BMW 128ti confirmed with GTI-rivalling price10/06/2020
New front-drive, 265hp model goes on sale next month
By Sam Sheehan / Tuesday, October 6, 2020
There's much we already know about the new BMW 128ti. You can catch up on the details below (although the meat of it is that after more than 20 years the 'Turismo Internzionale' badge returns to the BMW range on a front-drive 1 Series with 265hp and a Torsen limited-slip differential). Now the manufacturer has filled in the blanks ahead of the car's official launch.
The main one is the price. Befitting its role as understudy to the M135i xDrive, the 128ti is a couple of grand cheaper than the flagship, starting at £32,995. This is roughly what we expected and establishes the model as a direct rival to the newest VW Golf GTI – a car which doesn't produce as much power (although which does get the manual gearbox you can't have in the 128ti).
What the 128ti does get is the eight-speed Steptronic transmission, anti-roll bars and brakes from the M135i (and presumably much the same M Sport suspension hardware) with the added bonus of an 80kg weight saving. BMW says it has retuned the car's electronic control systems to work more smoothly with the new diff (teasing us with mention of increased rear-axle agility) and reworked the power steering to minimise torque steer.
As the new launch photos show, it gets much the same styling addenda as the M135i as well, including a smattering of badge related confetti. It also adds extended Shadowline trim and exclusive 18-inch Y-spoke alloys. Inside you get red accents throughout , including a red 'ti' stitched into the centre armrest – although the M Sport seats are an optional extra, as are the 19-inch wheels most buyers will opt for.
BMW claims 6.1 seconds to 62mph from the detuned four-cylinder unit, although the impressive (provisional) claim of 44.1 to 46.3mpg fuel economy is likely to earn it as much attention on the showroom floor. The 128ti arrives in November – just in time to give umpteen Mk8 GTI buyers pause for thought.
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The addition of a second tier to any hot hatch offering normally makes for a less exciting variant (Mercedes-AMG A35 vs A45, for example). But with the new BMW 128ti it might end up making a whole lotta sense – for five good reasons.
The M135i's switch to four-cylinder power and all-wheel drive was unashamedly aimed at the Volkswagen Golf R, so it makes sense that the car below it is front-drive – all the better for benchmarking against the GTI and capitalising on the sales potential of the circa £30k segment where five-door hatchbacks offer better efficiency and affordability. It's hugely competitive, too. Think i30 N, Focus ST, Megane RS…
This is BMW's first front-wheel-drive hot hatch. Sure, the firm has plenty of experience with the format – the UKL1 platform that the new 1 Series is based on is shared with Mini. But the significance of it being the first car tuned to BMW standards exclusively using a front axle is weighty; only a few years ago, anything but rear-wheel drive was unthinkable. Nurburgring testing will no doubt have required a near blank sheet of paper, as far as parameters for performance are concerned. Which only makes the 128ti more intriguing.
The car certainly lands with the right credentials. 265hp from BMW's B48 turbo four-pot ranks it above the Golf GTI, although not quite up against the class leaders. And it's to be exclusively eight-speed Steptronic, which we can't help to thinking is a shame. But there's lots to get us excited; a proper limited slip differential, 10mm lower M sport suspension and promise of uniquely tuned steering all feature. No less important is the inclusion of the M135i's anti-roll bars, or the fact this front-driver will be 80kg lighter than the M-fettled model. It all suggests BMW may be able to unlock even more agility from the base.
Even without a laggardly manual the 128ti still takes 6.1 seconds to break the 62mph tape, which doesn't exactly have it leaping from the Top Trumps deck. For context, the M135i does it in 4.8 seconds. Also, the very lightly camouflaged test car also doesn't have much in the way of visual clout; the base 1 Series design is far from sporting to begin with so even the bigger wheels and optional higher-grade tyres don't suggest it'll stand out from the crowd much. Which might also be its most compelling feature, when you're hoping to conquest straight-laced GTI buyers.
The M135i is fine. We've got one. It's properly fast and appropriately well rounded. But it doesn't exactly spice up your life. That leaves plenty of room for BMW to get creative on a cheaper, simpler, lighter car – if its engineers have been allowed to build something more agile then it might really might be something to worry not only the new Golf GTI but also the still fresh Focus ST and recently revised Hyundai i30N. Undercutting the just launched Audi S3 and established A35 is useful, too – but if the 128ti wants to succeed it needs to be fun, too. Fingers crossed, eh?
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