Bring out the popcorn, folks!

BMW is once again setting its sights on the hot hatch market with a new 1 Series model that calls back one of the German automaker’s rarely used badges. This, ladies and gentlemen, is the BMW 128ti, and it wants to take a bite out of the hot hatch market. The 128ti — the “ti” stands for Turismo Internazionale — will have a tough go at it with so many contenders in the segment, but, rest assured, Bimmer isn’t returning to the niche market with the intention of being a mere spectator. No, sir. The 128ti is being developed to compete with the best-of-the-best, and from the looks of it, BMW isn’t cutting any corners in the hot hatch’s development. The 128i is more contender than pretender, and while all the details won’t be revealed until its expected debut in November, it looks like BMW has a new pocket rocket on its hands.

What’s the history of the ti badge?

BMW Wants To Attack the Sports Compact Market With The FWD 128ti Exterior
- image 935218
For those who are wondering, the “ti” in the BMW 128ti is short for “Turismo Internazionale.

It’s a nomenclature that BMW has used twice in the past to signify a practical car that was also sporty or a sporty car that was also practical. Either one worked. Bimmer first used the ti badge in 1963 on the 1800 Ti, a punchy 110-horsepower sedan that imbibed the qualities of a true Turismo Internazionale model as defined by BMW. The 1800 lasted until 1971 and the ti badge remained dormant until it was brought back in the early 1990s with the arrival of the BMW 318ti, a member of the 3 Series E36 family. Unfortunately, the 318ti wasn’t as well-received as BMW intended so when the E36 gave way to the E46 3 Series, the ti badge once again relocated to its premium spot in BMW’s shed. It’s taken almost 20 years, but better late than never, right? This time, the German automaker is using the Turismo Internazionale badge on a model that’s more sporty than practical. Don’t mind that thought, though. Even with the somewhat misused billing, the new 128ti should be able to rock the name like nobody’s business, especially if it takes down some of the segment’s old heads.

What should we expect from the BMW 128ti?

BMW Wants To Attack the Sports Compact Market With The FWD 128ti Exterior
- image 935212
For all intents and purposes, the BMW 128ti is the front-wheel-drive performance hatchback that a lot of Bimmer fans have been waiting for.

It’s entering a market that’s occupied by the likes of the Volkswagen Golf GTI, Honda Civic Type R, Ford Focus ST, and Hyundai i30 N. That’s a gauntlet of hot hatches that the 128ti will compete against once it arrives later this year. Fortunately, the 128ti is far from a slouch; BMW has spent a great deal of time and resources developing the hot hatch to not only compete against the segment’s best but outright beat them with a smile on its face.

Now, does the 128ti have the chops to accomplish that goal? You might be surprised to know that the 128ti shares a lot of its hardware with the 1 Series’ range-topping unit, the M135i. Both models carry the same 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine, though output in the 128ti’s four-cylinder unit has been detuned from 302 horsepower to “only” 261 horsepower. That comes as an unintended consequence of having the all-wheel-drive M135i slotted at the top of the 1 Series hierarchy.

BMW Wants To Attack the Sports Compact Market With The FWD 128ti Exterior
- image 935206

Still, the 128ti’s four-cylinder engine packs plenty of power with the 261-horsepower output. It’s not as powerful as the 306-horsepower Honda Civic Type R, but it does beat out the Volkswagen Golf GTI Mk VIII and its 242-horsepower four-cylinder engine.

BMW Wants To Attack the Sports Compact Market With The FWD 128ti Exterior
- image 935218

Crucially — and confusingly — BMW is offering the 128ti with a standard automatic transmission instead of a manual gearbox. According to Bimmer, the lack of customer demand and tricky regulations contributed to the decision to only offer an eight-speed automatic gearbox in the 128ti. Tough sledding, folks.That said, an automatic transmission does come with its own benefits, including the ability to have a clean launch. Get a clear enough launch and you can crack 62 mph onboard the 128ti in just 6.1 seconds. That’s 0.2 seconds quicker than the Golf GTI and only 0.4 seconds off the pace of the Civic Type R. Meanwhile, the 128ti’s brakes and the meaty anti-roll bars are also sourced from, you guessed it, the M135i.

If a lot of hardware is shared, what’s the difference between the 128ti and the M135i?

