GRANTED, a mid-range 1 Series isn’t the most obvious inclusion here, especially as Munich’s smallest (non-EV) isn’t even trying to be a hot-hatch.
But wearing the BMW roundel, a standard M Sport package and a $50K price tag meant we couldn’t ignore the company’s final (ever?) rear-drive five-door. Welcome, then, to this dirty dozen’s wildcard entry.
Squat, serious and defiantly cab-rearward, the 125i looks like it means business, especially in far-happier LCI guise as launched back in 2015.
The minor changes made back then lifted the quality and ambience inside as well, eschewing the bland, rubbery austerity of the past. Quality fittings, supportive front seats ($2100 optional Comfort Pack items), elegant instruments and what is now iDrive perfected are all solid reasons to step up to a BMW. Mind you, paying hundreds extra for Apple CarPlay when a $14K Kia Picanto throws it in for free smarts.
Surprisingly, the 125i’s rear packaging isn’t bad, despite RWD and lofty seating. Yes, the amount of available room makes it cosy for six-footers, but at least they fit. And – lack of storage or centre armrest aside – a well-shaped cushion and backrest, air outlets and thoughtfully placed grab handles means at least the rear occupants feel cool and clamped in.
Which is important as the BMW’s 165kW/310Nm 2.0-litre direct-injection turbo four is a potent, polished performer, mating seamlessly with ZF’s intuitive eight-speed auto for rousing acceleration and muscular response in the mid-range, backed up by on-brand powertrain silkiness.
Additionally, the 125i’s handling and roadholding on the right road gel beautifully, with massive levels of grip and just enough play in the tail when provoked hard for the keen driver to cover ground and carve-up corners with quick and satisfying precision.
At Haunted Hills, Renato reckoned the BMW’s rear-end could easily be coaxed around in a playful manner, while stickier tyres would have made it even quicker around the circuit because the performance was certainly there. The 125i is effortlessly quick.
Back in the real world, however, other aspects of the 125i’s chassis left us wondering whether BMW is suffering corporate memory lapse. It seems that Munich has forgotten what made icons like the E46
3 Series so dynamically remarkable.
Poor ride is a bugbear with recent BMWs, and the 125i at least starts out well with good primary ride that ably soaks up bumps, and moderate tyre noise on 18-inch Bridgestone Potenza rubber.
But the vertical pitching endemic in all current 1 Series variants remains; this was the group’s only car to hit its suspension travel stops at speed with just the driver inside. And the secondary ride is restless on all but the smoothest surfaces, which is plain tiring.
Yet the biggest problem with the 125i is the very thing punters would expect a rear-drive BMW to absolutely nail – the steering. Inconsistent and remote, it lacks crispness and intimacy to a deeply disappointing degree.
Flicking through the drive modes does alter the weight, but doesn’t inject any more feel. Perhaps this is Munich’s ploy to make us welcome the hopefully more dynamically sorted next-gen front-drive 1 Series with open arms.
Keep in mind that all the other ingredients are present – the slick powertrain, sticky chassis, and subtly menacing appearance – and the 125i’s disinterested steering comes as an unexpected slap in the face. Without the desired damping finesse, body control and steering feedback, this car is the opposite of what M Sport represents. Wildcard? More like mild card.
It’s almost painfully ironic that the only rear-driver here – and BMW’s last rear-drive 1 Series – has the poorest steering of the group. So a lowly 11th it is for the otherwise likeable 125i M Sport.
BMW 125i M Sport
LAP TIME: 1:07.5sec
Engine: 1998cc 4cyl, dohc, 16v, turbo
Power: 165kW @ 6500rpm
Torque: 310Nm @ 1400-5000rpm
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
Tyres: Bridgestone Potenza S001 225/40R18 (f), 245/35R18 (r)
Fuel consumption: 14.2L/100km (tested)
Power to weight: 118kW per tonne
0-100km/h: 6.1sec (claimed)
Hot Hatch Megatest Contenders
12th, Score 6/10: Mini Cooper S JCW
11th, Score 6.5/10: BMW 125i
10th, Score 6.5/10: Subaru WRX Premium
9th, Score 7/10: Subaru WRX STI
8th, Score 7/10: Skoda Octavia RS245
7th, Score: 7.5/10: Ford Focus ST
6th, Score: 7.5/10: Renault Clio RS220 Trophy
5th, Score: 8/10: Volkswagen Golf GTI Original
4th, Score: 8.5/10: Volkswagen Golf R Grid
3rd, Score: 8.5/10: Peugeot 308 GTi 270
2nd, Score: 9/10: Honda Civic Type R
Winner, Score: 9/10: Hyundai i30 N
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