Looking for a small family hatchback with a good combination of performance and economy, together with a good driving experience? The BMW 125d could be the answer.
Green Car Guide’s mission is to seek out cars that are efficient and good to drive. The BMW 125d has an official combined fuel economy figure of 61.4mpg, together with 221bhp, and it’s rear-wheel drive, so on paper it ticks all of our boxes. But is it worth its £29,800 price tag?
Let’s be honest: the previous version of the BMW 1 Series had a really ugly front end. BMW has made relatively minor changes to the headlights yet the facelifted car has been transformed into one that you can now look at without feeling ill. You wonder why the issues with the styling of the front of the previous car weren’t picked up within BMW before it got signed off for production.
Anyway, the front now looks much happier, and the rear lights have been widened – again, improving the car’s aesthetics.
Inside the 1 Series, you could be in any of BMW’s models. This is a good thing for the 1 Series – perhaps not so much of a good thing for the 6 Series. The dashboard is familiar throughout the range, and it’s been a feature of BMWs for a few years now. It looks traditional, but we think that this is a good thing as it works really well. All the controls are well positioned and well weighted.
Some rivals now have interiors that are shinier (Mercedes) or with softer touch, higher quality materials (Audi), but we’re happy with an interior that just works well from an ergonomics point of view. This includes the infotainment system with its iDrive controller, which is still the best in the business, and switches such as for BMW’s Drive Select are just in the right place.
Although a slight improvement on the previous-generation model, the 1 Series doesn’t have a huge amount of space in the rear, and this is made worse by the car we had on test, as it only had three rather than five doors, so getting in and out of the rear seats is difficult.
Most people buy a BMW for the driving experience and the 125d doesn’t disappoint. As with most BMW models, the good news starts with the driving position, which is excellent, especially with the electric seat controls.
Then you have the M Sport steering wheel, which is a tactile delight. The 8-speed automatic transmission works well, and if desired, you can change manually with the steering-wheel mounted paddles.
The engine – which is a 4-cylinder, 2-litre turbodiesel unit – is powerful and smooth, and delivers impressive performance.
But the real unique selling point of this car is that it has rear-wheel drive, and it’s the only car in its segment that has this claim to fame. It’s well documented (but still extremely worrying) that many buyers of cars in this class don’t know if their car is front, rear, or four-wheel drive, and they don’t care, but the fact is that the 1 Series – with the rear wheels putting the power down and the front wheels being left to deliver torque-free steering – offers a better experience for driving enthusiasts in the handling department than most front-wheel drive rivals. Of course having the right road helps with enjoying the chassis; a 125d used purely in urban areas may be a bit of a waste.
In most driving, as well as feeling more sporty, the 125d also delivers a genuinely premium driving experience, with all controls well-weighted, and a feeling of solidity.
The driving modes of Eco Pro, Comfort, Sport and Sport+ provide the range of set-ups to suit most requirements. And the ride quality is very good, especially in Comfort mode.
The official combined economy figure for the 125d is 61.4mpg. Did we see that during our week with the car? No. After a week of mixed driving we averaged 47.0mpg. This is a fair way down compared to the 61.4mpg figure. However it’s respectable for a car that can also deliver impressive performance – which is the challenge for real-life fuel economy.
Our BMW 125d test car cost £29,800. This is fairly pricey for a three-door family hatchback. If you’re thinking of a 1 Series, then you can choose petrol or diesel engines, three or five-door body styles, manual or automatic, a range of different trims, and even xDrive all-wheel drive. There’s also the 2 Series – which is the two-door coupe version of the 1 Series.
The BMW 125d succeeds in delivering a good balance of performance and economy. It also offers an engaging driving experience, aided by its unique-in-segment rear-wheel drive handling. And thankfully, the facelifted 1 Series looks so much better than the previous version. So it’s all good. Or is it?
We’ve already established that most people buying a car in this segment don’t really care about its rear-wheel drive handling attributes – so it’s a bit of a niche choice. And the 125d is getting fairly pricey. To the extent that it’s starting to encroach on 3 Series territory. And that’s when the problems start. Because comparisons between the ‘performance diesel’ option of the 1 Series range (the 125d) and the performance diesel option of the 3 Series range (the 330d or 335d) start to show that while the 125d engine is good, in comparison to the smooth, powerful and torquey 6-cylnder 330d unit, it’s just not in the same league.
Perhaps it’s something that shouldn’t be uttered from the pages of Green Car Guide, but we love the BMW M135i (and the M235i). They’re both small, powerful, agile and responsive cars, and great fun to drive. The 125d may offer a better balance of performance and economy than the M135i, but it doesn’t offer the same level of rewarding driving experience. And then there’s the petrol v diesel debate; at least the M135i doesn’t emit all the particulates and other nasties associated with diesel engines.
So with its rear-wheel drive chassis, the 125d is unique, and in fact it’s a dying breed, as the next 1 Series will be front-wheel drive. It seems that there is key competition from within its own ranks, as its price is getting close to 3 Series territory, but if you do want a performance 1 Series, then why not go the whole hog and consider the excellent (but less economical) M135i?
Despite all this, we like the BMW 125d, and for delivering an engaging driving experience together with the potential of good economy, it’s awarded a Green Car Guide rating of 9 out of 10.