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BMW 2 Series G42 vs 3 Series E36: How closely related are they?

Top Gear Philippines logo Top Gear Philippines 24/09/2022 Vijay Pattni
© Provided by Top Gear Philippines

Wait, these two are related?

Indeed. Just over 20 years separates the sharp, narrowed eyes of the M240i and the slightly ratty, foggy headlights of the (slightly rusty) 328i Sport. Moreover, both cars sit one level below their respective range toppers: the M240i will bow of course, to the incoming M2 Competition, while the 328i Sport takes second billing to the slightly unloved E36-generation M3.

BMW 2 Series 2023 vs. BMW 3 Series 1998 © Provided by Top Gear Philippines BMW 2 Series 2023 vs. BMW 3 Series 1998 PHOTO BY TopGear.com

Hang on, one’s a 2 Series and one’s a 3er. What gives?

Not to get bogged down in BMW model history, the 3 Series was available as a two-door right up until 2013. At which point it morphed into the 4 Series. And with the embiggening of each successive generation of 3 and 4 Series, the smaller 2 Series Coupe that arrived in 2014 is closer in both spirit and size to the old E36 Coupe.

BMW 2 Series 2023 vs. BMW 3 Series 1998 © Provided by Top Gear Philippines BMW 2 Series 2023 vs. BMW 3 Series 1998 PHOTO BY TopGear.com

Ah, I see

Wait, it gets more complicated. The 2 Series gets a version of the 4 Series chassis underneath, and this M240i borrows its entire drivetrain from the bigger M440i. Follow the money, and in theory the M240i actually is a 3 Series Coupe.

BMW 2 Series 2023 vs. BMW 3 Series 1998 © Provided by Top Gear Philippines BMW 2 Series 2023 vs. BMW 3 Series 1998 PHOTO BY TopGear.com

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How different are they in performance?

We can’t really talk about ‘being in the same ballpark’ because these two cars play entirely different sports. Where the RWD 328i is a relaxed cruiser – a humble 192hp from a 2.8-liter nat-asp straight-six – the 4WD M240i feels like a turbocharged retriever.

The old car takes its sweet time climbing through the revs to make you really want that power, but sounds fantastic doing so thanks to its classic M52 engine. The M240i just punches from the outset and offers eye-watering turns of speed.

BMW 2 Series 2023 vs. BMW 3 Series 1998 © Provided by Top Gear Philippines BMW 2 Series 2023 vs. BMW 3 Series 1998 PHOTO BY TopGear.com

Guessing they handle differently?

Lots more pitch and roll in the E36, but the steering is just lovely – compared to the rack in the M240i at least. There’s a heightened appreciation of hydraulic set-ups today. Nothing wrong with the new kid’s steering, mind – direct without being hyper alert, allied to a chassis that feels... measured. It’s whipcrack quick, imbued with a sense that there’s space in here to dial up the fun. Both old and new share that, at least.

BMW 2 Series 2023 vs. BMW 3 Series 1998 © Provided by Top Gear Philippines BMW 2 Series 2023 vs. BMW 3 Series 1998 PHOTO BY TopGear.com

They do not share a timeless visual signature.

Maybe it’s because a lot of the TG office grew up during BMW’s heyday, but there’s a feeling that this particular generation won’t age as well as the hits from the Nineties.

Who knows, maybe in another 20 years when this class of BMW is a chopped up 10 Series with 8 Series badging and M-level pace, we’ll think "yeah, that’s a classic". Or maybe we’ll still be looking for rusty old E36s.

This story first appeared in TopGear.com. Minor edits have been made.

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