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  • Excellent powertrain; fun rear-drive dynamics; polished around town manners; improved value; convincing sportiness; grip; proper 'classic' driving machine soul
  • Staid interior design not to everyone’s tastes; options still pricey; the end of an era for small rear-drivers; could handle higher outputs

OUR RATING
8 / 10



2015 BMW 125i Review
2015 BMW 125i Review
2015 BMW 125i Review

A strange thing happened in the process of deciding a verdict on the new 2015 BMW 125i: I discovered its inner 3 Series.

Not the contemporary mid-sized family. Nor, while we’re at it, any properly M car. I mean the older stuff, such as the ’90s-generation E36, relatively straightforward, well-resolved, rear-driven cars for the everyman with a kind of soul that underpinned BMW’s ‘ultimate driving machine’ credo.

It’s more than just that today’s ‘one’ is roughly the same size and weight as these older ‘threes’. It’s that if you want a driving experience as faithful to the halcyon day-3 Series as possible within today’s BMW fleet, the 1 Series hatch – or, of course, its mechanical 2 Series coupe twin – is your guy.

Moreover, with the next-generation 1 Series set to follow the rest of cardom down the front-wheel-driven rabbit hole into the safety of motoring gentrification, this 2015 LCI update may well be the last opportunity to indulge in a small car from Munich with north-south engine placement, wider rear tyres and a characteristically rear-driven soul.

The whole 1 Series range benefits from sharper pricing, improved standard equipment levels and the more palatable, Aussie-designed exterior face-lift.

Of course, not all ‘ones’ are created equal, and of the five-variant-strong facelifted 1 Series LCI generation it’s the mid-spec 125i that strikes the ‘classic’ 3 Series touch points most faithfully. Despite its fairly innocuous position in BMW’s model hierarchy, the 125i brims with The Right Stuff and deserves a big blip on car-loving romanticists’ radar, though it’s the kind of ‘stuff’ not readily apparent by specification list alone.

2015 BMW 125i Review
2015 BMW 125i Review
2015 BMW 125i Review
2015 BMW 125i Review

From the kick-off, the 125i lands at $48,900 before on-roads and options. It’s not only $2100 more affordable than the old-look, but loads in a host of formerly optional M Sport equipment including M Sport Package suite (lowered and retuned suspension, ‘M light’ 18-inch wheels, sports seats and steering wheel, styling accoutrements) and M Sport brakes, some $4000 of extra value.

At 160kW and 310Nm, its 2.0-litre turbocharged four may be the second-most-powerful engine in the 1 Series family, but it’s a sizeable 80kW and 140Nm shy of the 135i’s three-litre turbo six. And it comes up short, too, on the 180kW and 350Nm offer in the 228i coupe.

For context, you can get a 162kW/350Nm 2.0 Volkswagen Golf GTI with DSG auto for $43,490. The premium for the ‘Bimmer’ badge actually isn’t massive.

What the 125i lacks in heroic numbers, it compensates for in sweetness and flexibility. It’s very responsive off idle with no lag, and from peak torque’s arrival at 1350rpm through to the 6000rpm redline – well beyond peak power’s 5000rpm entry point – it provides smooth and seamless energy. There are no peaks, no troughs, and there’s no falling off the boil at any point. And that’s in default comfort mode where many rivals’ two-litre units are left wanting for response and drivability.

2015 BMW 125i Review
2015 BMW 125i Review
2015 BMW 125i Review
2015 BMW 125i Review

The form guide might stop purists in their tracks at ‘automatic transmission’, but the eight-speed, paddleshifted sport-tuned unit is a well-polished gem. There’s no low-speed ‘dual-clutch’ jerkiness or histrionics and it self-shifts intuitively and seamlessly. Better yet, when left in comfort drive mode, it adapts superbly to dramatic changes in throttle input and driving style, remaining unflappable when suddenly called to arms.

This powertrain completely sidesteps the compromised too-lazy/too-aggressive foibles suffered by dual-clutch rivals – even better, without so much as touching the drive mode switch. This impacts favourably on the 125i’s pleasant, fuss-free around town persona, particularly in low-speed manoeuvring and during stop-start driving. There are, though, four drive modes – Eco Pro, Comfort, Sport and Sport+ – to choose from, each presenting a satisfying change in corresponding character.

