I was dropping back one of the world's most desirable sports sedans and was thinking to myself that driving and writing about cars doesn't get much better.
The car I was so smitten with was BMW's 335i, the sport version in the new 3-Series line-up. When I dropped it off I picked up a 1-Series, 125i, a car from BMW's performance arm M-Sport.
I went from a high-performing sedan and into a high-performing hatchback, both impressed with their speed, handling prowess and economy.
The 1-Series doesn't measure up to the '3' in terms of size but it's not outclassed, it is a compact car and lends itself to sporty treatment. Regular readers will recall my 118d evaluation in these columns early this year, while the diesel stood out for its honesty and strong mid-range surge, the 125i, is performance personified, it is a fast car both in a straight line and in the corners, and when speed needs to be chiselled off, it has huge brakes which are up to any challenge.
Under the bonnet is a turbocharged 2-litre, petrol-fuelled, four-cylinder engine. BMW rate the twin-cammer at 160kW and 310Nm. These are healthy outputs for a performance car, and in the traditional BMW-style, power is directed through an eight-speed automatic transmission to the rear wheels.
It is the driveline which makes the 125i so special, it handles with precision, and while the chassis is more than capable of taking more power, it doesn't need it. The M-Sport car has a beautiful balance between power and handling and it feels special through the steering and suspension.
Yes, it is a little firm underneath, the spring and damper rates are set so that body movement is limited, that is great on high-country corners but the ride is a little unsettled on Christchurch's broken roads. However, that's a small price to pay for such a fine performance vehicle.
I took the test car on my favourite inland road through to the Lake Coleridge power station. It's a road I reserve only for well-performing sports vehicles and the 125i was in its element on the wide variety of corners. It blasts between them with a surge and feel that is a joy to be in control of. It is swift through the entire rev band and its nimble, agile nature in a corner is simply magical.
Even though the 125i bristles with traction and stability control aids, the car doesn't rely on them, the way the power flows to the rear wheels and the way the front end points and turns into a corner is so directional that any wayward cornering behaviour can be discounted.
The suspension is very sophisticated but put simply all wheels are independently sprung with an emphasis on tyre to ground contact. The big Continental Contisport tyres (225/40 and 245/35 x 18in) have huge grip and are a quality tyre in terms of low noise levels.
They also promote huge steering wheel feedback, the thick steering wheel rim and all the elements combine to give the driver confidence within the vehicle and a handling feel that only rear-wheel-drive can deliver.
For the record the 125i M-Sport will accelerate to 100km/h in 6.2sec and will lunge through a highway overtake (80km/h to 120km/h) in 4.9sec.
On the subject of figures BMW also claim a 6.6-litre per 100km/h (43mpg) combined cycle fuel usage figure. How BMW can make the 125i so efficient yet deliver so much performance potential amazes me, but the reality is that those figures must be close to what you can realistically expect. My time with the test car constantly hovered around 8l/100km (35mpg) with a 6.1l/100km (46mpg) fuel usage figure available instantaneously at 100km/h, the engine speed sits at just 1750rpm in the tallest gear.
And that is the beauty of an eight speed transmission, there's an almost seamless flow of ratio changes starting from low to tall gearing for efficiency on that long highway run. In between, there are close gaps so that the engine never goes off boost when performance speeds are requested.
Changes can be manipulated by a sequential shift system either at the main gearshift lever itself or through steering wheel-mounted paddles, the 125i was one of the few cars where I took control over the gearshift process, it is one of those cars that responds to intense driver involvement.
Yet is can also be managed to work in an efficient manner, as it comes with BMW's eco drive modes and regeneration charging. It is a car that will satisfy the performance driver and those who want to be seen to care a little for the environment as well as cost-effective returns at the fill-up pumps.
And from $64,700 it isn't out of reach for the hot hatch buyer and comes with a high specification package. The test car was fully loaded and sat with a price of $76,300. For that money it misses out on little, major items including sat nav, heated cloth and suede seats (also electrically adjustable up front), and a complete range of safety items.
The 1-Series car in M-Sport form could well be described as the archetypal hot hatch, it will appeal to those who like involvement in their sports car choice, yet want a practical vehicle for everyday driving. I had four adults in the test car and each was cosy yet comfortable.
It would be a bit of a squeeze for five, but for my money it's the kind of car that is a bit selfish, it is a pure driver's car and responds best when presented with corners interspersed with straights.