The Hot Hatch You May Have Overlooked | BMW 128ti - A great driver's car!
I recently took a BMW 128ti for a proper drive and was truly impressed by what it offered up.
When the F40 generation BMW M135i came along, lacking the glorious B58 3.0L straight six engine, an AWD system in place of RWD and an even heftier price tag, I think many people wondered what on Earth was going on down in Munich. Although I haven't had the chance yet to drive the new M135i, I have heard mixed opinions over the period it has now been with us. That is why, when the BMW 128ti was released late last year, I was very excited by what it had to offer.
Gone was the AWD xDrive system, and we were back to a 2 wheel drive setup, although that was simply front wheel drive. The 2.0L B48 engine had been detuned slightly, from 306hp in the M135i, to 265hp. Torque sat at 295ft-lbs and the weight was also down 80kg to around 1,445kg. This to me, actually sounded quite exciting, because it all started to build a picture of a more engaging driving experience.
The 128ti has some subtle, yet tasteful styling tweaks to make it stand out from a standard 1 series - and even the M135i for that matter. With red accents dotted around, some nice "ti" graphics in front of the rear wheels and an aggressive, yet not overly fussy set of 19" alloys on show, I am very much a fan of this car's visuals. Yes maybe that front grille is a bit on the large side, but we've all heard that before. With the blacked out trim pieces, it does look better on this car than it does on some of the other models.
Visuals are not the important thing with the 128ti though, for the important factor is how the thing actually drives. So, we've mentioned the engine briefly, and I ought to mention that it is unfortunately only available in an automatic gearbox - being the Aisin 8 speed torque converter automatic transmission. Clunkier than the ZF, this 'box perhaps isn't as refined as some of the other options out there, but it does an awesome job of banging those gear changes out when ramped up in the sport mode. I'm a particular fan of the software setup with this drivetrain too. When using the paddles, it rev matches on the downshifts really nicely and makes it almost feel like something much sharper than a torque converter auto. The engine mapping is brilliant too. I have felt like some of the lower tuned B48 engines have been a bit on the asthmatic side, simply because they are held back so much in their tune. It ultimately results in a very flat torque and power delivery that doesn't reward high RPM's. This engine however, delivers a huge chunk of torque low in the rev range, yet also pulls very nicely up to the 6,500rpm rev limit. With this gearbox setup, it almost doesn't feel turbocharged. However, I do appreciate the subtle turbo spools that emanate into the cabin.
What really stands out to me though is the chassis balance and front end grip. Up front we have a Torsen limited slip differential that offers a 31% locking factor under acceleration, and a 26% locking factor under deceleration. Throwing 265hp at the front axle doesn't make much sense to me without a proper diff, but let me assure you that this is a brilliant setup. As you pitch the car into a corner under power, you can feel the torque being distributed across the front axle, which of course results in the sensation of the whole front end being pulled around said corner, both neatly and promptly. The car I tested was running a Bridgestone Potenza tyre - although this wouldn't be my choice, I was very impressed at just how much mechanical grip it was generating. With the subtle feedback through the steering wheel as the differential is handling the power management, you notice a surprising amount of information being transmitted through your fingertips which I found allowed me to lean on it a lot more than some of the other recent BMW's I've driven. You have a real sense of what the front end of the car is doing and where the grip actually lies. I very much enjoyed how the rear end of the car was being managed too. Often is the case on hot hatches that the front axle actually generates so much grip, that the rear simply cannot keep up with the pace or direction changes. However the 128ti almost feels AWD with the amount of traction being offered from both ends of the car. As far as chassis dynamics go, this is a bar set very high. In addition, the ride is very well optimised for British b-roads, a pleasant surprise it must be said. I didn't really face any issues with the car getting unsettled through camber changes, or bumpier sections.
In terms of brakes we have 360mm discs on the front, accompanied by a lovely set of 4 piston, aluminium mono-bloc calipers, and a floating caliper setup on the rear. This is a really strong braking setup actually, and you find yourself only very lightly going at the pedal when driving harder. The pedal is a little soft on the initial bite, but soon firms up once you really call on them. I can imagine these brakes offering some mighty performance out on track, although this is most definitely a road biased setup.
What's more the 128ti even makes a fantastic sound. Of course there is some fakery being piped through the speakers in the cabin, but BMW claim this is simply real engine sound being amplified - something that certainly seems to be the case out on the road. With all the emissions regulations at play these days, don't expect a huge amount of sound from the exhaust, but it's certainly enough to tell people you're not driving a 118i.
So what do I think then? At £34,000 in the UK, the 128ti certainly isn't a cheap, back to basics hot hatch. But I do feel it shows that BMW does still care about the driver, even in it's "lower end" models like the 1 series. A manual gearbox would make this car even more engaging, but with the pace it can offer on your favourite set of roads, an auto actually makes some sense. The interior is, as ever, a wonderful place to spend time in. With plenty of high grade materials, subtle styling cues unique to the "ti" model and seats that are perfect for the spirited driver (you can even slam them down to the floor too, for that optimum driving position!), there's certainly some value for money to be had on the inside. The 128ti is also a very practical car. With only a 5 door 1 series on offer these days, it is certainly very useable as an all round daily driver. But most of all, I'm just glad to see such an enjoyable, driver focussed, hot hatch from our beloved Bavarian brand in 2021.
Big thanks to Vertu BMW Teesside for making this review possible! Check them out here if you're in the market for a new or used BMW:
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