Nor does the automatic drop the ball in manual mode, responding superbly to driving inputs. And this BMW breed is among an ever-shrinking crop of cars offering both (wheel-mounted) paddles and a (backwards-for-upshift) console shifter correctly oriented for performance driving.

Activate Launch Control, as standard, and the seat of the pants acceleration feels to match the 125i’s official 6.2-second 0-100km/h claim. While it’s not the quickest sub-$50K device on the block, its flexible drivability presents ample on-tap potency when lunging for gaps in the urban cut and thrust and it doesn’t hang about on the open road. Select Eco Pro and, at speeds above 50km/h, there’s a handy ‘sailing mode’ that decouples drive off throttle, and you need it to get anywhere near BMW’s combined 6.5L/100km fuel consumption claim. Instead, our testing returned a far thirstier 8.5-litre figure.

2015 BMW 125i Review
2015 BMW 125i Review
2015 BMW 125i Review
2015 BMW 125i Review

Surprising is how much grip was available from the Bridgestone run-flats – 225mm 18s up front, fatter 245mms in the rear – during a road loop that transitioned between dry and monsoon-ally wet running. With some sleight of active hand from the electronic diff lock, the drive from the rear tyres was tremendous even through standing water. The traction control allows a generous amount of wheel slip before it reels in the engine torque.

Hook it through some back road curves and Dynamic Stability and Traction Control systems loosen their reins further, allowing the superb chassis balance and poise to shine brightly. Like its 2 Series brethren, the 1 Series is a tough act to beat for small car driver enjoyment, in lieu of being able to be driven ‘on the throttle’ in a way so many front- and all-wheel-drive rivals can’t.

Another point on the long list of standard equipment is Variable Sport Steering with Servotronic, it’s ratio-altering trickery reasonably subtle, leaving the steering feeling quite natural and transparent. It’s nice and light at low speed and though not brimming with feel provides a convincing connection between driver and road.

If there’s an extras box we rate as a mandatory tick it’s the Adaptive M Suspension. It’s a modest $1092 option that, again in Comfort drive mode, provides damping that tempers road imperfections small or large and provides accomplished ride comfort without leaving body control flaccid. While the firmer Sport/Sport+ suspension setting may pay dynamic dividends on track, the trusty default mode strikes such a polished blend of ride comfort and handling that you might rarely find yourself reaching for the so-called ‘driving experience’ selector.

2015 BMW 125i Review
2015 BMW 125i Review
2015 BMW 125i Review
2015 BMW 125i Review

This additional feature is indicative of the sporty M addenda featured throughout, all of which feels integrated – as opposite to simply added – to the overall 125i package. And it is indicative of the treatment of this latest 2015 facelift: incremental improvements everywhere, leaving the whole package feeling well integrated and thoroughly resolved.

The interior is typical BMW fare: strong nods to traditional styling, workmanlike fit-and-finish, few surprises and nothing like the flash of some rival premium small cars. It could be the long cabin, deep foot wells, low-slung seating or prominent transmission tunnel, but it feels like a proper rear-driver from the first row. The size of the cabin, its proportions, the simple analogue instrumentation design…there’s that old-school 3 Series vibe again.

The same classic essence applies to the M Sport Package seats, with their large, firm and narrow set shoulder and hip bolsters that pin you upright. The Dakota leather – a $1690 premium over the standard cloth/Alcantara trim – is suitably upmarket, though you need to cough up a further $2100 for seat heating and electric adjustment. The small-spoked, leather-trimmed M steering wheel presents well, though the chunky leather rim won’t suit all tastes.

The infotainment system remains one of the best in the biz, the iDrive interface intuitive and easy to use, the Navigation System Business reasonably slick and its real-time traffic flow design (called RTTI) a notch above over rival’s traffic warning systems in everyday usefulness. Notable markdowns are the absence of a digital speedo – a real licence saver – and that some buyers won’t warm to the stoic styling.

2015 BMW 125i Review
2015 BMW 125i Review
2015 BMW 125i Review

Second-row room and comfort is adequate rather than exceptional, though the 360-litre luggage space – converting to 1200 litres with the rear seats stowed – is, in practice, more useable than rivals such as the A-Class.

