Ride, Handling & Performance
Interior Comfort & Practicality
Technology & Safety
Value & Ownership
Some things never truly go out of fashion. Sure, many of us are now hardwired to seek out something different, something new, but the pull of the classics can never be properly extinguished.
Now that’s some pretty philosophical stuff, but the simple subject at its core is rear wheel drive. The former staple of enthusiast models is now on the endangered species list.
When it comes to small hatchbacks, the current BMW 1 Series is the last of the breed. It’s highly likely this is the last rear wheel drive hatch we will see. The Bavarian marque has already confirmed the next generation will be front or all-wheel drive.
The good news is there is still time to appreciate the classic layout before the era officially comes to an end. Up for review here is the 2019 BMW 125i, priced from $49,990 plus on-road costs, it’s the highest ranking four-cylinder 1 Series variant slotting underneath the muscle-bound M140i.
For the spend, the 125i is reasonably well equipped with adaptive LED headlights, front and rear parking sensors, Dakota leather trim, electronically-adjustable front seats, a rear-view camera, an Anthracite roofliner, a raft of M performance parts and a long list of safety tech.
The 1 Series is unique which should lead to a driving experience that can’t be replicated anywhere else. With this one, expectations are rightfully high, after all, compact cars tuned for a sporty drive have long been BMW’s bread and butter.
So we’ll start with the drive. The backroads of country Victoria provide the perfect canvas for the BMW to exhibit its talents.
The 2.0-litre turbocharged engine develops 165kW of power and 310Nm of torque which is plenty for a car of this size. In the scheme of things, the 125i is a lightweight meaning there is enough straight-line shove. Officially, the 0-100km/h dash takes 6.1 seconds which equals newly minted mainstream hatchbacks that claim to be ‘hot’.
Sending power to the back is a sublime eight-speed automatic transmission. It’s Pierce Brosnan smooth regardless of how much lead is in the right boot. It should be noted the ratios are slightly longer than the norm reinforcing the car’s sporty intent.
While the straight line hustle is enthusiastically welcomed, the little Bimmer’s best work is done in the bends. Those who enjoy an entertaining steer will find the cornering prowess intoxicating. Everything is beautifully balanced in line with BMW’s pedigree.
The 125i is responsive to even the slightest inputs. It’s satisfyingly precise and athletic. Anyone keen on a 1 Series should insist on finding some corners during the test drive, the right road showcases the car’s character.
BMW has preprogrammed the usual array of driving modes – Eco, Comfort, Sport and Sport Plus. As is often the case, Comfort is the best choice for daily commuting. In fact, either of the first two drive modes ensures the car can be used as a relaxed cruiser.
Switch to either Sport option and things tighten up. Going all in and selecting Sport Plus turns off the electronic driving aids for the proper purist experience.
Generally, the trade-off for a sporty drive is an overly firm suspension calibration, in this instance, there is no such compromise. The standard M Sport suspension is on the firm side, but not to the point it’s uncomfortable, meaning the 125i can be enjoyed on roads that aren’t overly smooth.
The cornering ability, agility, the willing engine and the classic kick from the rear axle combine to deliver a unique drive. There is no other hatch that feels like this one, there are no genuine rivals for comparison. There is enough entertainment found behind the wheel to justify the jump to the premium segment. It’s distinctive, which is something to celebrate.
After spending a week covering 871 kilometres, the 125i returned a combined consumption figure of 6.8L/100km. If driven with less enthusiasm, improving on this should be easy.
A BMW should be all about the drive, but we will comment on the rest of the package. From the outside, it’s a handsome looking hatch in that understated BMW style. There’s no ridiculously large kidney grille or excessive bling, it’s simple and elegant like Versace back in the day.
It’s a similar story inside, the cabin isn’t looking for attention, it’s all about function. It’s all tightly wrapped with an air of quality. The firmness of the buttons, the chunky control stalks and the M Sport steering wheel (our favourite tiller!) set the tone perfectly.
Some other niceties worth mentioning are the sliding centre armrest and the climate control screen that changes to red at night which add to the atmosphere.
One area where BMW sets the trend is infotainment, the iDrive system has received plenty of kudos over the years, all of which are legitimate. It’s responsive with a crystal-clear screen. The 125i gets Navigation System Professional as standard, it’s intuitive and easy to master. This isn’t easy to do, just ask Lexus.
Aside from the look and layout, the voice control system is excellent, it’s the best we’ve encountered outside of a Tesla. Our only complaint is the scandalous $479 charge for Apple CarPlay.
The car’s biggest weakness is the space in the back, legroom for rear passengers borders on non-existent and the transmission tunnel rules out carrying three abreast. Those stuck in the cramped back seat are also starved of bottle holders and USB charging points.
Those wanting some practicality from a hatchback will enjoy the large boot, however, it comes at the expense of a spare wheel.
In terms of ownership, BMW offers a service inclusive package for the 125i costing between $1465 and $3790 which covers the car for five years or 80,000km whatever comes first. The higher priced service plan covers brake discs and pads along with wiper blade rubbers.
The premium brands are yet to get involved in the tussle for warranty supremacy that’s underway in the mainstream. BMW backs its cars with a three-year, unlimited kilometre warranty.
The current 1 Series might be nearing the end, but there’s plenty of life left in it. In the context of sporty hatchbacks, the price is reasonable and proportionate with a unique driving experience that can only come from sending torque to the rear wheels.
The journey back to BMW head office was a sombre one, this could be the last time we pilot a rear wheel drive hatch. This is the literal last man standing.
In many market segments, rear wheel drive is on the way out, yet the driving experience it provides is evergreen, it refuses to get old. For enthusiasts who want a great handling hatchback, now is the time.
2019 BMW 125i Specifications
Price from $49,990 plus on-road costs Engine 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbocharged petrol Power 165kW Torque 310Nm Transmission eight-speed automatic Combined Fuel Consumption 5.9L/100km Tank Capacity 52L Length 4329mm Width 1765mm Height 1421mm Wheelbase 2690mm Kerb Weight 1475kg Performance 0-100km/h 6.1 seconds Turning Circle 10.9m Service Intervals Condition Based Warranty three-year/unlimited kilometre
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