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Car reviews - BMW - 1 Series - 128ti

Our Opinion

We like
Strong engine, sharp handling, communicative steering, powerful braking, practicality
Room for improvement
Transmission slur, some axle tramp, torque steer, large turning circle

Is BMW’s 128ti ready to take on its mainstream hot hatch rivals?

4 Jan 2022

Overview

 

THE ti badge – short for Turismo Internazionale – has a long and occasionally colourful history with BMW, but the designation has also appeared on some of the brand’s more insipid models.

 

It was first applied to the 1963 1800 TI, which was something of a precursor of the M3 sedan and incorporated improvements courtesy of Alpina, which still enhances BMWs to this day. Featuring an 82kW 1.8-litre four-cylinder engine fed by dual Solex carburettors, the 1800 TI had a nifty 15kW extra (18% more power) compared with its bread-and-butter sibling.

 

However, perhaps the most memorable ti-badged model was the 1970 2002 TI. At first, the humble sedan featured a 90kW 2.0-litre four, again with dual carburettors, before being updated to include mechanical fuel injection a short while later. 

 

That model, which was badged Tii, produced around 98kW, but was topped by a turbocharged variant – the 2002 Turbo, which was notably BMW’s first forced-induction production car, three years later. The 2002 Turbo produced a whopping 127kW and 240Nm.

 

The ti badge was retired in the mid 1970s, but eventually made a comeback in the E36 3 Series Compact (hatchback) range in 1990. The 318ti mustered around 83kW of power from its 1.8-litre four-cylinder motor and the more powerful 323ti (with its 2.5-litre inline six) did a little better with 127kW – the same output as the 2002 Turbo of the early 1970s…

 

In 1997, BMW’s follow-up E46-based 3 Series Compact (hatch) range was again blessed with a ti badge. Unfortunately for BMW fans, the applique was nearly as dreary as it was in the preceding line-up – the 316ti, 318ti, and 325ti produced 77kW, 87kW, and 137kW respectively. Yawn.

 

Fast forward to today and the ti badge has made yet another comeback. 

 

Now adorning the tailgate (and numerous other parts) of the front-wheel-drive 1 Series, the moniker feels deservingly placed this time around; the 128ti features a range of sporty enhancements, including a turbocharged four-cylinder engine, an electronic limited-slip differential, as well as a bespoke steering setup. Think of it as an M135i xDrive without the additional 80-odd kilograms of all-wheel drive infrastructure. 

 

The F40-series 128ti is powered by a 2.0-litre motor that produces 180kW at 6500rpm and 380Nm from 1500 to 4400rpm… those outputs are 15kW and 20Nm lower than in the Euro-spec version. It features an eight-speed automatic transmission as standard and is said to accelerate from zero to100km/h in 6.3 seconds. Combined fuel consumption is listed at 6.8 litres per 100km.

 

Above the donor model, the 128ti includes M Sport suspension (lowered with stiffer springs and firmer dampers), BMW Performance Control (torque vectoring), firmer anti-roll bars and pre-tensed anti-roll bar mounts. Braking comes courtesy of four-piston M Sport calipers that grab 360mm ventilated rotors at the front and single-pot clamps (on 300mm discs) at the back.

 

The feisty 128ti rides on unique 18-inch Y-spoke M alloy wheels wrapped in 225/40-series rubber.

 

Equipment highlights include a black-themed interior with cloth and Sensatec upholstery, keyless entry and push-button ignition, M seatbelts and steering wheel, velour floor mats, electric seat adjustment, head-up display, digital instrumentation, 10.25-inch infotainment array, adaptive LED headlights with high-beam assist, dual-zone climate control, M rear spoiler and BMW Individual high-gloss Shadow Line trim.

 

The 128ti is optionally available with several comfort and convenience packages that add items such as a panoramic sunroof, adaptive cruise control, premium paint and seat heating – each pack commands up to $3700 on top of the vehicle purchase price.