To break the 125i down to practicality and equipment credentials misses the point of its biggest drawcard. Instead, it provides a straightforward, rear-driven, well-resolved and engaging driving experience without excesses of power and pricing. And this new facelift polishes an already enticing package to a more enticing glow, right down to the exterior styling.

If that all sounds like a bit of you, get in while you can. Because future plans to keep up with the front-driven Joneses mean this classic take on pint-sized German driving enjoyment is, sadly, very much on borrowed time.


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BMW 1 SERIES BREAKDOWN

2015 BMW 125i Review
  • 8
  • 8
  • 7
  • 8.5
  • 8
  • 8.5
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BMW 1 Series Specs

16i : F20 MY15 : 1.6L TURBO MPFI - 6 SP MANUAL - PREMIUM UNLEADED PETROL - 5D HATCHBACK
Car Details
Make
BMW
Model
1
Variant
16i
Series
F20 MY15
Year
2015
Body Type
5D HATCHBACK
Seats
5
Pricing
New Price
N/A
Private Sale
$29,810 - $33,880
Dealer Retail
$30,250 - $35,970
Dealer Trade
$23,200 - $27,100
Engine Specifications
Engine Type
TURBO MPFI
Engine Size
1.6L
Cylinders
TURBO 4
Max. Torque
220Nm @  1350rpm
Max. Power
100kW @  4400rpm
Pwr:Wgt Ratio
76.3W/kg
Bore & Stroke
77x85.8mm
Compression Ratio
10.5
Valve Gear
VARIABLE DOUBLE OVERHEAD CAM
Drivetrain Specifications
Transmission
6 SP MANUAL
Drive Type
REAR WHEEL DRIVE
Final Drive Ratio
0
Fuel Specifications
Fuel Type
PREMIUM UNLEADED PETROL
Fuel Tank Capacity
52Litres
Fuel Consumption (Combined)
5.7L / 100km
Weight & Measurement
Kerb Weight
1310
Gross Vehicle Weight
Not Provided
Height
1421mm
Length
4324mm
Width
1765mm
Ground Clearance
140mm
Towing Capacity
Brake:1200  Unbrake:650
Steering & Suspension
Steering Type
RACK & PINION - POWER ASSISTED
Turning Circle
10.9
Front Rim Size
7x16
Rear Rim Size
7x16
Front Tyres
205/55 R16
Rear Tyres
205/55 R16
Wheel Base
2690
Front Track
1521
Rear Track
1556
Front Brakes
DISC - VENTILATED
Rear Brakes
DISC
Front Suspension
MacPherson strut, Coil Spring, Gas damper, Anti roll bar
Rear Suspension
MacPherson strut, Coil Spring, Gas damper, Anti roll bar
Standard Features
Comfort
Air Conditioning
Control & Handling
16 Inch Alloy Wheels, Electronic Brake Force Distribution, Traction Control System
Driver
Adjustable Steering Wheel - Tilt & Telescopic, Cruise Control, Leather Steering Wheel, Multi Function Steering Wheel, Mobile Phone Connectivity, Parking Distance Control, Power Steering, Satellite Navigation, Trip Computer
Engine & Transmission
Electronic Differential Lock
Entertainment
Radio CD with 6 Speakers
Exterior
Remote Boot/Hatch Release
Interior
Cloth Trim, Power Windows
Safety
Dual Front Airbag Package, Anti-lock Braking, Head Airbags, Protective Glazing, Seatbelts - Pre-tensioners Front Seats, Side Front Air Bags
Security
Central Locking Remote Control, Engine Immobiliser
Optional Features
Comfort
Power Sunroof
Control & Handling
17 Inch Alloy Wheels, 18 Inch Alloy Wheels
Entertainment
Premium Sound System
Exterior
Metallic Paint, Xenon Headlights
Interior
Leather Upholstery, Wood Grain Trim
Package
Competition Package, Convenience Pack, Professional Pack
Security
Alarm System/Remote Anti Theft
Other
Service Interval
24 months /  25,000 kms
Warranty
36 months /  999,000 kms
VIN Plate Location
Driver Side Inner Guard
Country of Origin
Germany