BMW’s 128ti has a lot more soul than it’s given credit for
The compact sportster has a truly sporting feel, similar to the classic offerings of the 1960s and 1970s
The current BMW 1-Series wasn’t launched to rapturous applause, was it? Compared with the previous F20-designation model, the new F40 chassis was the subject of vehement criticism, especially from pundits of the blue and white propeller. For starters, the shift from rear-wheel drive to the front-driving architecture synonymous with products from the Mini division. Yes, it made for easier packaging, freeing up interior space because there was no longer a transmission sitting under rear passengers’ buttocks. But that configuration was what made the 1-Series such a compelling choice against the Audi A3, Mercedes-Benz A-Class and Volvo V40. It gave the vehicle a dynamic alacrity and entertainment factor its peers could not match. Then there was the styling. The fairly lengthy hood and shooting brake flavours of the former car were replaced with a bulbous front and blobby overall shape.
Luckily, the 128ti offers some redemption for the model. It’s easily the pick of the contemporary 1-Series range, yes, even over the range-topping M135i, with its 225kW and 450Nm output. In this derivative you get slightly less — 180kW and 380Nm — but it uses the same engine as the more powerful counterpart, just in a different state of tune. The displacement remains at two litres, with four cylinders. But because the rear is not encumbered by the task of transmitting power, as it is in the M135i, this stablemate is lighter. And, seemingly, more agile. While it is slower to 100km/h on paper (6.3 seconds instead of 4.8 seconds), getting to that figure is likely to be a smidgen more thrilling in the 128ti.
Torque-steer is noticeable — to say the front axle is alive would be an understatement. The steering wheel writhes in the hands as the mechanical limited-slip differential mediates. It borrows items from the catalogue of the M135i, such as the braking system, plus the anti-roll bars and mounts. It sits 10mm lower to the ground than a regular 1-Series. When we first tasted the car briefly in March, we said its aural presence could have been greater. But having since sampled the chief rival from Volkswagen, the new Golf GTI, it is clear the BMW has the upper hand here. Comparatively, it has a more muscular, buzzier battle-cry. The eight-speed transmission (with manual mode engaged) allows the driver to rev the motor out quite freely. Oh, yes, we forget to talk about those two lower-case letters adorning its trio of numbers. Back in the day, BMW slapped the Turismo Internazionale (TI) acronym on the sportier versions of its compact 1600 and 2002...