BMW 125i

Can Bavaria out­play Wolfs­burg with its rear-drive, Volk­swa­gen Golf GTI ri­val?

Motor (Australia) - - FIRST FANG - By SCOTT NEW­MAN

The BMW 125i is the big­gest seller in the 1 Se­ries range and it’s not dif­fi­cult to see the at­trac­tion. Pro­duc­ing 165kW/310Nm, it’s pack­ing roughly the same punch as a Volk­swa­gen Golf GTI (though a lit­tle down on torque) with a claimed 0-100km/h time of 6.1sec. The dif­fer­ence is, of course, that while the GTI is dragged around by its front wheels the BMW pushes things along from the rear.

It’s more ex­pen­sive than the GTI – at $49,990 it’s en­ter­ing the ter­ri­tory of the much more pow­er­ful Golf R – but does that rear-drive lay­out pro­vide dy­namic com­pen­sa­tion? It’ll have to, as the 1 Se­ries in­te­rior is be­gin­ning to show its age. It’s per­fectly func­tional and er­gonom­i­cally sound with a great driv­ing po­si­tion, but de­spite the up­date to iDrive 6, im­proved con­nec­tiv­ity and re­vised trims as part of the

MY17 facelift it lacks the show­room snazz­i­ness of its younger ri­vals.

Rear-seat ac­com­mo­da­tion is also not a 1 Se­ries strong point, at least for adults, with a short, un­sup­port­ive cush­ion, though its lug­gage space (360L seats up, 1200 litres seats folded; sim­i­lar to the Golf) is bet­ter than you might ex­pect given the pack­ag­ing de­mands of its rear-drive USP.

Un­for­tu­nately, the 125i doesn’t quite de­liver on its on-pa­per prom­ise. It flows along a road well and can be hus­tled quite quickly with­out com­plaint, but the front and rear ends don’t feel to­tally in tune with one an­other when turn­ing into a cor­ner, re­sult­ing in the driver of­ten need­ing a cou­ple of at­tempts to achieve the de­sired tra­jec­tory. The stan­dard M Sport sus­pen­sion, which is firmer and 10mm lower, also seems to hin­der as much as help.

The ride is un­set­tled and the car hops and skips over larger bumps at speed, feel­ing to lack travel, par­tic­u­larly at the rear. Its over­all bal­ance is good, edg­ing into gen­tle un­der­steer as the limit ap­proaches, but it feels to fight the road rather than work­ing with it. At $1500, we sus­pect the adap­tive dampers are a worth­while in­vest­ment.

Equally, its en­gine falls into the

‘good, not great’ cat­e­gory, which is a prob­lem when you’re charg­ing a premium price tag. There’s de­cent mid-range urge, eas­ily ac­ces­si­ble thanks to the ex­cel­lent eight-speed ZF auto, but be­yond 5000rpm power tails off dra­mat­i­cally and it never feels es­pe­cially quick.

This same en­gine in 185kW/350Nm tune, as found in the 230i coupe, feels both stronger and more ea­ger to rev to its 7000rpm red­line. This en­gine spec in a ‘130i’ at a $50K price point would be an in­ter­est­ing al­ter­na­tive to a Golf R, but as it is the enor­mous per­for­mance jump to the 250kW/500Nm M140i is well worth the (ad­mit­tedly sub­stan­tial) $10,000 premium.

As it stands the idea of a rear-drive warm-to-hot hatch is a wel­come one, but Ger­man ri­vals, par­tic­u­larly Volk­swa­gen’s re­cently up­dated Golf range, of­fer more en­thu­si­ast and own­er­ship ap­peal.

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