The BMW 1 Series was first introduced back in 2004 to replace the 3 Series Compact. A second generation appeared in 2011, and it was facelifted in 2015. The second generation car looks very similar to the first, but the many subtle changes combine to make the whole look of the car more pleasing to the eye. The 1 Series is BMW’s entry-level range, comprising three models with quite a large variation in performance, price and specification. The $48,500 118i base model has a 100kW 1.5 litre 3 cylinder turbo engine similar to the one used in the Mini Cooper and the i8 hybrid. Adding another $11.5k gets you the 125i with a 160kW 4 cylinder turbo, which is the one tested here. If you really want to splash out you can opt for the $81,500 135i with an inline six cylinder turbo engine making an impressive 240kW. Each trim level doesn’t only give you performance of course. There’s a lot more equipment packed into each model; better brakes, sports suspension, more toys.
Our test car was the 125i with several added options. Most notable was the $5000 M Sport pack, which adds quite a few options from the 135i, including the M aerodynamic package, M Sport suspension, tinted windows, fog lights, black exterior trims, fancier writing on the gauges, leather steering wheel and gear knob, black headliner, alcantara and mesh sport seats, and a host of little M badges everywhere. Our car also had the $1500 M Sport brake package (4 piston front and 2 piston rears), and $500 front and rear parking sensors bringing the tested car up to $66,900. Quite a lot for an entry model small hatchback. So what does this car offer over, another small hatchback, say, a Toyota Corolla?
At this point I have a confession to make. This is the first BMW I’ve ever driven. I’m not sure how I’ve managed to hold out this long, but there you go! As a result, I was really looking forward to trying this car and finding out what all the fuss was about.
Sitting in the driver’s seat of the 125i you immediately feel that you’re in a quality interior. The seats are excellent. soft enough to be comfortable but with supportive side bolsters which hug you in the corners. I didn’t realise just how comfortable they were until I got back into my own car. The fat-rimmed M Sport steering wheel is wrapped in nice, grippy leather. The silver accents on the dash and centre console (which are painted plastic in lesser cars) are made of metal, with a nice patterned finish. There’s a coherent feel to everything that other manufacturers don’t always manage. The fit and finish is excellent.
The steering wheel and seat adjust in all the directions you can imagine. It took me a bit of tinkering to get it right but soon I had the perfect seating position. The dials are clear and simple. A large analogue rev counter and speedo with analogue fuel gauge and l/100km gauges at the bottom. In the centre is a small colour digital display.
The BMW has keyless entry. Press the start button, select drive and release the (normal, manual) handbrake, and you’re good to go. Once driving there are a few things that you notice almost immediately. First is the ride. It’s pretty firm, probably too firm for some people’s taste. Not as firm as, say a Toyota 86, but you definitely feel the road. Next you notice the steering. Light and very direct, and when you accelerate out of a corner you can feel the rear wheels pushing you. Quite a different experience from a front wheel drive car.
The controls are interesting – they’re all soft-touch digital versions of the manual controls in most other cars and generally have a two stage action. The indicators, should you choose to use them (this is a BMW after all), take some getting used to. A light push gives three flashes, a harder push locks them on, but the stalk returns to the centre position and is automatically cancelled by the car. If you need to manually cancel it’s easy to end up indicating the other way by mistake. The wiper controls are similar and return to the centre after being activated. The 125i has automatic wipers and lights. The auto wipers never quite wiped the window when I wanted and I ended up getting a little irritated with them and doing it manually.
The gear shifter uses the same philosophy as the stalks on the steering column. Take the car out of park by holding a button on the side and click the shifter forward or back for reverse or drive. Put it back into park by just pressing the P button. These all take a bit of getting used to but start to become second-nature after a while.
The shifter can also be pushed to the left to engage manual shift mode then used to shift up and down the gears. There are also flappy paddles on the steering wheel which I actually found more intuitive to use.
The 125i has four driving modes: Eco Pro, Comfort, Sport and Sport+, each giving the car a noticeably different feel. Sport+ is added when the MSport pack is optioned. Eco Pro softens the throttle response and gives you an eco display on the dash to tell you how green you’re being. BMW claim it can save up to 20% on fuel. Comfort is the default setting. Sport sharpens the throttle and holds the gears longer on acceleration, and Sport+ tones down the electronic assistance and enables an electronic rear diff.
Onto the motorway and it was time to try out the cruise control. This was definitely one of the neatest cruise control implementations I’ve used. Turn on cruise and a red LED zips around the outside of the speedo until it stops at your current speed. Press the rubberised speed adjuster control with your thumb and it turns green to indicate the speed is set. push the adjuster gently to change speed up or down. Push it harder to change in 10kph increments. The set speed is also displayed numerically in the digital panel. Simple and effective. The cruise control worked beautifully. It even uses the brakes going downhill to maintain the set speed. There’s also a speed limit function that can be set to stop you accidentally having to contribute to the policeman’s ball.
I called at the supermarket on the way home to pick up a few things and I was pleased to see that the sides of the boot have handy hooks to hang your shopping bags from to stop them from rolling around. There’s also a useful little net-sided pocket on one side. The boot is a good-sized 360 litres and it easily swallowed a full shop the next day with room to spare.
The floor of the boot slopes down slightly towards the back, which seems a bit strange at first but is actually very useful. Rear seats are split folding 40/20/40 so you can carry longer items without having to go down to three usable seats.
You won’t find a spare wheel when you lift up the boot floor – the car comes with run flat tyres and a tyre pressure monitoring system. What you will find is the battery and fuse box, positioned this way to help BMW achieve their famous 50:50 weight distribution.
