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