2008 BMW 125i Coupe Road Test Review

Overall Rating

  • Country of Origin
    GERMANY
  • Price
    $57,880 (plus on-road costs)
  • Engine
    6 Cylinders
  • Output
    160 kW / 270 Nm
  • Transmission
    Sports Automatic
  • ANCAP Rating
    N/A
  • Airbags
    Driver & Passenger (Dual), Head for 2nd Row Seats, Side for 1st Row Occupants (Front), Head for 1st Row Seats (Front)
  • L/100 km
    8.1
  • C02
    189 g/km
  • Luggage Capacity
    440 L
  • Towing (braked)
    1200 kg
  • Towing (unbraked)
    700 kg
Tim O'Brien | Nov 6, 2008 | 18 Comments

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?

rear

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.

front

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.

side

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.

engine

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.

interior

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.)

rear-side

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.)

front-below

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).”

insider-likes

  • The astonishing value
  • Beautiful chassis balance, tight turn-in, precision at the wheel
  • Growly free-spinning straight six
  • Perky coupe style

insider-dislikes

  • (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.

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Gallery

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Specs

Engine: 2,996 cc in-line six
Valves: 24 valve
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)
Consumption: 8.7 l/100km
Price: $54,401 (add $2281 for the six-speed auto)

Filed under: review, Small Cars, golf, BMW, R3, Lexus, swift, petrol, 1-series, bmw 1 series, Mazda, Mini, evo, coupe, convertible, lfa, sl, sportback, 135i, rta, dsg, Civic, bmw 1 series coupe, hot hatch, MG, melbourne, rs, mx5, sydney, rwd, is, future, engine, ss, oil, express, hatch, options, suspension, driving, hatchback, esp, new, price, sound, sti, motor, Sports, Gran, Seat, mb, sport, market, performance, car, fr, rl, cars, FF, ring, ka, report, g, model, civic type r, brera, record, s3, s3 sportback, LED, interior, brakes, brake, quality, is250, Recent Features, isf, prestige, classic, r32, mr, gear, headlight, roads, lv, may, heel, Show, headlights, plus, RUF, muscle, ss-t, gina, insider, dsc, dynamic stability control, compliance, job, 270kW, enthusiast, 6cyl, 2door, bmw 125i, bmw 125i coupe, tim o'brien

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  • Joe says,
    6 years ago
    "...the 270kW twin turbo 135i"

    I thought it was 225kw?
  • Andy Wana says,
    6 years ago
    Would've been better value if BMW servicing fees and spare parts pricing are anything to go by.
    Great bang for the bucks nonetheless.
    • ivan says,
      6 years ago
      Andys got a point about the spare parts and service costs. BMW's are very good cars ( well I think so ).... but when you pay $3500 for a minor service on a 320i it makes you want to re-consider the great audi a4 and the merc c-class.

      Maybe thats Why my wife sold the BMW and bought the audi a4 2 litre when i was overseas, glad she did to be frank.
  • davidm says,
    6 years ago
    1 like
    After reading that I want one.
  • samir says,
    6 years ago
    there is no 130i coupe in Oz, i have a 135i and it rocks.
  • Guran says,
    6 years ago
    Great review guys. Write ups on the 125i have been so few and far between since most have focussed on the 135i. For good reason! But it's great to see that you rate the 125i as both a great drive and amazing value too.
  • BenN says,
    6 years ago
    Are you kidding me? It's rubbish.

    It looks like a piece of plastic that's gotten too near the flames, the paddle shifts on the auto are all backwards (why not left and right, instead of two front and backs???)

    The exhaust is too boomy, and the back seats are for the elves you speak of. No sane person will sit in the back for a long distance.

    The interior is too plasticky, and the servicing and parts will kill you.

    No thanks.
    • Tert says,
      1 year ago
      Why don't you go talk some rubbish some ware else.....
      It's a great value for money coupe!
      I have the 125M and its an absolute sheer drivers car!
  • Alec says,
    6 years ago
    As much as I like this car, there is nothing under $70K at dealers advertising online, and that is for second hand ones!!!
    How realistic is that $54K pricetag in terms of the ones that actually are sold??? $15K worth of options added to each???
    Good car though, I agree with the comments re keeping the car small and light. I don't understand either why each new model has to be bigger than the last!!
  • Corey says,
    6 years ago
    Great review! It's about time someone took the 125i for a decent drive and penned their findings. I love my 125i, just over 7,000 kms on the clock now and she's really loosened up. Sure, it doesn't pack the same punch as the twin turbo 135i, but where are you going to need that sort of power in a daily driver? I optioned mine to the max - xenons, sunroof, iDrive, M-Sports pack, 18" rims. Came in at just under $70K on the road, but $20K less than a 135i with the same options. Thanks for giving the 125i the review it deserves.
  • glyn says,
    6 years ago
    Still Waiting !!!! ordered July 08 , it may arrive by March ordered a manual and still have not driven one, only the auto ?????.
  • Harvey says,
    6 years ago
    So good to see a review on the 125i coupe instead of the convertible.
    Have to agree with just about everything, and after 5500km my initial reservations about the ride have gone.
    Just one drive on some decent roads in South Gippsland and Im totally besotted.
    Fuel economy marginally better than previous Subaru Liberty 2.5 and the 6 speed auto is from another planet in comparison.(I think there's a connection there somewhere ...)Love the paddles which can be engaged in either auto mode and will resume normal Drive around town if left alone.
    Only problem I have had is due to the proximity of cruise control wand to the lighting wand. Action to activate cruise same as flashing high beam ..you can guess the rest
    Would like to know how different the engine is from the 130i and if its only a matter of reprogramming EMS to get same output. Engine seems physically identical.
    • Paul Barry says,
      2 years ago
      If you find out anything about reprogramming the computer, please let me know. In USA there are some companies that sell you a "chip" which is nothing more than a cheap resistor worth 10 cents, but they tell you where to connect it to fool the computer into thinking the temperature is lower, so the engine gets more fuel. Also includes a switch to turn it on and off, and they are honest and tell you fuel economy will suffer, I added one to my 6 cly 2006 Mustang, a lot of fun, and added 40 HP (30 KW) and I didnt notice much difference in economy.

      Paul
  • Karl Pilkington says,
    2 years ago
    1 like
    if you are wanting one you better get in quick as the last shipment is heading out in July 2012
    the interior is available in many different leather colours and the negative comments expressed here are by people who would never own one as they have completely missed the whole point about the car..a classic already.
  • Paul Barry says,
    2 years ago
    1 like
    I recently bought a used 125i convertible, everything the writer says is true, what a great car to drive.
    Well except for one thing, the back seat is not really that spacious, with the front seats in a normal position for a 180 cm normal size driver,
    there is virtually no leg room behind the driver's seat.
    Who cares, if they don't want to ride in my car, I will drive it all day alone and have a great day in a great car. I have owned a lot of fine cars both here and in America including Mustangs and Cadillacs, this is the best car I ever owned.
    Might be interested in the 135i next time wink
    but the 125i has plenty of power for a 60 year old.

    Paul

  • Jeff d says,
    1 year ago
    I recently purchased a 2009 125i convertible with an m sports pack.
    Wow - love love love
    Had a Saab 93 convertible and the 125i is a dream
    Its done 20,0000 Kim's so it's just warming up.

    Yes seats in back are tight but my daughter can fit for short city drives.
    The engine is awesome. I just love it.
  • Jasonobano@hotmail.com says,
    1 year ago
    125i rocks, purchased on 2 years ago and it's the best car I have driven, it's capability to be a saloon and an animals at the same time blows y mind. I won't be selling this beast in hurry smile

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