Sometimes, we’re a little too quick to judge. Many, this writer included, were somehow disappointed when BMW made the announcement that its 1 Series will be ditching its rear-wheel-drive for the front-wheel-drive layout for the first time.
Little did we know the Munich manufacturer had the indomitable Volkswagen Golf GTI in its crosshairs as the hatch to beat with its 128ti. In case you are wondering, the ‘ti’ stands for Turismo Internazionale of the olden days.
It slots in below the more serious M135i and there is remarkable engineering that went into making the BMW 128ti the prime car that it is.
It comes fitted with a well-tailored M suspension, stiffer anti-roll bars, the steering has been reworked as well as the limited-slip differential for maximum traction when coming out of a corner. To make up for its sporty stance, our tester was equipped with 18” alloys that house red brake callipers, M seats, a connected package, LED headlights plus an M leather steering wheel.
As a 2021 Speed Week contender of note, initial impressions are that BMW built something pretty solid that felt special during the long stint to Phakisa Raceway in Welkom.
The 128ti’s interior is the same clean architectural layout that’s worn by other BMW products with no shortage of sportiness added to it, thanks, in part, to red detailing and ‘ti’ insignias on the armrest and seatbelts with red and blue detailing.
Typical of most BMWs we’ve sampled, the driving position is spot on with enough room to stretch the legs. Overall interior built quality remains the best in the hot hatch stable with alluring soft-touch textiles from all angles.
All that is backed up by the optional 10.3” touchscreen fitted in our tester that comes as part of the brand’s Live Cockpit Professional Package. BMW has thrown an intuitive digital instrument cluster, Harman Kardon sound system and a panoramic sunroof into the mix.
Space in the BMW 128ti is rightfully generous and was able to gulp sizable luggage and other items.
Thankfully, the BMW 128ti strikes a great balance between sportiness and normal driving accompanied by superb handling prowess, which was proven during its tenure at the Phakisa Raceway in Welkom.
There is a 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine with 180 kW and 380 Nm on tap and while that may not translate to shocking sprint numbers, the 128ti is said to achieve the 0-100 km/h sprint in 6.3 seconds. It feels like it could be a tad faster which leaves one thing and one thing only to blame – the front axle has the propensity to get disorderly as the wheels battle to find grip, even at higher speeds.
Under normal driving conditions, the BMW 128ti is far more entertaining to pilot with responsive steering inputs and a comfortable ride. Driving the front wheels is a smooth 8-speed Steptronic automatic gearbox and a limited-slip differential.
Where the BMW 128ti loses the battle is in the cacophony department. It lacks the sound that many have come to love much the same as its Wolfsburg stablemate.
The BMW 128ti is one of the most compelling models to ever come from the Munich firm. Except, of the course, the dyed-in-the-wool Ms. As an all-rounder, though, the BMW 128ti offers engagement and sensibility making it a more usable, and easier, vehicle to live with if you are prepared to part with R700,000.
The BMW 128ti has all the right thrills to compete in the hot hatch stable and is undoubtedly a great car. It transitions between its personas without complaint and yes, it is not as brutal as the M135i xDrive but it is remarkably lighter and more agile even around the track.
We just wish it could get the same attention as the VW Golf 8 GTI to earn that same cult-following status.
Words: Ntsako Mthethwa