BMW 128ti: How it compares with GTI & i30 N


BMW will launch its 128ti premium hot hatch in South Africa soon. Fitted with a limited-slip diff, M Sport suspension and a 180-kW 2.0-litre turbopetrol motor, the 128ti is claimed to bolt from 0 to 100 kph in 6.3 sec and marks BMW's first serious stab at the traditional front-wheel-drive hot hatchback market. Although Mzansi won't get the full-fat 195 kW/400 Nm version as offered in Europe, the newcomer's outputs are almost identical to that of the Golf 8 GTI.

Ever since BMW waded into premium compact hatchback segment with the 1 Series, be it with the rear-wheel-driven 1st-gen (E81/E82/E87/E88) or 2nd-gen model (F20/F21), the Munich-based manufacturer has curiously avoided a confrontation with the benchmark Volkswagen Golf GTI and fellow front-wheel-driven (FWD) hot hatches. Why? Well, the firm initially put its performance focus on 1 Series derivatives with inline-6 turbopetrol motors, which manifested as the 130i and 135i and later, the M140i. The 1M Coupe, meanwhile, was a precursor to the 2 Series Coupe flagship, the M2.

The 128ti can be distinguished by its black grille and red accents on the bumper vents and side skirts. 

However, when BMW switched to a FWD platform for the third (and current) F40-generation 1 Series, it began by aiming low with the entry-level 118i (powered by a 1.5-litre 3-cylinder engine) and, from there, ventured into Audi S3, Golf R and Mercedes-AMG A35 territory with the potent all-wheel-driven M135i xDrive flagship – read our recent review. More versions of the 1 Series are offered in overseas markets, but in Mzansi there is a near-R250k chasm between the aforementioned cheapest and dearest derivatives – and nothing but 118i trim lines in between. Well, that will change when the 128ti arrives in Mzansi during the first quarter of next year and the newcomer will rival more than a mid-range Audi A3 Sportback and Mercedes-Benz A-Class!

In BMW’s new front-wheel-drive (unless with xDrive, on top versions) compact car era, however, a showdown with the Golf GTIRenault Megane RSHyundai i30 NHonda Type R and other models is inevitable. Given that the Volkswagen Golf GTI is such an influential player in the premium compact hatchback segment (even though it may no longer be the benchmark hot hatch in terms of outright performance), BMW needs to package a sporty 1 Series derivative that will appeal to typical GTI buyers; a hot hatch with kerb presence and pedigree, but also a superbly balanced driver’s car. Of course, the BMW’s arrival is also juxtaposed with the recent unveiling of the dual-clutch-automatic version of the facelifted Hyundai i30 N.

BMW has used the "ti" nomenclature on its past models, albeit rather sparingly.

Why a “ti”?

You might be wondering what's with the "ti" (Turismo Internazionale) suffix, which is more commonly associated with an Alfa Romeo trim line. Well, BMW used it on its 3 Series Compact derivatives at the turn of the last century, but the brand has been using the designation (sparingly) since the '60s. To be fair, the BMW might be reluctant to call its newcomer “M128i” because it has decided to associate the M prefix with all-wheel-drive derivatives as far as its compact models are concerned. Besides, any association with the 1970 Nurburgring 24 Hour-winning 2002ti is positive!  

The Munich-based firm previously teased a pre-production version of the 128ti undergoing calibration test drives on the hilly roads of the Eifel around the Nürburgring Nordschleife and, of course, on the famous race track itself. It’s evident BMW is keen to follow the GTI’s example and make its new hot hatch look eye-catching and purposeful, but without upstaging the M135i xDrive, of course.

The 128ti was apparently developed with British B-roads foremost in mind; it's set up for handling balance, not track excursions.

To that end, the newcomer features M Sport bumpers fore and aft with high-gloss black inserts and specially sculpted side air intakes, as well as air vents at the rear that are finished in red. The side skirt extensions and “ti” livery ahead of the rear wheel arches are in a matching red, unless the car is finished in Melbourne Red or Misano Blue metallic, when the accents come in black.

What’s more, the 128ti features a black grille, -side-mirror caps and BMW Individual High-gloss Shadowline window trim, while a darkened "BMW Individual" headlight finish is optional. The “128ti” badge on the tailgate is in chrome, the two tailpipes each have a diameter of 90 mm and the South African cars will be shod with 8J x 18 inch light alloys wrapped in 225/40 R18 92 Y XL tyres.

The black faux diffuser in the bumper is the biggest clue that this is the 128ti, the red accents are very subtle at the back.

The racy-red theme continues in the BMW’s interior, which features a plethora of accents. A red-stripe pattern adorns the backrests of the standard Sensatec/cloth sport seats, while a red “ti” is embroidered into the centre armrest, matched with contrast stitching on the door panels and armrests, instrument panel, floor-mat edging and the standard M Sport steering wheel.

Standard spec includes a black headliner, an M footrest, stainless steel-capped M pedals, M strips on the front door sills, and M seat belts, but sport seats or M Sport seats (with integral head restraints and extendable seat surfaces) are optional, trimmed either in Trigon/Sensatec upholstery in black with special BMW M piping and blue contrast stitching or – like the sport seats – with Dakota leather in Magma Red or black.