The media system in the BMW is great. It features the new iDrive system, which is easy to use and integrates all of the car’s technical features well. It uses a series of shortcut buttons with a large central knob. All three spec levels come with BMW’s Business Navigation System with a 6.5” screen. The navigation system is excellent, with clear directions, and very good manners. It’s the first satnav I’ve used which says “please take the next left”. This can be upgraded to an impressive 8.8” version which features a bird’s eye view and 3D maps where the buildings are even textured to look like their real-life counterparts. Very cool stuff but at $2450 (including an upgraded colour instrument cluster display) it’s not a cheap option.
The screen is used for the reversing camera, which combined with the optional front and rear parking radar makes it really easy to slot the 125i into any parking space.
The iDrive system also controls the phone integration, which works beautifully and even asked what features I wanted from my phone – calls, music, reading texts, etc. Usually it’s all or nothing. It can also be used to control the stereo – which has a CD player, USB port and Bluetooth integration. There’s even a mode where it can display power and torque gauges, which I found entertaining for a few minutes. The six speaker stereo sounds great – nice and clear with good bass.
The 1 Series has BMW’s ConnectedDrive system which is permanently online. It can do all manner of things such as finding local landmarks and traffic information, or calling the BMW Concierge Service to get a human to talk to and help you. If the car is involved in an accident and an airbag is triggered, it calls the emergency services and tells them your GPS location. This can be activated manually too using a ceiling mounted button under a flip-down cover. Don’t show this to your kids!
Much too soon, the time came when I had to take the BMW back. I decided to take the long way around and test out the handling on the back road via Makara. If you know this road you’ll know it’s as much a test of your nerve as it is of the car. It’s a very narrow, winding road, most of it with poor visibility, and usually oncoming utes. But it also has lots of sharp corners and a nice hill climb at the end. The first section was a leisurely cruise behind an SUV towing a horse box. With the BMW in Comfort mode it was quiet and civilised, and I had a little time to really appreciate how good the BMW steering feels, and enjoy the push from the back wheels when coming out of a corner.
The horse box turned off down a side road, so I flicked the switch to Sport+, pushed the gear shifter to the left for manual mode and drove with a little more enthusiasm. Pressing the accelerator gives a muted growl from the inline four cylinder. With the windows down you can hear a quiet whooshing noise from the twin-scroll turbo, and a muted “pssshh” when lifting off the throttle. There’s no sense of any turbo lag, and with the windows closed you wouldn’t even know it was a turbo, the acceleration is constant through the rev range. The eight speed sports auto transmission is excellent. It shifts in a fraction of a second and is fun to use in manual with the flappy paddles.
As mentioned above, our test car had the optional upgraded MSport brakes, which worked beautifully, giving the confidence to use the performance on the straights, knowing the car would slow quickly for the next blind corner!
The last part of my back-road trip was the hill climb over to Karori. By the second corner the grin on my face was bigger than ever. At the top of the hill I was tempted to go back and do it again. This car loves corners! The grip when accelerating out of corners is impressive, and the power is definitely enough to have a lot of fun. I imagine the 135i, with an extra 50% would be enough to get you into a lot of trouble!
After a leisurely cruise down the hills to Jeff Gray BMW I reluctantly handed over the keys.
So as I asked above, why should you buy this car over something cheaper? Badge snobbery aside, this really is a better quality product. Yes, you pay a fair bit more, but it’s easy to see where the extra money goes. The car is loaded with technology, both electronic and mechanical, the interior is a lovely place to be, and feels like it will last. This is a really good car, which I would be happy to drive every day.
What it’s up against
|Brand / Model||Engine||Power||Fuel L/100km||0-100km/h||Price Highest to Lowest|
|Mercedes A250||2.0l turbo 4 cylinder||155kW/350Nm||6.6||6.6s||$64,900|
|Audi S1||2.0l turbo 4 cylinder||170kW/370Nm||7.1||5.9s||$63,990|
|VW Golf GTI||2.0l turbo 4 cylinder||162kW/350Nm||6.4||6.5s||$61,490|
|BMW 125i MSport||2.0l turbo 4 cylinder||160kW/310Nm||6.5||6.2s||$59,900|
|MINI Countryman||1.6l turbo 4 cylinder||135kW/240Nm||8.3||8.1s||$58,500|
|Audi A3 Sportback||1.8l turbo 4 cylinder||132kW/250Nm||5.6||7.3s||$56,900|
|Alfa Romeo Guilietta||1.7l 4 clylinder turbo||177kW/340Nm||7.0||6.0s||$54,990|
The good and the bad
What do we think?
I had the 125i for a few days, and it dealt easily with everything threw at it. Well except when I tried to do a three point turn at a friend’s rural property by reversing up a slight slope onto some soft grass. That didn’t go so well but it wasn’t the BMW’s fault!
Other than that small incident everything else was great. The school run, the supermarket, several blasts along some winding back roads, torrential rain, and of course the morning commute. Despite the firm suspension on twisty roads my daughter never complained of carsickness like she does in my car. Visibility is good, handling excellent, performance more than adequate. This is a quality car in which you can have a lot of fun.
Rating – Chevron rating 4.5 out of 5
|Vehicle Type||Small hatchback|
|Tested Price||$66,900 NZD|
|Engine||2.0 litre, TwinPower Turbo 4-cylinder in-line petrol engine with TwinScroll turbocharger, High Precision Injection, Valvetronic variable valve control and Double-VANOS variable camshaft control|
|Transmission||8 speed sport Automatic|
|0 – 100 kph||6.2 seconds|
|Kerb Weight||1375 kg|
|Length x Width x Height||4329 x 1765 x 1421mm|
|Cargo Capacity||360 Litres|
|Fuel Tank||52 litres|
|ANCAP Safety Ratings||5 stars|