surprise, is size.

Here is a clear case of how styling can play a sort of optical illusion on us. Riding on a 101.2 inch wheelbase, this 1988 325i stands at 175.6 inches long, 64.8 inches wide, and 54.3 inches tall. By contrast, my 2016 228i has a 105.9 inch wheelbase, and is 174.7 inches long, 69.8 inches wide, and 55.8 inches tall. With all its safety and tech features, weight is naturally up some 400+ pounds, though apart from a width difference of five inches, the 228 isn’t all that bigger in mass. It should also be noted that the 3 Series had already swelled to a width of 69 inches by the time of the E46 in 1998.

What makes this E30 even more special and similar to my F22 is that it’s a 325iX — the first mass-produced BMW with all-wheel drive. Anyone living in the snow belt will know that these days BMW dealers, like dealers of most luxury car brands, only stock all-wheel drive examples of a particular vehicle as long as it’s available. But in the 1980s, all-wheel drive was a rather novel thing. While not as advanced as BMW’s current xDrive, the permanent torque split, viscous coupling-based all-wheel drive of the E30 was a true preview of BMW of the future.

Although the 1988 E30 325iX is the clear choice for BMW purists to the question of which car would you rather own, when it comes to the question of which car would you rather drive daily, the 2016 F22 228i xDrive is a more logical choice for the present-day lifestyle. Sure, the E30 possesses unmistakable classic BMW styling, a more involved driving experience, and a certain feel modern cars are unable to replicate. Yet it also lacks basic modern safety features such as airbags, technological advances in body construction, and sports an interior that is spartan, even by 1988 standards.

When all is said and done, the 2016 2-Series coupe makes for a far better daily driver suited to today’s lifestyle. In today’s day and age, having amenities such as voice-activated navigation with dynamic guidance, bluetooth for phone and audio, front and rear parking sensors, rear-view camera, heated steering wheel the ability to connect with music apps such as Spotify and my 3,000+ songs saved are all nice things that I quite frankly would have a difficult time living without.

With that in mind, these features mean little to me if they’re in a car that lacks the handling prowess of a rear-wheel drive-based European touring car. After all, one can get all of these convenience features in  cars costing half the price. So, take all these features out of the 2 Series, and I’d easily choose the E30 325iX Series for its far more involved and “analogue” driving experience. Yet the reality is, the 228i xDrive gives up little in the way of driving dynamics and “BMW feel”. With its far more rigid chassis and modern powertrain, the 2 Series boasts superior performance, decreased NVH, and enhanced comfort for today’s daily driver.

Photographed in Rockland, Massachusetts – March 2018

Related Reading:

1977-1983 BMW 320i (E21)

1986 BMW 635CSi (E24)

1989 BMW735iL (E32)

2016 BMW 228i xDrive (F22)   (My COAL)