It's as easy as 1-2-3
It's as easy as 1-2-3
Words: Karl Peskett Pics: www.OzCarSightings.com
It's a way of having a guilty pleasure - without feeling guilty. You see, the 123d Coupe is part of BMW's push toward creating a greener planet - a programme known as Efficient Dynamics. The main thrust of it is you can still reduce your carbon footprint, but not have to sacrifice driving pleasure along the way. Of course, BMW has a head start in this regard, with its current range being either rear-wheel- or all-wheel-drive.
And RWD makes the 123d Coupe a joy when you're behind the wheel. There's no interference from CV-joints or torque steer, just pure, unadulterated steering response and weighting. Turn in is so crisp that millimetres of movement from the wheel translates to immediate inducement of yaw. There is zero slack, and a heft to the steering that gets better with speed - just the way it should be. Add to that the chunky, grippy steering wheel and already driver involvement is featuring high on the 123d's list of virtues.
The brakes are also just as positive, with excellent feel, however they're not quite as progressive as you'd ultimately like, mainly due to the brake energy regeneration feature making it a tad hard to modulate at low speed, where it gets a little grabby. However much the M-Sport package helps it to look like its head-kicking brother, the 135i, the 123d doesn't get the Brembo-designed six-piston calipers on the front. No matter, because it still hauls up quickly and there's no fade.
The 123d Coupe handles, too, with a tad of roll coming into the corner, but settling quickly and maintaining an essentially neutral stance, with power-on weight transferring to the outside rear tyre. There's miles of grip from the Bridgestone runflats, and even if the ride is on the (very) slightly jiggly side, only a pedant would complain about it. If pushed, with the ESC off, the 123d Coupe will happily swing the tail out, but even without a trick diff, in the wet it can be drifted quite easily.
Hold it - this is a diesel. Sideways in a diesel? You'd better believe it. It may "only" be a 2.0-litre, four cylinder, but with two turbochargers, this oil-burner makes a tidy 150kW and a staggering 400Nm (think about it - that's as much torque as the V8-powered BMW M3). It's this engine which dominates this car. It cranks brilliantly from 1500rpm, and is so tractable it will pull from just 1000rpm in sixth gear. It never seems to run out of puff, either, with a clean rev all the way to the redline at 4500rpm and no letup in acceleration. Turbo-diesel lag? Nope, nothing.
With the windows up, the only time you'll know it's a diesel is at idle. Apart from that, it sounds like a petrol car, which is quite a feat. But describing it is only part of the story. Let's let the figures do the talking. In rolling accelerations tests, the 123d will do the 80-120km/h sprint using fourth gear in just 5.5 seconds. Now let's compare that with the twin-turbo, six-cylinder, 3-litre petrol version of this car, the 135i. The same run takes 5.0 seconds. Not bad for a 75kW, $14,900 deficit. The same run in fifth gear is 6.6 seconds (123d) vs 6.0 seconds (135i). Yes, diesels have certainly come along way and BMW is making the most of that fact.
But the best part is when you visit the fuel bowser. The 135i owner may get there quicker, but they'll have burned through 13.0-litres/100km on the city run, whereas the same conditions show the 123d slurping with a city usage of exactly half that - 6.5-litres/100km. And as the 123d is part of BMW's Efficient Dynamics fleet, there's some extra help to keep your fuel usage low.
On the odometer there's a readout which suggests the best gear for achieving the best economy. You get to predict its patterns, too, with the best changes happening slightly north of 2000rpm in medium cruising situations, which helps you to utilise peak torque, but without labouring the engine too much.
Another Efficient Dynamics measure is the start-stop function (which only comes with the manual transmission) and using the brake energy regeneration allows the car to switch off the engine while stationary and in neutral, with the clutch out. As soon as you press the clutch in, the engine restarts, which gives you enough time to engage first gear, and you're off. Initially it feels strange, having the engine shut down; it's eerily quiet at a set of traffic lights.
You get so used to it though, that on the odd occasion that you pull up to a stop, select neutral and let out the clutch and it doesn't switch off, you wonder what's going on. But it's just because it hasn't built up enough extra charge during braking to warrant switching off and on again.
After the week's test, we ended up with a fuel usage of just 7.9-litres/100km, with the majority of that being, ahem, spirited driving you might say, as well as a completely urban run. Really, it's a staggering result for how hard it was pushed, and how much reward it gives. And that's the whole appeal of the 123d Coupe.
It involves you as a driver. You walk away having felt part of the car. It's a bit selfish, really, and it shows in the 123d Coupe's interior design. While the boot may be a decent size, it's the driver who has command of how much they want to share the car. The back seats are not huge and it's strictly a four seater. But the rear seats have little headroom for tall people, and if you're a driver who likes to have their seat a fair way back, then legroom also suffers. You can fit people back there, but are you willing to sacrifice your driving pleasure to take other people along? That's a question that nobody can answer but yourself.
What you can share with your front seat passenger is a well-built cabin, with brilliantly supportive and comfortable seats. Bolstering is adjustable electrically, and there's a unique "flattened honeycomb" pattern embossed into the aluminium highlights, which wraps neatly under the door grips. The dashboard could be made out of slightly nicer plastic, and the SatNav surround looks a little tacked on, but overall the presentation is quite good. When it's as dynamically as accomplished as this, though, you tend to forgive slight shortcomings.
BMW's 123d Coupe is a bit of a niche car, though. It's small, punchy, sporty and well made. But its fuel use, low carbon dioxide emissions and Efficient Dynamics measures suggest someone who really enjoys their driving but has an environmental conscience would be the perfect fit. For them, it going to be a guilt-free pleasure - really, who wouldn't want that?
It's better than low-fat icecream any day.
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§ BMW M light alloy wheels, 18” Double Spoke 261