Some things are just plain wrong. Like pineapple on pizza. Like bicycle pants. And like putting “BMW” and “bargain” in the same sentence. That’s gotta be wrong. So what’s going on with the BMW 125i Coupe? Who ever heard of a BMW-badged two-door coupe, a growling three-litre straight six in the snout (like we’re talking a real engine here, not an earnest but underdone four) and track-day handling for less than $60k?
You’d reckon $70k plus at least (wouldn’t you?). But it isn’t, and it’s a bargain. In fact, teeing off at $54,401 for the six-speed manual (with no options boxes ticked), the 125i coupe is one of the best buys from the Bavarian automaker in decades.
And, oh yes, in case you’re thinking a detuned poverty-pack job here - a pretender for people who can’t really afford a sporting BMW but want to look like they can - think again. The 125i is a genuine performance drive. Not a screamer like its muscled-up brother, the 225kW twin turbo 135i, but great fun at the wheel, great sound and with wicked, useable punch from that free-spinning six.
Perhaps something has happened. Perhaps we have tumbled into a parallel universe where everything is turned on its head. Where a sweet driving, swift and deliciously balanced sporting BMW is around the same price as a performance Toyota. Because that’s what we’ve got here with the BMW 125i Coupe. It’s within $1500 of the TRD Aurion and less, much less, than an Audi TT or S3 Sportback 3.2. Less even, marginally, than the R32 Golf. It’s also far cheaper than the 350Z, and Alfa Brera. And the grand sum of $20 separates the 130i Coupe from the Lexus IS250.
We’re talking exceptional value here.
Perhaps the 125i Coupe is BMW’s way of tilting at a new demographic: those younger entry-level professionals who can’t yet make the leap into a 3-Series coupe, but can’t come at the (honestly) less-than-tempting 1-Series hatchback. The ‘50s bus-shaped’ hatch has never really looked like a sporting drive, even with ‘the good donk’.
So, what have we got with the 125i Coupe? Well, for starters we’ve got a small car. Almost diminutive (Mike reckoned ‘clown car’ size). Its external dimensions in fact put it almost line-ball with its spiritual forebears, the 1602 and 2002. For this, as far as this whacko is concerned, BMW is to be complimented. Why every manufacturer persists in making every succeeding model bigger than ‘last years’ model, is quite beyond me. Our cars have become stupidly big and stupidly heavy.
In the 125i Coupe, despite its short-arseness, the cheeky lines work: we’ve got a nicely proportioned, almost handsome two door here. Yes, it’s from the Chris Bangle stable of unusual lines – and shares most of the front clip of the 120i five-door – but, somehow, in the two door Coupe (and Convertible), the lines work.
Ok, not entirely; the ‘sagging’ swage above the sill line still looks odd, and it carries a slightly startled wall-eyed look thanks to the raised brow over the headlights and square-set front. Some will also find the roof a little bulbous (to allow headroom in the rear) and the high-waisted sides a bit ‘slabby’ in the short, squat Coupe.
But it’s not unpleasant. Where the lines of the hatch are a tad fey (I didn’t say that), the Coupe looks tough – in a nuggety terrier way - and has real personality to its style that grows on you. Underneath, it’s all BMW: German build, Teutonic attention to detail, German engineering.
When out on the road, when at one with the car, self, and universe; when pondering the sheer joy of driving and the interaction with the road, few cars go about things like a sporting BMW. The balance at the wheel, and the unruffled way the 125i Coupe swallows looping bends, switch-backs and straights, makes driving the wheels off this little Beamer damn near irresistible.
We were forced to take it on more than one spirited run through the foothills and into the winding passes of the Strathbogies north east of Melbourne… out here, the 125i Coupe is in its element. On these roads you find yourself pushing harder and harder looking for its limits. This car can make a ham-fisted steerer look half alright (believe me, I know someone like that). The 125i Coupe’s turn in at speed is little short of breathtaking (until you remember the last time you drove a performance BMW), and the willing throttle response from the luscious 160kW 2996cc naturally aspirated six invites power-on driving. Producing 270Nm, it’s not over-endowed with ergs, but in this car, it’s all about balance. The handling, power, and precision at the wheel, seems perfectly matched.
The feel through the well-weighted, chunky sports wheel, and the information that feeds through to the seat of the pants lets you know precisely what is happening underneath. You could fillet a carp with this sort of knife-edge precision.
Also satisfying is the muted growl from the lusty straight six up front, rising to that particular BMW howl when stretched to the redline.
