DRIVEN: BMW’s GTI-rivalling 128ti is an interesting new hot hatch option
JOHANNESBURG - The world may be awash with SUVs, crossovers and double cabs but it’s heartening to see manufacturers still taking a keen interest in a hot hatch.
Made popular by VW with its GTI in the late 70s and early 80s most manufacturers followed suit with their own versions of front-wheel drive hatchbacks that would attempt to rip up the tar from robot to robot.
Sure, you can buy a big fire-breathing, twin turbo-charged V6 or V8 but nipping around corners in a compact car provides oodles of entertainment and gets the adrenaline pumping just as hard.
That’s certainly the case with BMW’s new 128ti which people are saying will be going head to head with the Golf GTI when it comes to Mzanzi later this year.
That may be so, but the 128ti deserves more than just being compared to its closest German rival.
The “TI” later changed to “ti”, stands for “Turismo Internazionale” and highlights the sporty models in their range from the 1960s and includes models such as the BMW 1800TI, BMW 2002TI, BMW 323ti Compact and 325ti Compact of the late 90s.
So there’s a rich heritage to draw from and this latest iteration certainly doesn’t disappoint in both the looks and performance stakes.
Taking design pointers from the M135i xDrive, BMW added specific “ti” covers and trim moldings, side skirts and a “ti” badge ahead of the rear wheels in red. If the car is ordered with the Melbourne Red or Misano Blue metallic paint finishes, the accents and “ti” badge (which can be deleted) come in black.
The extended Shadowline trim comes standard with black grille and mirror caps while the interior gives you no doubt about it being a “ti”. Red accents including a large Race Red surface in the backrests of the sports seats, embroidered “ti” badging in the central armrest and contrast stitching in the other armrests while the steering wheel and airbag cover on the M Sport steering wheel are also stitched in red.
So, it certainly has the looks but what’s it like to drive?
Well, under the bonnet sits a slightly detuned version of the BMW M135i xDrive four-cylinder 2.0 litre TwinPower Turbo technology mill which in the 128ti gives you 180kW and 380Nm of torque. Power is sent to the front wheels via BM’s brilliant eight-speed Steptronic Sport transmission with paddle shifters, should you want to take things over yourself.
It will get to 100km/h in 6.3 seconds and even out at a limited 250km/h which is fast enough to be sure.
The standard M Sport suspension lowers the car by 10mm with stiffer springs and shocks and there’s also a Torsen mechanical limited-slip differential as well as firmer anti-roll bars and anti-roll bar mounts with higher preload.
Sliding behind the wheel the sport seat fit snuggly providing ample support both while cruising along the highway and powering through corners. Oh yes, the dash has the dial markings moving in the traditional direction rather than the confusing anti clockwise dials of some of its siblings.
You can definitely feel the stiffer suspension even in comfort mode but it's not jarring and switching to sport tightens everything even further.
We had a couple of hours of free time with the car so I picked up my son along the way with his not inconsiderable school bag and fencing kit which fitted easily in to the boot before dropping him off at home and heading towards some of the preferred fast sections in the Hartbeespoort area via the Cradle of Humankind.
Acceleration, although not blistering, is more of a controlled affair, showcasing the LSD and transmission while switching to the paddles provided the same sensation.
Accelerating hard into and out of corners there’s inevitably some torque steer but not disconcertingly so but you will have to keep your hands firmly planted on the steering wheel if you intend to drive hard through lots of twisties.
The car feels solidly planted but once you get close to the red line it does become twitchy despite a remapped electric power steering system, especially if the road surface becomes a bit bumpy.
Slotting the transmission into the sport setting there’s a pleasant exhaust growl, some of it piped into the cabin but I reckon its set up for EU levels and personally I’d like a lot more snap, crackle and pop from the back end.
After driving it hard the 128ti returned with impressive fuel consumption figures of just over 9L/100km so you get to have heaps of fun without having to spend too much time at the petrol pumps.
The BMW 128ti is priced at R687 418.