The BMW 128ti slots below the M135i and takes on the VW Golf GTI

The 2021 BMW 128ti is a performance-oriented version of the third-generation (F40) 1 Series. The 2021 128ti slots between the 120i and the M135i xDrive models in terms of equipment and performance. It borrows some styling features from the range-topping M135i xDrive, but its 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine is detuned from 302 to 261 horsepower. It’s also a rear-wheel-drive model with no option for an AWD system.

More importantly, the 128ti revives the iconic "ti" badge that BMW first introduced in the 1960s and used most recently in 2004. Let’s find out more about it in the review below.

What makes the 2021 BMW 128ti special?

  • Design cues from M135i xDrive
  • Red body accents
  • Red interior detailing
  • 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine
  • 261 horsepower
  • 295 pound-feet of torque
  • 0 to 62 mph in 6.1 seconds
  • Top speed of 155 mph
  • FWD only
  • Suspension components from M135i
left right

Styling-wise, the 128i looks a lot like the range-topping M135i xDrive. It features a similar front bumper with a wide bumper vent and vertical air curtains, as well as a black kidney grille. But while it features the gloss-black finish of the M135i, the grille is far from identical. Specifically, it doesn’t borrow the unique design of the M-spec model, featuring the regular vertical slats instead. To set it apart from other 1 Series models, BMW added red accents around the vertical air curtains.

We can spot the same red accents around the sides, in the side skirt area.

The heavily sculpted sills, also borrowed from the M135i, also feature "ti" decals in red toward the rear wheels.
2021 BMW 128ti Exterior
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There are no red accents around back, but the black exhaust pipes are larger than the regular 1 Series, so you’ll know it’s a special model.

If you like the red accents, which are actually very cool, even when compared to the blacked-out M135 model, you should know that their not available on all body colors. If you opt for the flashy Melbourne Red or Misano Blue paint, the red accents in the front become black, while the side sills and "ti" decals are changed to body color. If you like a more subdued look, you have the option to delete all contrasting features, as well as the "ti" decals.

2021 BMW 128ti Interior
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Step inside and you'll find the same red accents on the standard sports seats.

There’s red stitching on the beefed-up bolsters and the headrests, as well as a red pattern on the seatbacks. The armrests, the door panels the dashboard, and the steering wheel also include red contrast stitching and there’s also a red "ti" badge stitched into the center armrest. Everything else remains similar to lower trims like the 120i, but you have access to a long list of options like with any other 1 Series model.

2021 BMW 128ti Drivetrain
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Under the hood of the 128ti lurks the same 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that powers the 120i and the M135i xDrive, but with a different power rating.

Specifically, the turbocharged four-banger generates 261 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque, which places the 128ti right between the 120i and the M135i xDrive. That’s 85 horsepower more than the 120i model. Compared to the M135i xDrive, the 128ti falls behind by 41 horses and 37 pound-feet of twist, which isn’t all that much. However, while the M135i comes with an xDrive AWD system as standard, the 128ti is available with front-wheel drive only, which makes a big different on the performance front.

2021 BMW 128ti Exterior
- image 939110

Down to the numbers, the 128ti hits 62 mph in 6.1 seconds, which is a notable 1.3 seconds slower than the M135i xDrive. But that’s also a full second quicker than the 120i trim, so you get to beat that model on the drag strip. Top speed is limited to 155 mph, identical to the M135 xDrive.

On top of being more powerful than other 1 Series models, the 128ti is also sportier thanks to a bunch of upgrades borrowed from the M135i xDrive. The hatchback is fitted with beefed-up anti-roll bars and stiffer springs and shocks, but it also comes with a Torsen mechanical limited-slip differential for the front axle. The 18-inch wheels can be wrapped in Michelin Pilot Sport 4 tires at no extra cost for enhanced grip on the race track.

The 2021 BMW 128i is aimed at the VW Golf GTI and Ford Focus ST

2021 BMW 128ti Exterior
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This new trim enables the BMW to compete with popular performance hatchbacks such as the Volkswagen Golf GTI and the Ford Focus ST.

