BMW’s entry-level steed, the 1 Series, was effectively out of any contention for the hot hatch crown, until the 130i (equipped with the company’s famed normally aspirated in-line six) made its debut in 2006. The sportscar price, iffy cabin plastics and compromised rear room counted against the 130i, but perhaps the new 125i can right some of those wrongs…
That’s right, I said 125i and not M135i. While I’ll certainly jump at the opportunity to punt performance range-toppers, we’re giving the baby brother a chance to make the buying public take notice…
The performance-oriented look
And take notice you will. Parked amongst run-of-the-mill saloons and pick-ups outside the CAR office, a few testers mistook the 125i (equipped with an M Sport Line package) for the aforementioned halo model. The prominent kidney grille and large front airdam, flanked on either side by adaptive-xenon headlamps and wide recesses respectively contribute to significant overtaking presence; as much as the Estoril Blue metallic paint and optional 18-inch split-spoke alloys make it stand out in a crowd. The sporty appeal continues at the rear end with dual exhaust tailpipes and a diffuser style lower section of the bumper.
The interior proved as cosseting and driver focused as I expected from a vehicle endowed with M division badge. The optional heated sports seats with memory function and a wide range of adjustment, envelopes small frames and keeps larger ones snug. Breaking up the sombre black leather and anthracite-coloured roof lining are the aluminium trim and a satin-finish blue line that runs through the middle of the facia from door to door. The driver gets to hold on to a thick-rimmed M-badged multifunction steering wheel as well.
On the road
What enthusiasts will miss right away is the silky smooth exhaust note of the Munich marque’s straight six, because the “high-precision injection“ turbocharged four-cylinder that does service in the 125i is immediately quite uninspiring. Pulling out into the lunch-time rush, I fiddled with the Driving experience control system and switched from the start-up Comfort mode to ECO Pro, which along with the stop/start system optimises fuel consumption. The eight-speed automatic transmission helped keep things smooth while I negotiated my way out of the mid-day madness. Instantaneous fuel consumption readouts kept me mindful of the car’s potential to sip fuel as it bounces between 5,0 and 6,0 litres/100 km.
Once out of city bounds and on the way to CAR’s test strip, I switched up two modes into Sport, which effectively turned up the wick on the suspension, steering and drivetrain. Everything stiffened and the throttle response sharpened; even the eight-speed box shifting between its ratios was more pronounced and quicker. If I had not checked the spec-sheet before I left the office, I would easily have mistook the system for a dual-clutch effort.
Warmed up for the test strip, the 125i got an extra passenger and some test-equipment before the automatic air-con was switched off. After our third attempt, my co-tester and I manage to get the 125i from rest to 100 km/h in 6,70 seconds, a little off the 6,2 claimed by BMW but not bad considering the weight of two average males and a full tank of fuel on board. Overtaking acceleration was similarly impressive, as the 125i surged from 100-140 km/h in roughly six seconds. A kilometre sprint yielded a 27,02 second run.
Cruising back after a hard day’s work, I also noticed just how well the suspension set-up does to iron out the numerous pockmarks and imperfections that adorn the tarmac close to our office. Not too shabby considering the 225/40 R18 Bridgestone Potenza rubber fitted, and that I didn’t require corrective surgery to my spine.
The rest is quite good too
Equipped to the hilt (a perusal of our options list indicated that this particular 125i had more than R200 000 worth of extra bits) with niceties such as a Harman/Kardon sound system, tilt and slide sun-roof, satellite navigation, front and rear park assist, and adaptive cruise control, the BMW proved quite a pleasant place to be. If the journey requires more space from the ample 248 dm3 of bootspace on offer, the rear seats also fold down to free up to 920 dm3. Most rear passengers should be comfortable too, with a decent amount of kneeroom and headroom available.
Anything less than a great journey would be inexcusable for this amount of money, but fortunately the 125i with M Sport Line package (and a few other options ticked off) managed to put on a good showing. The 125i provides ample punch for its weight category, and together with its favourable ride comfort, oversteer-tinged dynamic ability when pressing on, and overall feel, should make those seeking hatchback thrills other than the norm take notice. If this doesn’t quite meet your expectations, then best you opt for the M135i…
Model: 125i M Sport Line
Engine: 2,0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder
Power: 160 kW at 5 000 r/min
Torque: 310 N.m at 1 350 r/min
0-100 km/h: 6,2 seconds (claimed)
Fuel consumption: 6,4 L/100 km
CO2: 149 g/km
Top speed: 243 km/h
Price: R385 600
Maintenance plan: 5 year/100 000 km
0-100 km/h: 6,70 seconds
100-120 km/h: 2,64 seconds
100-0 km/h: 2,90 seconds
CAR fuel index: 7,68 L/100 km
CAR fuel run: 7,0 L/100 km