Baby Beemer Bursts with Brawn
Entry level BMW does not mean a poverty stricken BMW, especially when it comes to comfort or performance.
I prefer the wide doors of the 2 Series, but I love the way a 1 Series drives. Here’s why:
The 125i had an M Sport package, not to be confused with real M. An ex BMW designer once told me he thought M badges on anything but an M cheapened the M brand, but I digress…
The big 18” wheels have run-flat tyres. The exterior is festooned with m badging, but for me, the highlight is the LED headlight array.
We all remember the early “angel eyes” being slavishly copied on many a boy-racer’s badly modified banger. Well, they’ve been given a bit of spit and polish and now look like guided missile laser targeting devices.
The LED tail lights look like long exposure night vision photos, with light tracing gentle paths across the rear end. There is a voluptuousness to the rump that adds interest where there is normally just a dull featureless façade.
The 2-box design is given interest by character lines used sparingly, but with purpose, to define the masculine wheel arches. The M suspension lowers the 125i by 10mm. I like it a lot.
Dominated by a floating tablet, the dash is laid out in clearly defined zones highlighted by swathes of machined aluminium.
There are easy-to-find direct select buttons for audio functions like radio stations of all bands. There is no standard Apple CarPlay which seems a bit mean. It can be had, for a price.
The centre console houses the gear lever which is incredibly easy to use provided you remember to press the side button when shifting. It is electronic so models with auto parking can shift direction as well as being able to control speed and braking. Parking is a single button.
A gentle press on the park button will cause the lever to move sideways to the home position if in “sport” mode.
The plastics are of a decent quality, but the seat fabric is another story.
While the Alcantara feels luxurious, the hex-pattern M sport inserts on the seat, backrest, and door, are nasty. It looks like a lizard skin pattern on a call-centre desk chair. In the bin with it.
Ignoring the anthracite fabric for a moment, the rest of the cabin is slick. The fat steering wheel has beautifully laid out back-lit buttons on the front face. The 8 speed auto can be controlled via paddles on the rear.
There is the same quality feel you find in the top models from Bavaria.
BMW is rolling out touch screens to their media systems, but until it filters down to the lower models, the 1 series makes do with just the iDrive dial as input.
The console has a dial/joystick, but no trackpad on top. There is voice input voice if you have the patience to train yourself to use it.
The iDrive setup is a trimmed down version of the same system used in the posh Beemers.
The iDrive array also has buttons for menu, media, radio and home. Once you’ve used it a few times, you no longer have to look at it to know which function you want.
The stowage bin has a nice soft close lid. It is all very considered with an OCD attention to detail.
I struggle to manually tune the radio. If I can’t see a button for it, I rarely bother. The menu system is otherwise easy to use. Like most of these systems, you can’t break anything, so don’t be afraid to fiddle with them. It can all be easily reset of you make a boob.
In fact, I once reset a BMW driver profile, which made the language Chinese. Whoopsies.
The Harman Kardon sound has a beautiful warm quality to it. I’m picky about my sound systems, and I like this one very much.
There are way too many other features to list, and more can be found here on BMW Australia’s page.
There are options to add further features. Over recent years, more of these options have become standard so makes these models better value.
I was pleased to see the keyless entry/start system as standard.
The rear hatch entry is by tilting the BMW badge which can then be used as a handle. Although the boot isn’t huge, I managed to get the weekly shop in with room to spare. 2 overnights bags would take even less space.
Although slightly clinical, the interior feels classy. The dash won’t be for everyone, but I liked it.
The door openings are small, and I fill it completely each time I enter or exit.
Although I can manage, I have to keep my wits about me if I don’t want to bang my head on the frame. On a few occasions, I jammed my knee against the dash as I lowered into the chair.
It’s one of those things an owner would quickly get used to.
What a revelation. Rather unfairly, I’d gone straight from a week in BMW’s uber saloon, the 750Li. I expected the 125i to feel weak and gutless by comparison. But, not a bit of it. The twin scroll turbo 2.0L was as frisky as a kitten.
With 165kw and 310Nm, the 5.9L/100k fuel consumption was a pleasant surprise. Even better, the 6.1 0-100k sprint felt every bit as swift as it sounds.
A quick dab brings the hatch up to speed, and it feels effortless. The engine is incredibly smooth, and the superb 8 speed auto is even smoother. The 125i is the automotive equivalent of a fine swiss watch, fired from a cannon.
The (drive select) suspension can be tweaked by the driver via iDrive.
The various modes can be massaged into combinations that suit the individual. The more expensive BMWs offer even greater tailoring. You can opt out of the M Sport suspension if you like, and it costs no extra. How generous.
I loved the way the 125i felt on the road. The electric steering is light, yet precise. The “road feel” varies depending on the circumstances. The throttle, suspension and steering setup is changed by using the drive select button.
The premium hatch segment is stuffed full of options. Considering the $51,900 (as tested, plus onroads), you’d do well to find a premium hatch that drives as well.
We were slightly limited by kilometres on this test which was a shame.
None the less we are able to give it a thorough seeing-to. It loved being thrown into corners, but then what BMW doesn’t. I like the fact that even though this is the bottom of the range, it isn’t bottom of the ladder.
There is just a little body roll to keep things interesting, but your movement in the seat can be limited by power-adjustable bolsters. You shoot into a corner, then sling-shot out the other side like a side-show ride.
The chassis inspires a confidence, even if the driver doesn’t deserve it. I dread pushing too hard for a rather healthy fear of unceremoniously spinning backwards into the shrubbery.
The real joy is putting power to the ground via the rear wheels.
There is a feel of grip which begs to be tested. You can sense it through the seat of your pants. Better still, the ride isn’t sacrificed for handling. There is a firmness without being harsh.
Many hot hatches are front wheel drive. There is nothing wrong with that, but the torque-steer can be off putting.
The 125i is more of a warm hatch, but it gives an average driver a chance to get into a classy car made by a premium brand without having to mortgage body parts.
There are very few bad new cars on the road. That means a brand can’t rest on its laurels, even one as august as BMW.
The driver aids and other standard inclusions make the little hatch a hot contender on a buyer’s dance card.
Some drivers don’t care one way or the other about handling or performance, or at least that’s what they say. Personally, I don’t believe it.
I think everyone yearns for oomph. No one wants to drive a car which saps their will to live. The BMW 125i would pump life into even the most jaded of drivers.
I mentioned the seat fabric not being to my taste, but after a week sitting on it, I developed respect for it. I’ll never like it, but felt less offended by it. That was mainly due to a fabulous driving experience.
Twists and turns were done as finely as threading a needle.
One last thought: You might think 55 grand is pricey for a small car, but the 140i is over $70,000.
Would I buy one? Yes, despite the criminal taste in fabric.
Engine: 160kw/310Nm, 2.0 twin turbo petrol
Transmission: 8 speed auto with paddle shifters
CO2: 134 g/km
0-100kph: 6.1 seconds