It’s safe to say BMW attracted a fair bit of criticism from ‘purists’ when the firm decided to abandon its favoured rear-wheel-drive layout on the latest 1 Series, switching to front-wheel-drive for the regular car and four-wheel-drive on the M135i hot hatch version. That said, anyone that got behind the wheel quickly realised there was little to worry about, with this BMW proving one of the most involving cars in this class.
And now BMW is taking a new step by introducing its first true front-wheel-drive hot hatch – the 128ti. Slotting in beneath the M135i, it aims to be a purer and more affordable hot hatch to go against the likes of the Volkswagen Golf GTI and Hyundai i30 N. It also revives the lesser-seen ‘ti’ badge – standing for ‘Turismo Internazionale’ – that hasn't been used by BMW for more than 20 years.
But is this just a bit of clever badging, or is it the hot 1 Series to go for? Let’s get behind the wheel.
It’s a good starting block for the 128ti, given it shares the same turbocharged 2.0-litre engine as the M135i, though it’s slightly down on power – dropping from 302bhp to 261bhp. However, by switching to front-wheel-drive, it’s also shaved 80kg off the weight. Unlike rivals, though, there is no manual transmission to go with - all 128ti models will feature an eight-speed automatic transmission.
Despite being down on power, it’s certainly not lacking in pace, with 0-60mph taking just 5.9 seconds, while also being capable of a 155mph top speed. Yet, it’s more efficient than you might expect, with BMW claiming it will return around 40mpg, with CO2 emissions ranging between 157 and 170g/km.
Ride and handling
From the get-go you can tell the 128ti is a car designed for the driver, with a perfect seating position, while it sits 10mm lower than the M135i, meaning you remain and squat and low on the road.
It’s certainly not lacking in performance, and it’s a truly exciting package, feeling more involved and livelier than its sibling. The steering has a good amount of weight to it, and though the ride is firm, it deals well with rougher stretches of roads yet is also able to settle down on the motorway to become an impressive cruiser.
Interior and equipment
The 128ti is heavily based on the regular M Sport car, and it means it gets the right balance of a sporty feel and look and superb quality. The sports seats are impressively comfortable and certainly keep you held well in place when you push on, while the ergonomics are up to typical top-notch BMW standards. Just to remind you you’re not in a regular 1 Series, though, you get a large ‘ti’ logo embroidered on the centre armrest, while red accents appear throughout, such as on the seats, steering wheel and dashboard.
But it doesn’t forget about everyday usability, with this model having a decent amount of space, thanks to a 380-litre boot which rises to 1,200 litres if you drop the rear seats. It certainly makes it an ideal daily driver.
Given all 1 Series models get a generous amount of kit, and that the 128ti sits close to the top of the range, there’s no shortage of kit here. Based on the M Sport, it gets heated sports seats, LED headlights and a large digital dial and main touchscreen display. The ti also brings more striking 18-inch alloy wheels, performance brakes, a limited-slip differential and a host of red accents, though these can be paired back if they’re not to your taste.
You’re unlikely to buy a BMW for its value, but the 128ti actually feels like a very credible option in this respect.
Prices start from £33,870, which is actually less than a Volkswagen Golf GTI with an automatic gearbox, and you get a far nicer cabin with the BMW as well. It’s also around £4,000 cheaper than an M135i, too.
For BMWs first true attempt at a front-wheel-drive hot hatch, the 128ti is a sterling effort. It’s not just exciting on paper but also when you get it out on the road. The additional weight saving compared to the M135i makes it feel nimbler and far more rewarding, too.
But it’s far from being a one-trick-pony, thanks to a brilliant and practical interior, as well as a strong focus on quality. It certainly has the Golf GTI in its sights, that’s for sure.Enquire on a new BMW 128ti