 

Priced from $56,900 plus on road costs, the BMW 128ti sits between the 118i ($46,900) and M135i xDrive ($69,900). It is backed by a three-year/unlimited-kilometre factory warranty.

 

Drive Impressions

 

A front-wheel-drive BMW hot hatch; the notion may have seemed unthinkable a decade ago, but with economies of scale and the packaging expectations of customers taking precedence over outright driving dynamics, the reality is that a warm, small-segment Bimmer makes a lot of sense.

 

And why not? There’s plenty of competition in the segment and many of the BMW’s rivals are held in very high regard. If you think of the Ford Focus ST ($47,490), Honda Civic Type R ($50,990), Hyundai i30 N ($47,500), MINI Cooper S JCW Sport ($53,200), Renault Megane RS ($53,990) and Volkswagen Golf GTI ($53,300), you’d be well on the right track.

 

From behind its thick-rimmed sports steering wheel, the 128ti feels rawer and, dare we say it, more engaging than many of its contemporaries. Whereas many front-drive hot hatches have dialled out their front-limited handling entirely, the BMW is still evidently a “pulled-along” hatch. 

 

When you attempt a hurried pull-away, there’s a hint of torque steer when you stomp on the accelerator and an obvious “tramp-tramp-tramp” as the tyres grapple for traction. But they’re minor detractors to the 128ti’s overall ability. After a while, they seem almost endearing – as if BMW has “dialled in” a level of feedback to remind the driver just how much torque is at their disposal.

 

And, provided you’re not ham-fisted with the controls, the 128ti is utterly brilliant to pilot. Acceleration is strong and the cornering ability virtually rail-like. The Bimmer’s chassis reacts obediently to directional changes and the steering is fluid and communicative, all of which allows the driver to place the wheels exactly as intended to rotate the car around apexes.   

 

The 128ti feels equally planted and incredibly nimble. There’s a security about this hatch’s hold on the road that allows you to exploit its grip levels completely, even at rather lofty speeds. 

 

If you hustle the BMW through a series of fast-flowing bends, it simply begs for more. It never feels as heavy as it really is (1445kg); the sporty hatch’s firm springs maintain a “big-car” level of composure that gives the 128ti a real point of difference from its frisky MINI Cooper JCW cousin (the BMW 1 Series and MINI Cooper share the company’s UKL2 chassis architecture).

 

Left to its own devices, the eight-speed Aisin automatic can slur through the upshifts, however. It never shifts quite as crisply as a dual-clutch transmission might, and really needs to be set in Sport mode to cooperate properly. It’s better again when instructed by the ‘wheel-mounted shift paddles, but we can’t help but wonder just how involving this car might be with a six-speed manual gearbox...

 

Strong braking matched with linear pedal modulation ensures the 128ti can be halted with precision – the four-piston aluminium monobloc brake calipers and 360mm front rotors invariably offer effortless stopping power. The brakes look the part, too. The red-painted clamps narrowly clear the wheel spokes and look positively menacing – we’d simply love to try them on the track!

 

Around town, the 128ti remains a practical five-door hatch. Cabin space is comparable to those rivals listed above and the luggage capacity is generous at 380 litres – 20 litres more than in the outgoing (rear-wheel-driven) 1 Series. Thanks to its wheel-at-each-corner stance, the 128ti is also an easy car to park, even if the turning circle isn’t as tight as the average urban runabout (BMW lists the model’s turning radius at 11.4 metres).

 

It may be a fraction dearer than its mainstream rivals, but the BMW 128ti is an entirely capable contender. Factor in the admirable build quality and luxury finishes (as befitting models from the Bavarian brand’s line-up) and this sporty little hatch represents something of a bargain. And, no, it hasn’t lost touch with what it means to be a great driver’s car – even if it is a front-wheel driven. 

 

Purists, the time has come to reassess. The 128ti is a barrel of fun, and a worthy wearer of the lauded Turismo Internazionalenameplate. We thoroughly recommend giving it a go.


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