Driven: BMW 125i M Sport

To understand the existence of the BMW 125i M Sport - and to have a chance to embrace it - you need to accept the fact that naturally aspirated six-cylinder BMWs are near-as-dammit dead, especially in smaller BMWs. There's simply too much pressure from both the marketplace and legislators to bring down emissions and fuel consumption for the less tangible pleasures of a nice noise and a linear power delivery to survive.

So while you might (rightly) mourn the absence of a six-cylinder non-turbo engine from the 1 Series line-up, the presence of the 2.0-litre twin-scroll turbo four-cylinder in the nose of the 125i is most certainly not without merit. Its 228lb ft of torque is available all the way between 1,350 and 4,800rpm, giving the 1 Series the sort of low-to-mid-range brawn the old 130i, while the power delivery does manage to retain a fair amount of the revvy, zingy nature that made the old straight-sixes so alluring.

OK, we will admit that the sound isn't quite up there with an inline six, and there is a light tap-tap rattle at idle that is vaguely irritating (but given that a Golf GTI has more than a whiff of diesel about the noise it makes at idle, we'll forgive the 1 Series that one), but overall it's actually a pleasant-sounding car.

And, however much we wish it weren't so, cars in this market - performance-oriented but still everyday cars for people with limited resources - do need to provide ever-more in the way of fuel economy. So, with regret we're inclined to take the claimed 42.8mpg (about 35mpg in our time with it) over an extra couple of cylinders and a nicer noise.

We've already tried the bigger brother of this engine in the BMW Z4 and we know that it makes what is otherwise a distinctly average car palpably better. In the 1 Series, it makes what is an already thoroughly decent car into a borderline cracking one.

Throwing aside the question of looks (these things are of course subjective, but it is hard to love the styling of a 125i, even with the beefy M Sport addenda), the latest 1 series is a pretty good bet. The Interior is now up there with what you expect of a mini BMW, being well laid-out and reasonably well put together, while the packaging is also much better than it used to be, with a decent boot and space for four actual adult-sized people.

With the 125i M Sport you also get a chunky bumper, spoiler and side skirt combo, along with twin tailpipes and, inside, flashes of aluminium-esque trim and leather sports seats. In addition there are 18-inch wheels and beefier brakes, with natty M Sport calipers.

Previous 1ers have generally not been blessed with the most eager handling though and, although the latest generation is definitely more involving than its predecessors, the light steering has an occasionally tinge of vagueness to it the does the car no favours, especially on turn-in. Having said that, the car's RWD layout makes it naturally light on its feet, giving you the pleasing sense that the car pivots around the driver. The damping, so often a BMW bugbear on bumpy British roads is also far better than we feared - though we'd suggest you keep the adaptive suspension settings away from the sportiest of its four modes.

The 1 Series still isn't all that exciting dynamically, then, but that's in comparison with other BMWs; against its front- and four-wheel-drive rivals the advantages in agility of the rear wheels doing the driving and the fronts doing the steering are palpable.

In short, the 125i has a mini sports saloon feel to it that more conventional C segment hot hatch rivals could not hope to emulate, and the punchy, efficient engine combined with a well-weighted (if a teensy bit notchy) six-speed manual serve to highlight that.

BMW has played a canny game in its market positioning of the 125i, too. It might not have the terrier-like flingability of the most hardcore hot hatches such as the Renaultsport Megane, but it presents a more mature, subtle alternative to the fast hatch norm.

With the basic list price a small but significant notch below the Golf GTI (perhaps its closest conceptual rival; an everyday performance car with a mature, sensible edge) the 125i represents a genuine, unique and good-value alternative to a mainstream hot hatch.

And if you really need six-cylinder power from your 1 Series you can always wait (and save up for) the forthcoming M135i. Then again you could pop along to the PH classifieds and have a butcher's at previously loved 130is...

: 1,997cc 4-cylinder, turbo
Power (hp): 218hp @ 5,000rpm
Torque (lb ft): 228 @ 1,350-4,800rpm
0-62mph: 6.5 sec 
Top speed: 151mph
Weight: 1,440kg
MPG: 42.8 (NEDC combined)
CO2: 154g/km
Price: £26,070

P.H. O'meter

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Comments (91) Join the discussion on the forum

  • pSyCoSiS 04 Jul 2012

    Can't believe that these do 0-60 in almost the same time as the old E34 M5 3.6!

  • illmonkey 04 Jul 2012

    Did I spy this in Brighton last weekend?

  • kambites 04 Jul 2012

    Good to hear that they've sorted out the poor packaging of the old car. Otherwise it all sounds a bit... "dull but worthy".

    Quite a low specific output for a turbocharged engine; I suspect the "remapping" crowd will have fun with it. smile

    Edited by kambites on Wednesday 4th July 11:08

  • SSBB 04 Jul 2012

    pSyCoSiS said:
    Can't believe that these do 0-60 in almost the same time as the old E34 M5 3.6!
    I can believe it. The E34 is ancient.

  • Devil2575 04 Jul 2012

    Looks like a genuine alternative to the Golf GTI, especially now they've sorted the interior space issue.

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