BMW’s 1 Series range was introduced in 2004. A highlight for me was the BMW 130i that came out in the mid 2000’s. I liked its purposeful styling combined with a wonderful naturally aspirated six-cylinder engine, six-speed manual gearbox and rear-wheel drive layout.
The model is currently in its second generation and has always been offered as a rear-wheel drive; however the next generation will feature front-wheel drive for the first rime. It therefore makes for an interesting review of this rear-wheel drive 2019 model BMW 125i. Priced from $49,990 plus on-road costs, the five-door hatch is the second most expensive 1 Series in the range, behind the M140i.
Inside, the BMW has a well laid out and comfortable interior. Finding an ideal seating position is simple, with a manually adjustable steering column and electrically adjustable leather driver’s seat. The three spoke ‘M’ steering wheel looks good and instrument dials are clear and easy to read, however it’s a surprise to see that there’s no digital speedometer. The 125i features an I-Drive 6.0 Infotainment System, a much easier to use and more intuitive system than the navigation panel system used in the Lexus RC350F. There’s plenty of room for front seat occupants, but in the rear leg room is just adequate and there’s not much headroom for anyone over six-foot tall. It’s easy to set up Apple CarPlay and the navigation system is easy to use. Unfortunately, there’s no spare tyre offered, and the boot has a capacity of 360 Litres.
The Alpine White five-door hatchback looks understated but purposeful from the outside, with the 18-inch ‘M’ Sport alloys, blue brake calipers and dual exhaust outlets giving the car the ‘hot hatch’ look. I’ve always admired how BMW manages to build high performance cars with relatively understated styling and this is what drew me into buying a BMW M3 E36. The 125i uses Bridgestone Potenza S001 run flat tyres; the front tyres are 225/40/18 profile while the rear tyres are 245/35/18 profile.
BMW’s 125i comes standard with the ‘M Sport Package’ including sports suspension, run-flat rubber, front sports seats, a body kit and kidney grilles finished in black high-gloss. It also has front, side and head airbags, a reversing camera, front and rear parking sensors, an 8.8 inch touch-screen, satellite-navigation, LED headlights, digital radio and dual-zone climate control. Approach control warning, lane-departure warning, attention assist and pedestrian warning are offered as standard. There is however no autonomous emergency braking and adaptive cruise control is an option. There’s no Android Auto but this particular car comes with Apple CarPlay.
Eco Pro, Comfort, Sport and Sport+ drive modes are offered in the BMW 125i. A particular highlight is the kW and Nm engine readouts in Sport+. Eco Pro and Comfort are geared more towards efficiency and reducing fuel consumption while Sport and Sport+ sharpen steering and throttle response.
Driving impressions and performance
The 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine develops outputs of 165kW and 310Nm. The 125i accelerates from 0-100km/h in a claimed 6.1 seconds. It’s a car that builds speed effortlessly with little to no turbo lag and a very linear power delivery. The exhaust is too muffled, but there are some pops on the down-change in Sport+ mode, but nothing like the sound emitted from Hyundai’s i30N. The car is quite efficient, managing a combined cycle of 5.9L/100km.
There is a definite change in the character of the car when switching from Eco Pro or Comfort to Sport+ mode, with a sharper response from the engine and gearbox. Power down is impressive even in wet conditions. One of the highlights included a drive on the twisty, challenging Killara Road that links Coldstream with Seville East, using the car in Sport+ mode. Disabling traction and stability control in the wet resulted in only minimal wheel-spin from the rear tyres under hard throttle. It’s a car that’s wonderfully balanced and also has the power to slingshot you quite rapidly from corner to corner. Although I don’t usually left foot brake when driving, I found that this particularly easy to do in the BMW due to ideal pedal placement. Using the left foot resulted in a faster transition from braking back to accelerating.
Flicking the gear shifter across to the left enables the driver to access the eight speed ZF gearbox’s manual mode. The driver can go up and down the gears by either using the paddles located behind the steering wheel, or using the shifter. Flicking the shifter up results in downshifts while flicking it down results in upshifts. Manual mode works well when hurrying the car along and in auto mode the ZF gearbox shifts gears quietly and smoothly.
The low profile run flat tyres don’t seem to cope with dips and potholes in the road as much as regular tyres. I didn’t experience much difference in ride quality between all four drive modes. The ‘M’ Performance brakes are more than adequate in pulling up the 1368kg BMW. Feel from the electric steering is good and well weighted, certainly a huge step forward from the hydraulic steering system in my much older BMW M3 E36.
The 125i doesn’t have any rear wheel drive competitors, however it competes against the all- wheel drive Mercedes-Benz A250 that costs roughly the same, has the same capacity engine and similar engine outputs. Another rival for the BMW is the front-wheel drive Audi A3 Sportback; it’s slightly cheaper than the BMW but doesn’t develop the same engine power or deliver the same overall performance.
The final 125i to be rear-wheel drive is certainly a great driver’s car. The 125i has a potent engine, great gearbox and its ideal weight distribution results in a great handling car. It’s also quiet, comfortable, efficient and safe. The next generation front-wheel drive 1 Series has a lot to live up to, and hopefully there’s no sacrifices given to driving enjoyment.
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