Is the new BMW 128ti a Golf GTI slayer?

BMW keeps adding ever more derivatives to tempt prospects into an F40 1 Series five-door hatchback. Having topped-out the line-up with the M135i xDrive, there remained a gap below it, that space having now been filled by the 128ti. Down on power it might be, but lacking AWD, this new, lighter car may even be better than the sublime M135i. 

The latest 1 Series was announced to us in May 2019, the first five variants in an all-turbo line-up going on sale that September. These were the 118i, 116d, 118d, 120d xDrive and M135i xDrive. Engines are the Group’s 1,499 cc three-cylinder petrol, 1,496 cc three-cylinder diesel, 1,995 cc four-cylinder diesel and 1,998 cc four-cylinder petrol.

B48, the last of those four powerplants, produces 225 kW (306 hp) and 450 Nm in the M135i and, as mentioned a moment ago, sends drive to both axles.

For the new 128 turismo internazionale, there’s been a little detuning, mostly to ensure that it threatens neither the M’s supremacy at the top of the 1 Series tree, nor the composure of the new car’s driveshafts and tyres.

Power and torque are 195 kW (265 PS) and 400 Nm in most countries, while helping to ensure a smooth delivery to the front wheels is a Torsen limited-slip differential. BMW also produces a detuned version for extreme climate markets – Australia is one – with outputs of 180 kW and 380 Nm.

Springs and dampers have been specially tuned and are labelled as ‘M Sport suspension’ by BMW. The ride height is dropped by 10 mm, anti-roll bars and brakes are taken from the M135i xDrive and so too is the eight-speed ZF torque converter automatic transmission.

You can try but unless the road is hot and has just had a recent dose of rain, grip is excellent and understeer only appears if you really push this car’s front end. In other words, it’s like a JCW Mini, just bigger and less raw-feeling. Which means it gives BMW another bite of the cherry in small to medium sized hatchbacks. Not to mention room for actual adults in the back seats, something that the current F55-F57 Mini isn’t great at offering.

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By GlobalData

Some were aghast when the news broke that the F40 1 Series would be based on BMW Group’s Frontantriebsarchitektur rather than a native RWD-AWD platform.

Luckily, those concerns receded as even though the 4,319 mm current shape hatchback is slightly shorter than previous generation F20, the boot is bigger (380/1,200 litres), there is 30 mm more space for legs in the back and more than adequate head room too. Rear-wheel drive is all well and good but when it means major compromises for packaging efficiency, the lustre can quickly tarnish.

BMW has made the ti look quite different to other 1 Series cars, even if the outer air intakes are shared with those from the front apron of the M135i xDrive. What BMW calls ‘Air Curtains’ can also also painted red. These look like vertical blades at either side of the front spoiler. The sills below the doors can either be the same red or body-coloured. The grille, meanwhile, is black, there are unique 18-inch wheels and at the back, 90mm chrome tailpipes.

Due to a number of orange exterior highlights, the base colour needs to be carefully considered. I prefer dark grey with the Sensatec (animal-free but leather-look) orange seat and armrest coverings – much better in reality than it sounds – but some buyers might like Alpine White and contrasting dark leather with red stitching. Scarlet cotton lines also intersect part of the dashboard, appear across the door trims and also brighten up the steering wheel in several places.

The contrast of the 128ti’s interior compared to some cars in the class couldn’t be more stark, especially if we’re talking the Golf GTI. In short, the BMW has the appearance of a luxury model whereas it’s hard not to think of the VW as having gone backwards in its latest generation, the minimalist approach being taken too far and cost cutting in evidence everywhere. And in the BMW, whichever function you want, it’s readily to hand, be that a button for steering wheel or seat heating, any A/C mode, a proper volume dial, instrument light dimming and so on.

Maybe it’s all the effort BMW has gone to in tuning the chassis and maybe it’s the loss of 80 kg compared to the four-wheel drive M135i but it can be argued that the 128ti is the better car, and that’s before you factor in the lower cost. For anyone whose heart says Z4 but whose budget and need for the extra seats says 1 Series, this is the BMW to buy.

The BMW 128ti reaches 62 mph in 6.1 seconds, has a top speed of 155 mph, returns a Combined 44.1-46.3 mpg and has CO2 emissions of 142-139g/km. Pricing before options starts at GBP32,995.

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