The latest GTI also features a 2.0-liter turbo-four, rated at 242 horsepower and 273 pound-feet of torque. This means the Bimmer benefits from an extra 19 horses and 22 pound-feet of twist. The 128ti is also two tenths quicker from 0 to 62 mph, while top speed is identical at 155 mph. But while the Golf GTI is available with both a six-speed manual and a seven-speed DSG, the 128ti is restricted to an automatic gearbox only.

2021 BMW 128ti Exterior
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The Ford Focus ST is fitted with a 2.3-liter EcoBoost four-cylinder engine that shares components with the unit in the Ford Mustang. It cranks out 276 horsepower and 310 pound-feet of torque, which puts it above the 128ti. Specifically, the Focus ST comes with an extra 15 horses and 15 pound-feet on tap. Although not much more powerful, the Focus ST is notably quicker to 62 mph, reaching the benchmark in 5.7 seconds, almost a half-second faster than the Bimmer. It tops out at 155 mph. Just like the Golf GTI, it’s available with both manual and automatic transmissions.

BMW 128ti vs Golf GTI vs Focus ST
BMW 128ti VW Golf GTI Ford Focus ST
Engine 2.0-liter, four-cylinder turbocharged 2.0-liter, four-cylinder turbocharged 2.3-liter EcoBoost four-cylinder
Horsepower 261 Horses 242 Horses 276 horses
Torque 295 pound-feet 273 pound-feet 310 pound-feet
0-62 mph 6.1 s  6.3 s 5.7 seconds
Top Speed  155 mph 155 mph 155 mph

How much does the 2021 BMW 128i cost?

2021 BMW 128ti Exterior
- image 939110
U.S. pricing information is not yet available, but the new hatchback starts from €41,574 in Germany.

That’s a €7,262 premium over the 120i, but a solid €6,678 less than the M135i xDrive. Compared to the Volkswagen Golf GTI, priced from €37,607, the BMW 128ti commands a €3,967 premium. The Bimmer is also notably more expensive than the Focus ST, which retails from €30,674. The 128i is almost €11,000 more expensive.

BMW "ti" badge history

2021 BMW 128ti Exterior
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The "ti" badge is pretty iconic in BMW’s history, having been introduced for the first back in the 1960s. Short for Turismo Internazionale, the badge first appeared on the 1800 version of the New Class Sedan models in 1964. Known as the 1800 TI back then, it featured components developed by tuning company Alpina, now under BMW ownership, and a slightly more powerful engine. A homologation special called the 1800 TI/SA was also introduced in 1964 with an even more powerful engine and a performance-tuned chassis. BMW introduced the 2000TI in 1966 and the 2000tii (for touring international injected) in 1969. The 2000tii was BMW’s first fuel-injected model.

1970 BMW Alpina 2002ti High Resolution Exterior
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The "ti" badge was also used on the 02 Series, a range of compact cars developed from 1966 to 1977, also a predecessor to the 3 Series. Models included the 1600 TI, introduced in 1967, and the 2000 tii and 2002 tii, both launched in 1971. The 2002 tii paved the way to the iconic 2002 Turbo, the company’s first turbocharged production model.

2021 BMW 128ti Exterior
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The badge disappeared in the 1970s and returned in 1993 on the BMW 3 Series Compact. Essentially a shorter, hatchback version of the 3 Series, the Compact was BMW’s first hatchback since the 2002 Touring. Two ti models were built, the 318ti and 323ti. The latter was the most powerful of the range, featuring a 2.5-liter inline-six rated at 168 horsepower. When the hatchback was redesigned in 2000 on the E46 3 Series platform, all gasoline models gained "ti" badges. Power ranged from 114 horsepower in the base 316ti to 189 horses in the 325ti. The "ti" badge was dropped for the second time when the 3 Series Compact was discontinued in 2004.

Ciprian Florea
Senior Editor and Supercar Expert - ciprian@topspeed.com
Ciprian's passion for everything with four wheels (and more) started back when he was just a little boy, and the Lamborghini Countach was still the coolest car poster you could hang on your wall. Ciprian's career as a journalist began long before earning a Bachelor's degree, but it was only after graduating that his love for cars became a profession.  Read More
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