It is so surprising to see such a car coming from a brand that has never even shown interest in the mid hot hatch segment until now. They decided to give it the ‘ti’ badge which means “Turismo Internazionale” and it is not something new as we have seen it on older BMW models such as the 1800 TI and 323ti and it symbolizes a sporty character on these compact models. This, however, is aimed at the popular hot hatch segment featuring the likes of the Hyundai i30 N, Ford Focus ST, and of course the reigning king, the Volkswagen Golf GTI. So, the formula is similar to the rest of the pack, you have a front-wheel drive platform with a 2.0-litre 4 banger and a colourful exterior look.

In the past, BMW had the F20 125i with 165 kW at its disposal but it wasn’t exactly marketed as a rival of the GTI but now the new 128ti is well prepped and ready to take the fight to the Golf GTI which has dominated for years ever since it was launched in 1975. The question is, will it prevail and be on the same level as the GTI? That will depend on how people or at least I say the hot hatch fanboys will receive 128ti and I am not seeing it being welcomed with wide open arms because this is sort of like an outlandish entry to such a segment.

Design

Apart from pointing out the sporty look, they gave it a dignified and subtle design which is evidently based on the 1 Series M Sport trim. There are distinctive red colour accents which can be spotted on the front side air intakes and the side skirts and right next to them is the “ti” decal but it can be deleted if required. Already you might have noticed these unique 18-inch Y-spoke 553 sport alloy-wheels which are exclusive to the 128ti and can be wrapped in Michelin Pilot Sport 4 tyres at no extra cost. Other additional optional wheels include 18-inch M Performance double-spoke 554M alloy wheels finished in Jet Black and bigger 19-inch double-spoke 552M alloy wheels.

The rest of the look sports black highlights on the front kidney grille and rear diffuser with a beefy bumper design surrounding it plus a rear spoiler and dual exhaust tailpipes just like on the M135i. When optioned with Melbourne Red metallic or Misano Blue metallic, the accents become black instead of red. Other colours include Storm Bay metallic, Mineral Grey metallic, Sapphire Black and Alpine White. The whole outside look is promising and the 1 Series design has already been accepted by the mass which should give the 128ti a positive reaction at first glance.

Engine

Before you get any ideas of this car being fully unique, its only the outside that’s merely different but the internals such as the suspension and brakes are shared from the M135i, so is the engine but detuned to produce 265 hp (195 kW) and just a quick reminder that it’s a 2.0-litre turbocharged 4-cylinder with a torque output of 400 Nm. The 8-Speed Steptronic Sport transmission has been shared as well on this model which gives it the ability to sprint from 0-100 km/h in just 6.1 seconds with a top speed of 250 km/h. If only it was offered with a manual transmission, that would’ve sweetened the deal.

The suspension was transplanted from the M135i featuring firmer anti-roll bars and roll bar mounts with high preload, stiffer springs, and tuned shock absorbers. The car is lowered by 10 millimetres for a lower centre of gravity and sportier appearance. The steering setup has been specifically modified to reduce torque steering which has always been a disease for high-powered front-wheel drive cars but that has also been solved with a good differential system, specifically a Torsen limited-slip diff on the 128ti. This sends more torque to the wheel with the most grip when the inside wheel loses grip thus improving traction and handling.

You’d think they would’ve gone with the electronic limited-slip differential but this one is less complex and inexpensive plus it reduces tire wear. Comparing all the figures of the 128ti with the Golf GTI shows that it is more powerful than the latter and much faster but there is more to talk about than just numbers on a piece of paper and that would demand a drive to answer these two questions: Is it capable and fun to drive, and can you live with it every day? BMW offers proper driving dynamics when it comes to its models but not quite sure with a fully-fledged front-wheel drive hot hatch but our hopes are surely up.

Interior

The inside is where it gains an advantage over the GTI as the materials are nicer, the built quality is better and overall, it looks nicer. There are details to appreciate on the 128ti’s inside such as the red accents on the perforated Dakota leather sport seats and the ti badge is on the centre armrest, a nice touch. There is M specific trim on the door sills, footrests, pedals with stainless steel caps and on the seat belts. The steering wheel is treated with M stitching for a sportier look.

The BMW 128ti surely makes up in all the departments that people will use to judge its credibility of being what the car manufacturer aims it to be. Already the M135i xDrive starts at R763 300 and I am guessing that the 128ti will be around the R700 000 mark should the next Golf 8 GTi be close to that margin. It is expected to arrive in showrooms in November with pricing to be announced at that time.

Source: BMW 128ti press release