BMW Wants To Attack the Sports Compact Market With The FWD 128ti Exterior
- image 935219

Even if the 128ti and the M135i are splitting hardware like a cob of corn at dinnertime, there are still striking differences between the two. The M135i’s 2.0-liter twin-turbo four-cylinder engine generates more output — 302 horsepower to 261 horsepower — compared to the 128ti’s four-cylinder engine. More importantly, the M135i is all-wheel-drive and, as we’ve come to know, the 128ti is front-wheel-drive. That’s an important distinction that results in different ways to drive and enjoy both models.

Even the interior different as the M135i’s cabin looks decidedly posher than the interior of the 128ti. Sure, the layout is largely the same as it is across the entire 1 Series range, but the M135i looks busier compared to the 128ti. Perks of a range-topper, I suppose?

Is it worth it to buy the BMW 128ti when it comes out later this year?

BMW Wants To Attack the Sports Compact Market With The FWD 128ti Exterior
- image 935206

This question will only be answered if you take the 128i for a test run. The hot hatch is arriving in November so these questions should be answered sooner than later.

Unfortunately, the 128ti isn’t headed to the U.S.

That’s tough luck for a lot of us. In lieu of the 128ti, we do have the BMW 2 Series Gran Coupe, which shares its front-wheel-drive platform with the new Bimmer hot hatch. There’s just one catch: the 2 Series Gran Coupe is exclusively all-wheel-drive, meaning if we really want to get our hands on the front-wheel-drive 128ti, we’re going to have to go through the wringer to acquire one.

As for our friends across the Atlantic, have at it with the 128ti. It’s priced at around £32,000, which converts to around $41,000 based on current exchange rates.

Kirby Garlitos
Automotive Aftermarket Expert - kirby@topspeed.com
Kirby’s first exposure into the world of automobiles happened when he caught Knight Rider on television as a five-year old boy. David Hasselhoff didn’t leave much of an impression on him (that happened later on in Baywatch), but KITT certainly did. To this day, Kirby remains convinced that he will one day own a car with the same ‘spirit’ as the original KITT (not the 2008 monstrosity). He doesn't know when that will be, but until then, he’s committed to expressing his love for KITT, and all cars for that matter, here at TopSpeed.  Read More
About the author

Exceptionally sporty alternative of the BMW 1 Series with front-wheel drive and mechanical Torsen limited-slip differential is designed for active driving pleasure.

München. During its final test phase, the new compact sports car BMW 128ti (combined fuel consumption: 6.4 – 6,1 l/100 km; combined CO2 emissions: 148 – 139 g/km*) is currently undergoing thorough calibration test drives on the hilly roads of the Eifel around the Nordschleife of the Nürburgring and, of course, also directly on the world’s most demanding racetrack. A special focus lies on the dynamic handling characteristics of the new variant of the BMW 1 Series, which has been consistently designed for active driving pleasure. The new model will be brought to market in November 2020.

Sports car with a character of its own.
The front-wheel drive BMW 128ti is positioned directly below the top-of-the-range model of the BMW 1 Series, the BMW M135i xDrive (combined fuel consumption: 7.1 – 6.8 l/100 km; combined CO2 emissions: 162 – 154 g/km) and also features its newly developed 2-litre engine. The four-cylinder with BMW TwinPower Turbo Technology beneath the bonnet of the BMW 128ti has a power output of 195 kW (265 bhp), facilitating sporty driving performance such as the sprint from 0 to 100 km/h in 6.1 seconds. However, the new BMW 128ti is much more than just a new BMW 1 Series variant. In addition to many differentiating exterior and interior features, the entire suspension and steering were specifically tuned to offer extremely sporty and driver-oriented driving dynamics. Consequently, the new, exclusively front-wheel drive sports car addresses a particularly young target group with a focus on typical BMW driving pleasure.

Technical highlights for high precision and direct response.
The new BMW 128ti comes as standard with the 8-speed Steptronic sport transmission and a Torsen limited-slip differential, providing for better traction on the front axle. It has a specifically tuned M sport suspension including lowering by 10mm as well as BMW Performance Control, which has been specially adapted for increased agility. Furthermore, the steering has been specifically aligned to the vehicle for precise reactions, providing the driver with direct response. Moreover, the BMW 128ti is around 80 kilos lighter than the four-wheel drive BMW M135i xDrive, from which it takes the highly pre-stressed stabiliser bearing and the stabilisers. Sports tyres are optionally available to the customer at no extra charge and guarantee even more driving pleasure. M sport brakes known from the top-of-the-range model guarantee braking characteristics that match the driving performance.

View the full press release Hide press release
Press release

Related Articles

2020 BMW 1 Series

What do you think?
Show Comments