Revised diesel 1 Series packs a solid punch but lacks the compelling nature required to merit its premium

What is it?

Quite expensive, that's what. This diesel version of the facelifted BMW 1 Series costs almost as much as the flagship M135i. Your £29,800 doesn’t bag you a melodious straight six, either; instead this 125d M Sport packs a 2.0-litre four-cylinder diesel. 

Cylinder count isn’t always everything, however, and this engine is one of BMW’s latest. Its head and block are of weight-reducing aluminium and its specification sheet would satisfy any high-performance engine builder in the land. Forged con rods, a forged steel crank, lightweight pistons and multi-stage turbocharging are among the highlights. The net result is a hefty 221bhp and 332lb ft, sufficient to propel the 125d from 0-62mph in 6.3 seconds. 

You can only get this range-topping diesel with the Sport version of the well-proven eight-speed ZF automatic gearbox, which has been upgraded further. It now looks at the car’s navigation data, even when there’s no planned route, to help select the appropriate gear for the road ahead.

In addition to the new engine and the revisions to the gearbox, there have been some cosmetic updates. Externally, the 1 Series gets restyled bumpers and much sleeker rear light clusters. Inside, you’ll find some new chrome and gloss-black trims, which lift the cabin ambience slightly. Standard kit is adequate and includes single-zone climate control, a DAB radio and the iDrive system with 6.5in screen. As of September, sat-nav will also be standard across the BMW range.

It’s annoying to see that cruise control still remains a cost option, however. When a £20,000 diesel Volkswagen Golf gets adaptive cruise as standard, it’s a bit of a snub to find you’ll have to pay £550 for an upgrade pack to get conventional cruise control in your £30,000 BMW.

What's it like?

Very competent and unquestionably swift, but not especially engaging. This isn't an M135i with a sensible hat on, as you might have hopedThere are obvious similarities, such as the cabin architecture and slick steering, but it lacks its big brother's verve.

In part, this is due to the engine's unexciting sound. You may bemoan the absence of artificially created engine noise but this is one instance where it would be of benefit, since beyond a rising tachometer needle there’s very little to indicate much is going on. That growling, whistling, dump valve-huffing straight six adds masses of character to the M135i, and just a fraction of that is sorely needed in the 125d M Sport. It’s a shame because it can cause you to overlook the otherwise superb four-cylinder engine which is delightfully linear in its delivery, free from lag and eager to reach its redline.

Similarly impressive are the updates to the ZF gearbox. No longer will it simply base its shifts on speed and throttle input; it will now additionally use the car's sat-nav to look at the road ahead and select and hold a suitable ratio until you've dispensed with the oncoming corner. It works well, leaving the car feeling more poised and predictable than it would have done previously. In Sport mode its shifts are remarkably quick, almost to the extent that the transmission does a convincing impression of many a mainstream dual-clutch unit.

It's also quietly gratifying to drive a diesel hatch whose front wheels are freed from transmitting the engine's power to the road. The BMW's steering is consequently uncorrupted, as well as quick to act and precise. However, while the BMW turns in with vigour and, initially, feels like a keen handler, push harder and its lustre dulls a little. For example, catch a mid-corner bump at speed with the rear wheels and you’ll feel a pronounced hop. This slightly unsettling motion cools your enthusiasm a little, and gently persuades you to take a more restrained approach. So driven, it rides and cruises in a very cosseting, relaxed fashion, which is ideal for longer trips.

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Inside, it's standard 1 Series fare: smartly presented, comfortable and quiet. It’s not the best packaged hatchback but there’s seating for four adults, a decent boot and a 52-litre tank that provides a range of some 660 miles – assuming you get anywhere near the official 61.4mpg. It would have been good if BMW had knocked 1g/km of CO2 from the 125d’s emissions figure, though, as it would grant it a VED cost of just £30. Unfortunately, since it’s 121g/km, it's £110. Considering what the car offers on the performance and economy front, it’s by no means a deal breaker.

Should I buy one?

No. If you're looking for a frugal hatchback with some dynamism, go for a Ford Focus ST diesel or a Volkswagen Golf GTD. They may not be as powerful but they're more rewarding to drive and less expensive.

If it's the badge and rear-drive nature of the 1 Series that appeals to you, then buy a 120d M Sport. You’ll save yourself over £3000, gain a few extra miles to the gallon and cut £80 off your annual VED costs. The 120d is also five insurance groups lower, which will knock a hefty chunk off your premium. 

More importantly, you’ll enjoy driving the 120d as much as you would the 125d. It’s only 0.7sec slower in the 0-62mph sprint and develops almost 300lb ft, so it isn’t a huge step down on the performance front.

2015 BMW 1 Series 125d M Sport 3dr

Location Wiltshire; On sale Now; Price £29,800; Engine 4 cyls, 1995cc, turbocharged, diesel; Power 221bhp at 4400rpm; Torque 332lb ft at 1500-3000rpm; Gearbox 8-spd automatic; Kerb weight 1500kg; Top speed 149mph; 0-62mph 6.3sec; Economy 61.4mpg (combined); CO2/tax band 121g/km, 22%

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spqr 5 May 2015

Audi parts bin special

xxxx the point is that ALL Audi cars are parts bin specials. As I said same engines and as I pointed out they are all based on the same platform etc. think you should read things properly before being a silly billy. Then again if you believe VAG marketing hype about Audi then perhaps written comprehension is a mite difficult.
spqr 3 May 2015

Not knowledgeable?

Trouble is with the pro-diesel arguments is that they lost in the highest court in the land. So whether you want to stupidly attack a fellow commentator for pointing it out not is irrelevant. The court has ruled and the government of whatever makeup it will be Lab/SNP, Tory/Lib Dem or whatever has to comply. Also Islington council already charges extra for resident parking permits for diesels and fines diesel owners for "unnecessary" running of Diesel engines outside schools etc. The diesel argument has been lost. The taxation/demonisation is starting. For high mileage drivers there may be some justification but once the London ULEZ comes into force driving to say Uxbridge (just inside the ULEZ) from Birmingham will probably add enough ULEZ charges to cancel out any supposed fuel savings from using a diesel. The knock on effect of addition charges to diesel used values and desirability cannot be quantified but given what happened to petrol cars during the diesel boom we can surmise it will not be positive.
typos1 3 May 2015

Youre not very knowledgeable

Youre not very knowledgeable are you ? Diesel IS the way to go, its better for the environment because it puts out less CO2 and fitting a simple NOx trap removes any problems with nitrogen dioxide emissions. NOx traps should have been made mandatory years ago, like they are in California, where they have the strictest emissions regs in the world and diesel sales are INCREASING. The problems with diesel NOx emissions are the EU's fault for not insisting on stricter emissions regs for diesels, they are not the fault of the diesel engine despite the rubbish you may have heard in the press.