BMW revives the "ti" badge after 16 years on VW Golf GTI competitor

BMW just unveiled a new version of the third-generation 1 Series. It’s called the 128ti and it’s pretty much a detuned M135i without an xDrive system. Powered by a turbocharged four-cylinder engine rated at 261 horsepower, the 128ti slots between the 120i and M135i and it’s a new competitor for the popular Volkswagen Golf GTI.

The 128ti also revives the "ti" badge, which BMW previously used from 2001 to 2004 on the 3 Series Compact, a hatchback version of the 3 Series sedan. The "ti" badge actually goes back to the 1960s, when BMW used it on the 1800 TI, a version of the New Class sedan, a predecessor to the 5 Series. BMW also produced 02 Series (3 Series predecessor) model with this badge, including the 1600 TI and 2002 tii in the 1960s and 1970s.

The 2021 BMW 128ti is a slightly sportier 1 Series with M135i cues

The 2021 BMW 128ti Is a Detuned M135i Aimed at the VW Golf GTI Exterior
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Design-wise, the 128ti isn't necessarily more aggressive than the regular 1 Series, but it borrows many features from the sporty M135i.

The front bumper, for instance, is identical to the latter when it comes to the shape of the central vent and the vertical air curtains onto the sides. But while these curtains are black on the M135i, the 128ti features red surrounds, so there’s a more striking contrast.

The side sills are also finished in red, as are the "ti" decals on the lower rear wheel arches. However, these elements are red only as long as you don’t pick the Melbourne Red or Misano Blue exterior colors. If you go with red or blue, the air curtains and the decals will be black, while the side sills are body-colored. You also have the option to delete the contrasting features and the badges for a subdued look.

The 2021 BMW 128ti Is a Detuned M135i Aimed at the VW Golf GTI Exterior
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The kidney grille is black, just like on the M135i, but it features the vertical slats as on the regular 1 Series. The mirror caps are also finished in high-gloss black, while the 18-inch wheel in a Y-spoke design and bi-color finish are exclusive to this trim. Around back, only a pair of black exhaust pipes sets the 128ti apart from other 1 Series trims.

The 2021 BMW 128ti’s interior is packed with red accents

The 2021 BMW 128ti Is a Detuned M135i Aimed at the VW Golf GTI Interior
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The red accent theme of the exterior continues inside the cabin with red accents on the standard front sports seats and matching elements on the exclusive rear seat bench. There’s red contrast stitching on the armrests, door panels, dashboard, and steering wheel too.

You’ll also find red stitching on the passenger side airbag cover, as well as a red "ti" badge stitched into the center armrest. Everything else remains the same as in the regular 1 Series, but it all depends on how you spec your car.

The 2021 BMW 128ti packs a solid punch

The 2021 BMW 128ti Is a Detuned M135i Aimed at the VW Golf GTI Drivetrain
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The 128ti draws juice from the same 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that BMW offers in the 120i and the M135i xDrive.

And it slots right between these trims. Specifically, the turbocharged four-banger cranks out 261 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque. That’s 85 horsepower more than the more mundane 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. Also, while the M135i comes with an xDrive AWD system as standard, the 128ti is available with front-wheel drive only.

The 128ti isn't just more powerful than the regular 1 Series, it's also sportier thanks to a bunch of upgrades borrowed from the M135i xDrive.

This hatchback is fitted with beefed-up anti-roll bars and stiffer springs and shocks and the package also includes a Torsen mechanical limited-slip differential. The 18-inch wheels can be wrapped in Michelin Pilot Sport 4 tires at no extra cost.

The 128ti hits 62 mph in 6.1 seconds. That’s 1.3 seconds slower than the M135i xDrive, but it’s a full second quicker than the 120i trim. Top speed is limited to 155 mph, identical to the M135 xDrive.

This new trim enables the BMW to compete with the Volkswagen Golf GTI, now also a premium performance hatchback. The latest GTI also features a 2.0-liter turbo-four. The German hatch comes with 242 horsepower and 273 pound-feet on tap, so 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.

BMW 128ti vs Volkswagen Golf GTI Specs
BMW 128ti VW Golf GTI
Engine 2.0-liter, four-cylinder turbocharged 2.0-liter, four-cylinder turbocharged
Horsepower 261 Horses 242 Horses
Torque 295 pound-feet 273 pound-feet
Transmission Eight-speed Automatic Seven-speed Automatic/Six-speed Manual
0-62 mph 6.1 s  6.3 s
Top Speed  155 mph 155 mph

How much does the 2021 BMW 128ti cost?

The 2021 BMW 128ti Is a Detuned M135i Aimed at the VW Golf GTI Exterior
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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.

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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