“I’d love to have one but it’s just not practical for me.”
Yes, some cars are out of reach for whatever reason, but if you’re the kind of driver that thinks a car with a truly sporting character can only come in the shape of a sport coupe, then you’re thinking may be slightly out of date. And you need to have another look at one of those hot hatches. At this hot hatch.
The 2012 BMW 125d features the most powerful 2.0 liter diesel unit in the BMW engine lineup and I feel obliged to go start with what’s under the hood here. (When you write about a BMW the review has to be as much about the power plant as it is about the rest of the car itself.) This four-banger is good for an output of 218 hp and 450 Nm of torque, doing work that was previously the exclusive domain of 3.0 liter units.
It’s a truly exceptional engine, delivering 6-cylinder power levels with 4-cylinder fuel economy. On this test run I averaged 6.7 liters/100 km without ever even trying for anything but enjoyment. The unit is smooth, with none of the raspy growl of a smaller motor stretching itself to provide horsepower. It actually feels like a 3.0 liter except for the lighter weight over the front axle. BMW also offers this unit in the 5-Series and I wouldn’t hesitate to buy that particular iteration of the model. In this one, though, it absolutely rocks. 0 to 100 km/h (62 mph) clocks in at 6.5 seconds, rivaling the Golf GTI, and it feels even quicker than that, with all that torque on tap.
What about the rest of the car? Well, it drives more like a sport coupe than a hatch and Switzerland is a good place to test a car’s agility. No, it isn’t like in Germany, and in the low-lying areas there are speed cameras everywhere and the police don’t tolerate excessive speeding on the highways. But there are plenty of roads in the mountains to rage on and I took the 125d for some switchback slaloming and instead of giving me a headache (which is what usually happens) the 125d could only bring smiles to my face at every turn.
The M-Sport package lowers the 1-Series by 10 mm which helps with the tight curves on those switchbacks without being unforgiving. There is a refined and fluid quality to the suspension that is hard to find in a car of this class. The Drive Performance Control has several modes that help with that, Sport and Sport Plus being the most fun to be in, of course. But on longer, straighter roads Comfort and Eco do just fine for a cozy, economical drive while never letting you feel like your missing any action.
The steering comes with a clarity that is characteristic and defining of the BMW brand, providing just the right amount of feedback but with a solid sense of command. It is not the most exciting but precision is what it aims for and it gets it down pat. But the car always felt more like a sport coupe than a hatch.
The only issue I had with the car is that I would have preferred the 5-door variant over this 3-door one, which is far more practical when ferrying kids around or other rear passengers. Also, I prefer the 5-door styling too. There’s a symmetry to a 5-door design that I just find more aesthetically appealing.
The thing about BMWs is that they have a consistency in their driving dynamics I have never seen another automaker come even close to. That consistency helps define the brand. You know what you’re getting when you buy a BMW and that is a pretty fantastic, all-round driver experience. The 125d provides everything one of its bigger brothers does, but just in a smaller package. You don’t feel cheated in this car and it’s refreshing to have an automaker offer you this kind of experience in this price range.
- BMW’s 2.0 liter diesel technology just keeps getting better and this 218 hp variant leaves the competition in the proverbial dust.
- The car handles more like a sport coupe than a hatchback – practical yet fun.
- Good bang for the buck – a fully optioned BMW with M-Sport package at a premium hatchback price