‘Ours’ came with the six-speed ‘steptronic’ transmission. Not our first choice - and beaten hands-down by VW and Audi’s DSG boxes – but one of the better conventional adaptive auto boxes. Best, in our view, left to its own devices in ‘sport mode’ except when arm-wrestling a mountain pass. Then, keeping the right gear underfoot is better handled by the steering-mounted paddles. Unlike the Evo and the R32 (and most other paddle-operated tiptronic, sensodrive and DSG boxes), the paddles on the 125i Coupe each have the same function. A jab of the thumb to change down, on either the left or right paddle, and, similarly, a flick of the fingers to change up (rather than the ‘left-for-down/right-for-up’ operation most employ).
It’s a quick car in anyone’s language, but one that feels quicker than it is because it is such fun to row along. And, though lacking the powerhouse Newton metres of its competing turbo-charged brethren, the 125i would give little away in rapid point-to-point driving.
For the record, the 125i Coupe is good for a 6.4 second 0-100kmh dash (7.0 seconds for the auto). Those are the factory claims (it was too cloudy to operate the TMR sundial). And, of course, it’s also laden with all that acronym stuff (do you really want me to go through it): you know, DSC (Dynamic Stability Control), ABS… you get the picture.
It’s hard, genuinely, to find anything much to criticise. Most reviewers have been caught on the same conundrum. What’s wrong with this car? Very, very little. A couple of UK reviews expressed doubts about the dynamic qualities of the little Coupe’s suspension – “a bit firm”, one said; another that “ride quality is choppy”. Don’t have a bar of it. They weren’t driving this car. The 125i Coupe has succeeded with the elusive double: firm, for a sharp sporting steer, but with enough initial compliance to deal with all but the worst broken bitumen and bridge joins. The compromises are so few it’s hard to find a comparable, and so deliciously balanced, sporting drive (the Audi S3 Sportback or Civic Type R maybe).
Inside, it’s black and a bit uninspiring – but show me a German car that isn’t. The mottled alloy interior trim highlights are a tad low rent, and there’s a curious crease in the door seals on each side, but, other than that, it’s all BMW quality with nice leather, appealing understated dash, and everything nicely at hand. (We had all that i-Drive stuff, you probably don’t need it but it’s fun to play with and not nearly as unfathomable as earlier BMW i-Drive systems.)
Remarkably, it can also seat four reasonably comfortably – provided you’re not driving between Brisbane and Sydney (perfect for four adults for a night on the town). It’s also quiet on the road and those much-maligned run-flat tyres fitted to ‘our’ 125i were far better propositions than the teeth-rattling rock-hard numbers we’ve experienced in the past.
The famed “whispering bomb” – the 2002 – has finally got its successor. A car with enough toy-quality, individuality and fun at the wheel to earn an ear-marking as a future classic. With this car, you just have to hope that BMW can maintain that price (luckily, in the short-term at least, the Euro has been heading into the same toilet as the Oz dollar).
So, welcome to this parallel arse-about universe. While you’re here, you might as well enjoy it. Buy a 125i Coupe, and why not, it’s a stunning car – brilliant – compact, fun to drive, fast, and even looks ok.
You’ll love it. Consider its unexpected price tag as one of the perks of busting through the space time continuum. There’s a lot to be said for parallel worlds. (Perhaps you’ve also suddenly become devilishly handsome with a blistering wit… these are strange and discombobulating times.)
The Insider’s Big Statement
“The 125i Coupe, for value and performance, is the car of the moment. Unless some other manufacturer pulls something equally startling out of the hat, and of such value, you really must give this car a serious eyeball. It surprises in the way the Mazda MX5 first surprised the market; it’s impossible not to keep muttering daftly to yourself, “this is one ripper of a car”. Seems to me, the fact that BMW has priced it so sharply, that the Bavarian automaker is having an all-out crack to head Lexus off at the pass (and other pretenders to its sporting saloon throne).”
- The astonishing value
- Beautiful chassis balance, tight turn-in, precision at the wheel
- Growly free-spinning straight six
- Perky coupe style
- (Quiet, I’m trying to think of something…)
- (Still trying…)
- Ok, the lights, don’t like the lights
- Oh, and the strange aluminium trim highlights… yeah, don’t like them
- And gannets, don’t like gannets either, they wet their nests.
|Engine:||2,996 cc in-line six|
|Transmission:||Six-speed automatic transmission (or six-speed manual)|
|Max power:||160kW @ 6,100 rpm|
|Max torque:||270 Nm @ 2,500-4,250 rpm|
|0-100 kmh:||7.0 secs (6.4 manual)|
|Top speed:||243 kmh (245 manual)|
|Brakes:||300mm ventilated discs (front and rear) with single pot calipers|
|Kerb weight:||1430kg (1405kg)|
|Price:||$54,401 (add $2281 for the six-speed auto)|