I had a VW Eos for 3 years before the 125i. The car has the same 2.0T engine as the Golf GTI V and was a manual on factory sport suspension and 18" wheels.
I have driven the Golf GTI V and VI and the Golf R. Price wise things are a little different here in Australia with the following as base prices before on road costs and options (Manufactures RRP, both Golfs are 3 door versions and all are manuals) -
Golf GTI Mk VI $39,000AUD($36,543USD)
Golf R Mk VI $48,500AUD($45,444USD)
BMW 125i $55,400AUD($51,910USD)
BMW 135i $72,800AUD($68,213USD)
So here in Australia price really has a much larger impact on one's decisions, having said that I could have bought the 135i convertible but the price difference between my optioned 125i convertible and a 135i convertible would still have been $14,000AUD($13,118USD). Specification wise I missed out on Electric seats and Xenons which are standard on the 135i and the turbo and brakes obviously.
Now I live 6km for the center of Sydney and 98% of my driving is around town. I would very rarely take long trips outside of the city. In this context for me the 125i does everything that a 135i does apart from being about .5 sec slower to 60km/h away from the lights. The best car I ever owner was a Lotus Elise which was my daily driver for 4 years. Yes I do have certain masochistic tendencies
Now this car had about 120hp and a top speed of 208km/h(129mph). But it was FUN. Now my personal preference is to attack a quiet twisting piece of tarmac then charge down the quarter mile in the shortest time possible and hence large V8 muscle cars have never been my thing and I prefer RWD over FWD, normally aspirated over turbos and manual over automatic or DSG/DCT.
I genuinely enjoy the physical and mental aspects of driving. I look at most drivers as ranging from people who enjoy the driving from A to B in the same way as a round of Golf is a physical and mental exercise and those who get into the buggy and drive from the first tee to the clubhouse without swinging a single club. It is a sliding scale and depending on the day we all fit somewhere between driver and operator and it is a variable thing.
To me it is about feedback and interaction. This is not always about being the fastest around the track or down the road. The Elise and the Mazda MX5 are all about this and while the MX5 or Miata is derided as girls car I suspect that it is by people who have never driven one and obviously down the freeway is not the environment I am talking about.
Now the Golf GTI is a very good car. But for steering feel I have yet to drive any FWD car that steers as well as a good RWD setup. The blown four also cannot compete with the straight six heading towards the red line in either engine or exhaust sound. I prefer the manual gear change feel of the BMW to the cable linkage of the VW. The impression of engineering depth that is in all the minor controls in both the way they move and feel and how all their actions require a similar effort.
I also don't miss that front axel tramp that could effect the Eos and GTI when given a boot full off the line on broken tarmac or in the wet although I haven't driven a Mk VI with the electronic diff lock in the wet so it is probably better. A couple of brief flashes from the DSC warning light as the BMW accelerates forward with intent is a lot neater. I find the BMW gives me more feedback about what is happening between the vehicle and the surface it is travelling over. The flip side of this is that the secondary ride is not as plush but I did chose the M Sport suspension which is available here with or without the M Sport kit and as a delete option even with the M Sport kit.
Is the 125i a better drivers car than the GTI, in my case yes because in the things that I look for in a car it does a better job. Likewise down an unfamiliar piece of tightly twisting broken tarmac it would be as much fun and probably just as quick as the 135i.
But there again as I have been talking about my feeling it is probably just as well I drive a girls car