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Two German performance cars recently turned 40 years old. I am of course speaking of the BMW 3 Series, which turned forty in 2015, and the Volkswagen Golf GTI, which is blowing out 40 candles on a cake at Techno Classica Essen this week. Both vehicles absolutely defined their class, the sport sedan and hot hatch respectively, and set the template for other manufacturers to follow for years to come.
Both vehicles remain enthusiast favourites decades on, and now that they both have to start getting their prostates examined, it seems like a good time to sit down and take a hard look at what you get for your money.
Of course, both have put on some weight since the 70's, so for this head-to-head, we'll be comparing the compact Golf GTI 3 Door with the 3 Series' sprightly younger sibling, the 228i Coupe.
A turbocharged, 2.0L, 4 cylinder, 16 valve powerplant is the basis for both cars, but the 228i manages to squeeze 21 more horsepower out of its engine for a total of 241hp versus the GTI's 220. Both come with a manual 6 speed transmission for those who like to row their own gears, or an optional 6 speed automatic on the GTI and an optional 8 speed transmission on the 228i. Partly because of that 8 speed automatic gearbox, and partly because of BMW's EfficientDynamics, the bigger, heavier, more powerful 228i actually manages to get better highway fuel economy, beating the Golf GTI's 7.2L/100km with 7.0L/100km.
While the 228i is 120kg heavier and about 17cm longer than the GTI, the higher output engine makes it a bit quicker to 100km/h at 5.7 seconds, beating the GTI's time of 5.8 seconds.
We can't discuss the legacy of the BMW without talking about its handling. After all these years, the engineers at BMW are still making rear wheel drive cars, including the 228i (the all-wheel drive 228i xDrive Coupe is also available). Without having to jam an engine and transaxle in next to the front wheels, the designers of the 228i Coupe were able to deliver near perfect 50/50 balance, which translates to a stability and nimbleness in the corners that is almost impossible to achieve with front wheel drive cars.
As for amenities and usability, the GTI does give you the utility of a hatchback, but the longer body of the 228i means you get more overall trunk space. Even in the lowest trim level that we're comparing here, the 228i Coupe comes with alloy wheels as standard, where they are optional on the GTI, even at the Performance trim level. The 228i also includes as standard BMW's more advanced iDrive infotainment system and wider range of high-end, standard material choices for the interior. For safety, all BMW's are equipped with run-flat tires as standard equipment.
However, there is one area where the BMW 228i Coupe beats the Volkswagen Golf GTI Performance that may surprise you the most: The price.
2016 Volkswagen Golf GTI 3-Door Performance MSRP: $37,195
2016 BMW 228i Coupe MSRP: $36,200
Overall, BMW's 2 Series Coupe offers excellent performance and comfort, and is an outstanding value for money. Even after 40 years, BMW is still the Ultimate Driving Machine.