BMW is currently road testing a new model, and it’s called the 128ti. It’s a rather interesting performance-oriented model within the not-sold-here 1 Series hatch lineup. The current front-drive 1 Series succeeds two generations that were primarily rear-drive, and rides atop a platform (UKL) shared with the 2 Series Gran Coupé, X1, X2, MINI models, and more. The 128ti is another front-drive addition to the portfolio, which slots directly below the M135i xDrive.
The 128ti revives BMW’s ti model suffix for the first time in over a decade, and has a B48B20 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine good for 265 horsepower. For reference, the M135i xDrive makes 300 horsepower and 332 pound-feet of torque, but the 128ti isn’t just another 1 Series model to choose from. If the 265 horsepower figure above has you thinking, that’s probably because it allows the 128ti to slot directly against the GTI and other hot hatch models which occupy a sort of entry-level performance realm.
The 128ti is up for the challenge as well. In addition to the big brakes from the M135i xDrive, the design and tuning of the steering and suspension of the 128ti are specifically oriented towards providing, “extremely sporty and driver-oriented driving dynamics,” according to BMW. An M Sport suspension yielding a 10mm drop is standard, and so is a Torsen limited-slip differential—if the M235i Gran Coupé is any indication, you’ll make frequent use of it.
An eight-speed automatic Steptronic sport transmission is also standard (there’s no mention of a manual), but don’t get it confused with the ubiquitous ZF eight-speed used in almost every current other BMW model. The transmission likely to be found in the 128ti is an eight-speed torque-converter design made by Aisin, which is also used in the M135i and M235i Gran Coupé. Rather interestingly, lower-tier models of the current front-drive 1 Series are available with a seven-speed dual-clutch design.
Mentioning the transmission leads us to the purpose of this article. BMW is highly unlikely to sell the 128ti in the U.S., but would you consider owning one if the model was available here? I made this case a few years ago when I told the story of how I used to dream of owning one of BMW’s previous rear-drive 1 Series hatchbacks (I’m currently on my second 135i coupe). I’ve since realized selling a hatchback of any kind simply doesn’t jive with the BMW brand image, whatever that happens to be these days. Nevertheless, the unrelenting (and almost certainly hypothetical) search for a single-car solution (that is, one car in which to do it all) leaves me wondering.
After all, sales of the Volkswagen GTI continue to make a strong case for the versatile hot hatch. Perhaps there’s some market share on the table for BMW, too?—Alex Tock
[Photos courtesy BMW AG.]