Long-term 125i: Hot hatch with class

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IOL mot pic jan24 BMW 125i front

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BMW 125i is powered by a two-litre turbopetrol four that offers excellent performance coupled to useful economy.

LONG-TERM TEST: BMW 125i a/t

With BMW about to world-launch the all-new 2 Series - essentially the coupé version of the 1 Series, based on the same underpinnings - we thought it not a bad idea to revisit the merits of the current, second-generation 1 Series hatch.

Sure, it’s far from a newcomer on SA’s motoring landscape, having being launched locally more than two years ago, but at the end of last year we parked it in our garage for a long-term test, and have since racked up a fair number of holiday miles and smiles to report back on.

Regular readers will know that in terms of shoes to fill, it doesn’t get much bigger than this. Our chirpy little blue 125i stands in the same bay as was used to cage its dark-hearted predecessor, our black M3, which with its Akrapovic exhaust system was rather fond of scaring pigeon, car guard, and car alarm alike.

But we have to move with the times.

With the latest-generation M3 just months away from introduction the 125i is a nice change of both pace and grace for Team Motoring.

IOL mot pic jan24 BMW 125i rear

Styling is conservative by hot-hatch standards.

In terms of pace the 125i is actually not as sedate as you might think. The badge is a reminder, though, of how much things have changed - back in the day the ‘two-five’ nomenclature in small BMW’s such as the 325i signified range-topping rear-wheel drive revelry.

Today it’s more the 35 badge, as in 135i and 335i, that enjoys that kind of status.

Having said that, I’m quite certain that this 125i would have no problem cremating the 325i of old, and possibly even the harder-core 325iS from the early nineties. Its turbocharged two-litre (yes, badge numbers mean little these days in terms of engine size) pushes a respectable 160kW and 310Nm.

As a five-door with a base price of R376 500, this BMW lines up against similarly-priced hot hatches such as VW’s Golf GTI, Ford’s Focus ST and Renault’s Megane RS, and is way cheaper than Opel’s Astra OPC. It’s also the only rear-wheel driven hot hatch of the batch and other than the GTI is the only competitor to offer a two-pedalled option.

OWN THE PLAYING FIELD

Our test time at altitude of 6.3 seconds for the 0-100km/h sprint was, to be honest, astonishing (BMW claims 6.2). The 125i feels quick, don’t get me wrong, but that time puts it ahead of everything it competes against. Our VBox records peg the GTI at 6.6 seconds, the OPC at 6.8 seconds, the Megane RS at 6.9 seconds, and the Focus ST at 7.4 seconds. Not to mention that we’ve heard rumours of a stronger 125i in the works, which we’re guessing will carry some sort of M badging and will be aimed at simply owning this playing field.

IOL mot pic jan24 BMW 125i boot

Boot swallows plenty of luggage.

Coupled to its very decent pace is a fair amount of grace too. Having driven all of the mentioned rivals I think it’s safe to say the BMW offers the plushest ride, and feels the most grown-up of the lot. The partnership between the eight-speed auto and the two-litre turbo is what the Kardashians can only dream about - a marriage made in heaven.

INSTANT RESPONSE

The engine always feels perky and instantly responds to throttle inputs, thanks largely to the intuitive gearbox software always finding the right gear. Unlike in more-powerful Beemers where the angrier Sport and Sport+ driver modes become the preferred choice, the Comfort mode in our long-termer offers more-than-acceptable initiative in performance terms, making the harder modes overkill.

Should you be OK with the cotton-wool feel, the Eco-Pro mode is probably the most responsible choice. Besides the idle stop functionality which operates in most of the modes, this polar-bear-saving setting will recover as much energy as it can under deceleration and braking and,more noticeably, will allow coasting whenever possible. It’s quite interesting, to say the least, to see your speedometer showing 120km/h and your rev counter idling at a few hundred revs.

There are a few catches to this greener mode, though.

Firstly, it won’t allow coasting with the cruise control activated. Secondly, you lose the little arrow display and distance countdown in the instrument cluster when using the satnav, in favour of the Eco-Pro mileage-saver indicator. You get the satnav arrows back when turns get very close, though. And lastly, it’s savage in its approach to performance, neutering the throttle and cutting through as many gears as possible - making for a truly dull driving experience.

A holiday trip to the coast with four adults and luggage was a true test for the little One. Rear legroom is definitely a problem, but I was surprised at how much luggage – with the parcel shelf removed – that hatch swallows. As the picture above shows, we squeezed everything in there. You’d also think that four adults with luggage in-tow would hamper that force-fed four somewhat. I’d be lying if I told you I felt any performance sacrifices - it felt as nippy and normal as ever. The 8.9 litres per 100km average was acceptable too.

VERDICT

Aside from the satnav losing its bearings every now and then, there’s very little to criticise in our latest long-termer. Sure, it may not be your first choice in terms of a hot hatch, and younger buyers will probably prefer the street-cred of the likes of GTI and Focus ST.

But somehow I get the impression that the 125i is not really appealing to that market. It comes across as the more mature and confident choice, even though it outguns the more in-your-face hot hatches. - Star Motoring

FACTS: BMW 125i a/t

Engine: Four-cylinder, two-litre turbopetrol

Power: 160kW @ 5000rpm

Torque: 310 @ 1350 - 4500rpm

0-100km/h (Gauteng): 6.3 seconds

Top speed (claimed): 245km/h

Consumption (Gauteng): 8.9 litres per 100km

Price: R376 500

Warranty: Two years, unlimited distance

Service plan: Five years or 100 000km

ALTERNATIVES

Ford Focus ST (184kW/360Nm) – R328 500

Opel Astra OPC (206kW/400Nm) – R457 500

Renault Megane RS (195kW/360Nm) – R359 900

VW Golf GTI (162kW/350Nm) – R383 100

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