I received a 125i to test and at first glance you’d be mistaken for confusing the M Sport regaled 125i with its more substantial M135i sibling. It has large alloy wheels, M logos on the brakes and even an M badge on the side. The tailpieces gave it away though and of course the badging.
That being said, the overall improvement to the 1 Series shape, I feel, is commendable; it looks noticeably better, in my opinion. Up front there are redesigned bumpers, reshaped headlamps and a revised grille. The rear has received the most dramatic change with a new rear bumper as well as new L-shaped rear lights.
The interior hasn’t really changed; there have been revisions made to the controls for the audio and climate control, while all models now benefit from the iDrive infotainment system.
This is where the BMW offers up something unique in the segment… yes it goes up against the Volkswagen Golf GTI and the Mercedes-Benz A250 in terms of pricing and output but it is the Bavarian that brings rear-wheel-drive to the party. You get 160kW/310Nm from a 2.0-litre turbocharged motor, which on my test unit was mated with the superb ZF eight-speed automatic transmission.
This car got me thinking… up at the reef we’re not able to fully exploit the quintessential beginner’s rear-wheel-drive sports car - the Toyota 86 - because of the power loss of its naturally aspirated motor. When driving the 125i I couldn’t help thinking how great it is as an introduction to rear-wheel-drive. It’s not massively fast, its power delivery is linear and it will get its backside out when provoked with all of the driver aids disabled.
It could be used as a comfortable daily drive, with fuel returns of around 9.0 litres/100km and then on the weekends one could take it to the skidpan and learn how to control a rear-wheel-drive car before thinking about something like an M4, or even an M135i. It isn’t a precision driving tool but at the same time it is a wonderful thing to drive; it strikes a balance between interaction and comfort.
To be honest though, the owner of a 125i isn’t really the same sort of person who buys a Toyota 86, so perhaps my petrolhead brain was grasping at straws. From a practical perspective, the rear-wheel-drive packaging does take away space as the 1 Series loses out in the practicality stakes to the Golf in terms of boot space and rear accommodation. Pricing isn’t exactly low with the model that I was driving coming in at R457 973 - without options.
The updated 1 Series hasn’t changed dramatically but the updates made to the model give it more relevance in the market place. If I were in the market for a 1 Series I’d rather work a bit harder and get myself an M135i or, I’d opt for the 120d variant as it has a great blend of performance and economy. As far as the 125i goes, it’s a great alternative to the GTIs of this world; just be careful when ticking that Options List as things can get expensive.