Time domain cochlear models have primarily followed a method introduced by Allen and Sondhi [J. Acoust. Soc. Am. 66, 123–132 (1979)]. Recently the “state space formalism” proposed by Elliott et al. [J. Acoust. Soc. Am. 122, 2759–2771 (2007)] has been used to simulate a wide range of nonlinear cochlear models. It used a one-dimensional approach that is extended to two dimensions in this paper, using the finite element method. The recently developed “state space formalism” in fact shares a close relationship to the earlier approach. Working from Diependaal et al. [J. Acoust. Soc. Am. 82, 1655–1666 (1987)] the two approaches are compared and the relationship formalized. Understanding this relationship allows models to be converted from one to the other in order to utilize each of their strengths. A second method to derive the state space matrices required for the “state space formalism” is also presented. This method offers improved numerical properties because it uses the information available about the model more effectively. Numerical results support the claims regarding fluid dimension and the underlying similarity of the two approaches. Finally, the recent advances in the state space formalism [Bertaccini and Sisto, J. Comp. Phys. 230, 2575–2587 (2011)] are discussed in terms of this relationship.