BMW has high hopes for their Golf GTI rivaling 128ti. Alex Shahini was at the launch in Johannesburg
Accessibility for a new, engaging and versatile car to drive can often leave consumers underwhelmed if it weren’t for the hot hatch segment. Churning out aggressively overstated and more rewarding runabout variants to their standard siblings, they have become the staple of young drivers enjoying exciting performance with the benefit of mass produced affordability.
While the now defunct French 1973 Simca 1100TI can be given the credits of being the first traditional hot hatch, the one we all know and share a fascination towards was the Giugiaro-penned MK1 VW Golf GTI, debuting two years later. While half a century can separate us between those pioneering, fun filled vehicles – the recipe remains unchanged: take a mundane hatchback in the brand lineup, spice up performance, increase power ratings, throw in a few exciting looking exterior bits and make the cockpit feel like a boy racers dream. The new kid on the block, the BMW 128ti does exactly that and it is aiming straight down the barrel with the MK8 GTI squarely in its sights.
It is worth noting that this is the Bavarian marque’s first real attempt at the hot hatch market. While we are in the midst of the hyper hatchback showdown, which BMW has previously dabbled in, they have never developed a typical hot hatch in the sense described previously. This has not been stated to downplay any shortfalls the 128ti may have but to also contextualize how BMW may have leapfrogged the competition. So, is it any good?
Using the existing 1 Series bodywork and chassis as a starting point, the styling has transcended the soft looking F40 (not the Ferrari) generation into something that seems more potent and aggressive. While the new variant has lost some of the butch proportions of the F20/21 gen, it has improved in boot capacity (380l) and interior volume compliments of the transversally laid out 3 or 4-cylinder engines available in the range.
While a colour blind person would struggle to find the differences between the 128ti and 118i M Sport Package, subtleties help to differentiate them. Red is the name of the game and it dominates details of both the exterior and interior. The 128ti decal at the bottom of the rear quarter panel, the front and rear bumper aero ducts are visually connected by a low slung side skirt, while the M-sport brake calipers are finished in the same shade of vermillion. Models specced in Melbourne Red or Misano Blue will lose these above mentioned exterior details by default. The rear end is completed with the same twin-exit diffuser found on the M135i.
The sport cabin is comfortable and spacious, detailed with the same exterior red stitched onto the dashboard, seats and floor mats while the ‘ti’ moniker is boldly embroidered onto the centre storage armrest. The M sport colours exist in the form of a subtle line down each of the seatbelts. While the red detailing is abundant, it is chiefly there to signify that the 128ti is not simply another engine variant slotted between the 118i and xDrive M135i. It is there to reinvigorate the previously historic turizmo internazionale (ti) name first demonstrated on the classic 1960’s lines of the 2002ti. By doing so, BMW have seized the opportunity to create an attainable cult classic.
While on the topic, the 2002ti was a machine suitable for the driving purist of the era, making use of the 02 platform to create something sportier and more engaging. The new iteration does the same, shedding 80 kilograms of weight from the M135i, incorporating a mechanical diff and doing away with xDrive and adaptive suspension. It has a more visceral and engaging sensation behind the wheel because of this, with distinctly firm steering and torque steer in sports mode while an adequately comfortable ride on the standard 18” rims without. The 2.0-liter TwinPower Turbo motor is detuned from the 135i to a respectable 180kW and 380Nm, sufficient on its FWD platform. The maximum torque output is available from as low as 1500 rpm while the 8-speed Steptronic sport transmission has violently appealing (to the boyracer in me) gear shifts in sport mode.
The traction control can annoyingly inhibit some of the torque and bog power in the lower gears, disengaging the ESC allows the mechanical diff to make easy work of sharp corners, with a dash of wheel spin going into 2nd and 3rd gear – enough to put a smile on the face. There are a few pitfalls, including a noisy radiator fan, visible exhaust backbox and the fact that BMW missed the opportunity to incorporate more of the original ti’s cues but the overall package remains good enough to take on the likes of the GTI and i30N.
While the newly released M135i completely missed the mark of the previous generations legacy (view the Nwamba brothers honest critique at the link), the 128ti with its competitive base price of R687 418 may just be the right 1.