The overall competency of the car market means that there are few reasons to really get stuck into criticising a car, whether for a laugh or for good reason. The second-generation BMW 1 Series created an open goal for car lovers – it was almost unfeasibly ugly.

Which is a great shame, because underneath that terrible snout was a fine car. The recent mid-life update for the BMW F20 1 Series has ironed out the worst of it while also bringing a bit of a light going-over on the dynamics, pricing and model range.

The 125i M Sport sits atop of the three model four-cylinder petrol range, with the six-cylinder M135i the next step up in price.

Kicking off at $48,900 (several thousand cheaper than the first-gen), the 125i comes standard with 18-inch double-spoke alloys, fake leather interior, selectable driving modes, paddle shifts, cruise control, parking sensors front and rear, reversing camera, driving assistant, sat-nav, M sport bits and pieces including M steering wheel, auto LED headlights, dual-zone climate control, six speaker stereo with USB and Bluetooth, keyless entry and start, auto wipers, launch control, sports front seats, sports suspension and tyre pressure sensors.

Our car also had the Innovations Package ($2790) which adds up-spec sat-nav, auto park, active cruise and DAB+ radio; the Comfort Package ($2100) added electric adjustment and heating for the front seats, proximity central locking and exterior lighting; sunroof ($2000), Adaptive M suspension ($1092); metallic paint ($1142); full real leather ($1690) and Harmon Kardon speakers ($1192); Connected Drive Concierge which has real time traffic and telematics ($330) and a SIM card slot for data ($154) for a loaded-up price of $61390.

Or about $1500 less than the sublime M135i which already has a fair bit of this stuff as well as a volcanically powerful 3.0-litre turbo straight six.


Not only does BMW 125i now benefit from a more attractive frontal treatment (designed by Australian Calvin Luk who recently nailed the second-gen X1), the weird blobby taillights of old have been given the traditional BMW hockey stick treatment so they don’t look like they were glued on after as it left the factory floor.

It’s still the same basic shape, with slightly awkward proportions, but in the lowered M Sport version with big wheels, those proportions improve. The long nose is a dead giveaway – it’s rear-wheel drive and that’s the way BMW likes it.

The M Sport pack also confers a subtle body kit, bright blue M calipers for the brakes, chromed exhaust tips, lovely double-spoke alloys and the delightfully chunky M steering wheel.

Rear space is tight for leg and headroom if you’re approaching six feet and the middle passenger straddles the transmission tunnel, causing a ruckus for foot room enthusiasts. The 360-litre boot will carry a hefty suitcase and a soft bag or three squished around it.


As you might expect for this price, there’s a lot of safety gear – six airbags, ABS, brake assist, forward collision mitigation and warning, traction and stability controls, driver attention detection and lane departure warning are all standard.

The 1 Series maintains a five star ANCAP rating.

BMW’s iDrive is far and away the best system controller in any car today. The big rotary dial on the console falls easily to hand and controls the stereo, sat-nav and various functions with intuitive ease.
The upgraded sat-nav is highly detailed and easy to use, the upgraded Harmon Kardon 12-speaker stereo is excellent and the huge 8.8-inch screen makes sense of your surroundings when you’re relying on the unusually useful real-time traffic information to help you dodge the snarls.

Behind the 125i’s better-looking schnozz is a 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo-petrol good for 160 kW and 310 Nm, coupled to ZF’s always-brilliant eight-speed automatic transmission.

With 1375 kg to haul, the five-door hits 100km/h in 6.2 seconds and officially uses 6.5L/100km on the combined cycle with the aid of stop-start and regenerative braking. We didn’t come anywhere near that figure, seeing 11.1L/100km in an admittedly spirited week of driving.

The ‘1 – for now at least – is out on its own in this class, with a sweet rear-drive chassis where its competitors are front or all-wheel drive. Car types bang on about rear-wheel drive like it’s the greatest thing that ever happened, mostly because it is when done right.

The steering is left to do what it does best because there’s no interference from an engine driving the front wheels at the same time as they are steering. The 125i the dynamically geared steering is brilliant – it’s seamless in the way it changes the ratio to be just right for what you’re doing.

And with the rear wheels doing the driving, pushing along a car of modest if not light weight, it feels more alive and connected with the road surface.

Flick the switch to Sport or Sport + and you have a bit of an animal, with great throttle response, hugely flexible engine and a faultless transmission in auto or manual mode.

BMW 125i really is a cracker, especially now the M Sport pack is standard. Out of the long list of options on this particular machine, the adaptive damping ($1092) is the one we’d tick without a second’s hesitation. Even in Comfort mode there’s plenty of potential in the chassis while you can save your vertebrae for Sport or Sport + when the mood really takes you.

On that front, while we didn’t get anywhere near 6.5L/100km, EcoPro mode will get you closer than we did without ruining the drive when you’re pootling about.

The BMW 125i can deliver some pretty decent thrills and with a lot more involvement than even the brilliant (and slightly cheaper) Golf GTI or the similarly-priced Audi S3 can manage. The Mercedes A250 4MATIC can’t even get close on the fun front.

While still no looker, the 125i is now anonymous rather than plain ugly but it’s the efforts of Munich’s finest engineers that have made this hottish-hatch even better.

LIKES: Hugely improved looks, great driving experience, overall value
DISLIKES: Options can rack up quickly, rear space tight, may be the last rear-drive 1 from BMW…

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