The BMW 125i is the biggest seller in the 1 Series range and it’s not difficult to see the attraction.
Producing 165kW/310Nm, it’s packing roughly the same punch as a Volkswagen Golf GTI (though a little down on torque) with a claimed 0-100km/h time of 6.1sec. The difference is, of course, that while the GTI is dragged around by its front wheels the BMW pushes things along from the rear.
It’s more expensive than the GTI – at $49,990 it’s entering the territory of the much more powerful Golf R – but does that rear-drive layout provide dynamic compensation?
It’ll have to, as the 1 Series interior is beginning to show its age. It’s perfectly functional and ergonomically sound with a great driving position, but despite the update to iDrive 6 and revised trims as part of the MY17 facelift it lacks the showroom snazziness of its younger rivals.
Rear seat accommodation is also not a 1 Series strong point, at least for adults, though its boot is bigger than you might expect given the packaging demands of that rear-drive USP.
Unfortunately, the 125i doesn’t quite deliver on its on-paper promise. It flows along a road well and can be hustled quite quickly without complaint, but the front and rear ends don’t feel totally at tune with one another when turning into a corner and the standard M Sport suspension, which is firmer and 10mm lower, seems to hinder more than help.
The ride is unsettled and the car hops and skips over larger bumps at speed, feeling to lack travel, particularly at the rear. Its overall balance is good, edging into gentle understeer as the limit approaches, but it feels to fight the road rather than working with it. At $1500, adaptive dampers are a worthwhile investment.
Equally, its engine falls into the ‘good not great’ category, which is a problem when you’re charging a premium price tag. There’s decent mid-range urge, easily accessible thanks to the excellent eight-speed ZF auto, but beyond 5000rpm power tails off dramatically.
This same engine in 185kW/350Nm tune, as found in the 230i coupe, feels both stronger and more eager to rev to its 7000rpm redline.
This engine spec in a ‘130i’ at a $50K price point would be an interesting alternative to a Golf R, but as it is the enormous performance jump to the 250kW/500Nm M140i is well worth the (admittedly substantial) $10,000 premium.
As it stands the idea of a rear-drive warm-to-hot hatch is a welcome one, but German rivals, particularly Volkswagen’s recently updated Golf range, offer more enthusiast and ownership appeal.
3.5 stars out of 5
Likes: Rear-drive balance
Dislikes: Not quick enough; unsettled ride
2017 BMW 125i specs:
Engine: 1998cc inline-4cyl, DOHC, 16v, turbocharger
Power: 165kW @ 5200-6500rpm
Torque: 310Nm @ 1400-5000rpm
0-100km/h: 6.1sec (claimed)