BMW 125i Coupe M Sport

3 Aug, 2008 3:05pm

Does rear-wheel drive give two-door 1-Series an advantage?

With three and five-door hatchbacks, a cabriolet and a coupé, there’s plenty of choice if you want to buy a 1-Series. While there’s no confusing the two-door variant for the hatch version, its shared front end styling lacks style when compared to the TT.

The 125i looks pretty conventional parked next to the Scirocco, too, but the high roofline is a legacy of BMW’s desire to retain as much of the five-door model’s practicality as possible. The back seats offer enough space for adults, and the 370-litre boot is the biggest of the quartet in this test.

A saloon-style bootlid isn’t as versatile as a hatchback, but the rear seats split and fold to increase practicality. So while the 1-Series hatch has always been criticised for its lack of rear space, in this test the Coupé scores well.

The driving position is excellent, too, with supportive, comfortable seats, a chunky three-spoke wheel and a logical layout. However, as with the Scirocco, there’s little to mark the Coupé out from any other 1-Series. On top of that, material quality isn’t as good as in the TT, and overall the 125i’s cabin is rather uninspiring.

So, is the BMW more memorable out on the road? Despite the firm’s claims that its cars are always the driver’s choice, this particular model doesn’t succeed in providing the ideal dynamic set-up. And that’s primarily the fault of the suspension. The combination of the M Sport-spec springs and run-flat tyres means the 125i’s ride is firm. It’s harsh on rough surfaces and takes the edge off the BMW’s cruising ability.

More importantly, it also upsets the handling. There’s no suppleness, so the 1-Series gets pitched about on any surface that’s less than perfect. As a result, the steering needs constant adjustment, which limits your confidence in the car. It never comes truly alive, and on British country roads it actually feels slightly numb. It simply can’t match the Scirocco’s composure or the TT’s agility.

All of which is a real shame, because the chassis has loads of grip and superb balance in corners, while strong brakes and sharp steering are also plus points.

BMW hasn’t forgotten how to make great engines, though, and the 125i’s 3.0-litre straight-six is sensational. It’s tuneful, smooth and flexible, and while it doesn’t quite match the in-gear punch of the 2.0-litre turbo units in the Audi or VW, the crisp six-speed manual means it’s a joy to use.

And even though the 1-Series is 182kg heavier than the Audi at 1,480kg, its rear-wheel-drive traction and significant power advantage mean a 6.6-second 0-60mph time is only just behind the TT’s.

However, without a particularly generous equipment list, the 125i has a lot to do to justify its price premium.


Price: £25,280
Model tested: BMW 125i M Sport
Chart position: 3
WHY: Rear-drive dynamics should make the BMW a driver’s choice. Will it feel special enough here?


Four packages of fixed-priced servicing make for simple budgeting. You can opt for service only or service and maintenance over three or five years. Monthly contract hire cost is only just ahead of the TT’s, but with 51 per cent residuals, the 125i will depreciate more than the VW Group cars. A big engine and higher emissions make it an expensive company choice and it falls into the £210 road tax bracket. However, insurance costs are the same as the TT’s.

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...but if you try real hard you'll order the right model!

Why, oh why, oh why, (ti-hi!), do people fall for the lowest profile tyres, then end up complaining that the car skips all over the road and that the comfort is like going downstairs on a wooden tray? Surely no professional reviewer would get that wrong, would they?

Ooops! (Pre-emptive apologies, maybe you were having a bad day.) Try the 125i coupe in SE form, and add those of the goodies you cannot live without, excluding totally any optional wheels or tyres. I've tried one version, the SE, and been driven around in the M. No contest! the SE is a very nice car when it has the sports seats, at least, with a good balance between comfort and road-holding. From the continual changes in the way the car was pointing, and the incessant twitchy movements of the steering wheel required to keep it on the tarmac, I concluded that my friend's M version actually had worse road-holding than the SE. How could the M hold something it seemed to only touch half the time?

OK, OK, I look like a smart-Alec because I didn't buy the 125i SE; that's only because it can take me over a year to finally decide which car to buy. But like that in 40 years I have never bought a car that was one thing and then criticised it for not being something else. (And I've never disclosed that I didn't know what options were available on a car I was test-driving.)

I own a 120d M Sport (17" wheels) and this is the most accurate description of the cars handling that I've read so far. On an exceptionally smooth winding road (very few in the UK) it drives better than just about any car I've driven but for 99% of the time it just doesn't shine. I'm considering the new model but probably won't go for an M although the new model can apparently be specified with standard suspension.

Key specs

The 1-Series has the biggest boot here, a great engine and is good to drive. However, its awkward looks, uninspiring cabin, high price and firm ride count against it.