BMW 125d M Sport Automatic review
by John Fife (18 October 2012)
In the world of rallying M Sport stands for Malcolm Wilson's Ford World Rally Team operations in Cumbria, whereas in Germany M Sport stands for BMW's quick division. But in Scotland, the M stands for something completely different: "My Goad!" And note the exclamation mark.
The "My Goad" phrase is a staple expression in the Scottish dialect and is usually the precursor to some additional complementary phrases. Used in its full context, it can prefix other expressions to provide added emphasis, such as, "My Goad - it's ugly," or "My Goad - it's dear," (expensive) or in the case of the BMW 125d Sport, "My Goad - it's quick!" And there's that exclamation mark again.
The exclamation mark is used because the biggest surprise about the 125d Sport is not that it is quick, but rather more, it is quick because it only has a two-litre oil burner under the bonnet. However, attached to this modest four-cylinder diesel lump is a two-stage twin turbocharger system.
It's this double puffing set-up that provides the 218bhp with an impressive 332lb/ft of torque. That still doesn't make it sound very quick, and yet it will propel the 125d from 0-62 mph in six and a half seconds. And there's more. It can achieve up to 58.9mpg whilst emitting a mere 126g/km of CO2 on the EU's combined cycle test.
Another factor in this performance equation must be the eight-speed automatic gearbox. BMW has been given a lot of credit for its engineering work with this transmission because it is so quick, smooth and compact. From a more cynical viewpoint, it must have been easier to design eight different-sized cogs because choosing the ideal six or four mated to a two-litre engine would have involved many more calculations and a lot of head scratching. With eight ratios to choose from, there must always be one that's fit for the job in hand.
Naturally, this being an M Sport car, it has a wee button with an S on it, on the other side of the rocker switch from the Eco Pro mark. This latter marking will appeal more to the frugal amongst us while the S switch is for those who want to make best use of the twin chrome tailpipes and blue brake calipers which can just be seen through the 18" M-Star alloy wheels.
In either switch mode, the automatic box can be left to get on with the job of transmitting the desired amount of grunt to the rear wheels as and when required, a task which it can accomplish with virtually seamless efficiency. But if the driver is of the opinion that fully automated shifts are only desirable in heavy, slow moving traffic, then a quick waggle of the gearstump to the side allows the driver to select any gear as long as it is in sequence.
That means no double de-clutching and down-shifting two gears at a time under heavy braking. Nope, this is an entirely more civilised method of driving whereby gears can only be selected in numerical order. If more fun and involvement is required then there is a pair of paddles behind the steering wheel within fingertip reach. This is so good it can make a bad driver appear adequate.
Enhancing the whole feel is the driving position from which any size of driver can find a comfy position from which to grasp the thick-rimmed leather-covered wheel. Once gripped and once fired up, let mayhem commence.
There is absolutely no point in going on about ride and handling. It's a BMW, and it has an M in its name. That means it handles and rides well, even on those 18" rims with Bridgestone Potenza 235/40 road grippers. The adaptive M Sport suspension also means that it rides 200mm lower than the standard car. So, of course there is a bit of jiggle and thump over poor surfaces, but if you don't like it, buy a "standard" BMW, and leave the Ms to those who appreciate them.
But having got this far, it brings us right back to the beginning - "My Goad - it's quick!" To put this in context, we're talking about a blunt-rumped five-door saloon car here with an engine up front powered by the decayed remains of plants and animals which once flourished on earth millions of years ago.
How BMW can extract 218bhp from an engine with the capacity of a large bottle of Asda milk is beyond me, but it feels like more. The secret here is the gearbox. Push the S switch, move the lever into Sports mode, and then floor it.
The release of energy is instantaneous and relentless, giving the impression that this is a much bigger engine than it actually is. Whereas American muscle cars with "four on the floor" used cylindrical caverns inside vast lumps of cast iron to generate horsepower which was released in four mighty, axle-twisting dollops, the BMW’s power delivery is linear, and all the more impressive for it.
For sure there are faster cars out there, but it is this balance of power, torque and delivery that sets the TwinPower Turbo apart from its rivals. I was impressed.
Without extras, the 125d M Sport car is priced at just over £29,000, but it had over five grand's worth of options including the Adaptive M Sport suspension (£515) and £500 worth of cruise control and parking sensors. The Media package with satellite navigation, Bluetooth, USB and voice vontrol added another £1995 and the metallic paintwork was £515.
Heated front seats were another £265 while the sun protection glass added a further £290. Completing the spec on this car was £1140 for adaptive Xenon headlamps with additional functions and headlamp wash.
That brought the final price to over £34,000. At first glance it looks expensive, especially when you don't get the same sound track as you would with a high-performance petrol engine, but it's comfortable, economical when needed and pleasingly quick when desired.