Prospective 128ti buyers will appreciate the sports steering wheel and M-branded stainless-steel-finished pedals and footrest.

Where it fits in

The 128ti will slot into the 1 Series line-up just below the M135i xDrive, but whereas the latter is all-wheel-driven and produces 225 kW and 450 Nm from, the 128ti is front-wheel-driven (but fitted with a Torsen limited-slip differential) and according to BMW SA's website, produces 180 kW (from 5 000 to 6 500 rpm) and 380 Nm (from 1 500 to 4 400 rpm) from its 2.0-litre 4-cylinder turbopetrol motor, mated with an 8-speed Steptronic sport transmission. The European and UK version produces 195 kW and 400 Nm; it's not clear why the 128ti earmarked for South Africa and Australia will be a slightly detuned version, but we'd guess it might have to do with hot climate conditions, fuel quality, higher cost per unit or perhaps simply because BMW does not want to cannibalise M135i xDrive sales.  

BMW claims its newcomer is capable of bolting from 0 to 100 kph in 6.3 sec and achieving a top speed of 243 kph, but the 128ti doesn’t only rely on its punchy powertrain – it carries over some of the M135i’s hardware, such as the lowered (by 10 mm) M sport suspension, which includes firmer anti-roll bars and anti-roll bar mounts with high preload, as well as stiffer springs and shock absorbers.

The Ti detailing in the centre armrest is matched by red contrast stitching on the seats, door cards and steering wheel rim.

Along with a model-specific steering setup, BMW has also fitted an M Sport braking system (but with red calipers), that consists of 360 mm ventilated discs with aluminium 4-piston monoblock fixed callipers at the front, while 300 mm discs are fitted at the rear.

Crucially, the front-wheel-drive 128ti is around 80 kg lighter than its flagship sibling and the limited-slip diff, with locking factors of 31% when accelerating and 26% when decelerating, is assisted by BMW Performance Control, whose “sharper” yaw-moment distribution boosts rear-axle agility and the 1 Series range’s integral ARB (near-actuator wheel slip limitation) technology, which works in conjunction with DSC to reduce power understeer – a typical drawback of front-wheel-drive cars – “without the need for corrective inputs to stabilise lateral dynamics,” BMW says.

The Volkswagen Golf 8 GTI is also scheduled to arrive in South Africa early next year. Read our launch review here.

Now for the proverbial tale of the tape. Usually, a high-end (but non-M) 1 Series derivative would be compared with 2.0-litre turbopetrol versions of the Audi A3 Sportback and Mercedes-Benz A-Class; but seeing as Audi does not currently offer anything between its 1.5-litre turbopetrol- and S3 derivatives, the Bimmer's first and best premium-marque competitor is the Mercedes-Benz A250 AMG Line, which delivers 15 kW and 30 Nm less than its Bavarian rival. Compared with the Volkswagen Golf 8 GTI, the 128ti produces an identical peak power output (180 kW) and just 10 Nm more torque. 

The Bimmer closely trails the Megane RS 280 Lux/Cupi30 N N-DCT and Civic Type R in terms of maximum torque output (by 10 Nm to the Renault, 12 Nm to the Hyundai – which is not yet confirmed for the South African market – and 20 Nm to the (manual-only) Honda. Of the trio of cars, perhaps the Megane RS 280 Lux is the most natural 128ti competitor, but we don't believe it's in the same league as the BMW in terms of premium appeal. In the table below, we've also included the figures of the limited-edition RS 300 Trophy and Golf 7.5 GTI TCR, both of which arrived in SA recently.

With the introduction of a dual-clutch automatic 'box, the facelifted Hyundai i30 N has a bigger target market. Read more.

Here's a breakdown of what the market's headlining hot hatches produce:

   Max Power Max Torque 0-100 kph (claimed)
BMW 128ti 180 kW 380 Nm 6.3 sec
Hyundai i30 N N-DCT 206 kW 392 Nm 5.9 sec
Honda Civic Type R (manual) 228 kW 400 Nm 5.8 sec
Mercedes-Benz A250 AMG Line 165 kW 350 Nm 6.2 sec
Renault Megane RS 280 Lux/Cup 205 kW 390 Nm 5.8 sec
Renault Megane RS 300 Trophy Auto 221 kW 420 Nm 5.7 sec
Volkswagen Golf 8 GTI 180 kW 370 Nm 6.3 sec
Volkswagen Golf 7.5 GTI TCR 213 kW 380 Nm 5.6 sec

* Note: We've left out the A35 AMG 4MaticAudi S3 and Golf 8 R because they're all-wheel-drive cars.

The all-new BMW 128ti will be arriving in South Africa in the first quarter of 2021, which is round about the same time as the arrival of the new Volkswagen Golf 8 GTI. Let's get ready to rumble.

Related content:

Drag Race! Volkswagen GTI TCR vs Renault Megane RS300 Trophy

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Drag race! Volkswagen Golf GTI TCR vs Honda Civic Type R

BMW M135i xDrive (2020) Review

Volkswagen Golf 8 GTI (2020) International Launch Review

Renault Megane RS 300 Trophy (2020) Review

Hyundai i30 N (2020) Review

Mercedes-Benz A250 AMG Line (2019) Review

Audi A3 Sportback (2020) International Launch Review