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Review

5 ways BMW made the new 128ti hot hatch more fun than an M135i

Awkward: BMW’s new 128ti entry-level hot hatch might well be the best 1 Series

  1. The chassis has had a serious re-work

    Traditionally, asking BMW to build a front-wheel drive car would’ve gone down about as well as asking Gordon Ramsay to whip up a Big Mac and fries. Thankfully, now the time has come for BMW to get all sensible, it’s had 20 years’ experience making grin-a-minute Mini Coopers, so it knows what it’s doing. 

    As a result, BMW didn’t just rip the rear driveshafts out of an M135i and head off for a long sauerkraut lunch. The 128ti has completely redesigned rear suspension and geometry, the front diff and lightning-quick traction control have a bespoke set-up to maximise purchase on the road, and even the stiffening beams under the body have been swapped out to compromise between an untwistable shell and avoiding understeer.

    All of that’s been done so, when you lift off the throttle on the way into a corner, the 128ti tightens its line like a speed skater tucking into the bend, instead of snoozing into eleventy yards of understeer. You listening, Audi?

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  2. The 128ti doesn’t torque-steer like the M135i

    Secretly, the 302bhp M135i is actually front-wheel drive too. It only ever sends up to 50 per cent of poke to the rear wheels when the computers sense the front wheels have loaded too much onto their plate at the BHP Buffet. 

    Problem is, from behind the wheel you can feel this all happening. The steering wheel writhes around in your hands as the front axle tries to juggle the power, and then untenses and relaxes as it gives up and shares the burden with the back tyres. It’s very odd. 

    BMW clearly agrees, because it’s re-engineered the electric power steering motor for the 128ti, so it can provide counter-acting forces when the turbo boost is unleashed, meaning the driver never feels torque-steer is attempting to force them into a hedge. It’s so effective, the system has been fast-tracked into M135i production. So, the underdog has helped out the top dog. Bless.

  3. It sounds a bit angrier

    All fast BMWs use the speakers to fluff the engine noise up. Been happening for years, since the M5 went turbo. The M135i does it too, and it’s one of the more obvious offenders. It sounds autotuned, as if T-Pain and Cher have remixed the 2.0-litre engine. 

    The 128ti is up to the same tricks, but it’s clearly been to judges houses and learnt to hold a tune, because the noise isn’t as overtly fake. It’s a lot louder in Sport mode, but if you leave the Comfort button on, it’s as polite and muted as a butler clearing his throat. 

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  4. All the red stitching

    Red stitching is, as everyone knows, worth at least 5bhp and three seconds per lap around the Nürburgring. Facts. The interior of the 128ti was supposed to be completely disguised as the car’s not quite finished yet, but it’s a bit difficult to drive a car if all the controls are covered in a cloak.

    So, as you can see, BMW’s made merry with the red thread all over the 128ti, and instantly the 1er’s rather austere cockpit has become a more juvenile, schporty place to sit. Maybe some Civic Type R inspiration going on there? Either way, it’s a nice GTI-baiting touch. 

  5. The 128ti is a heck of a lot lighter

    Bolting on thinner stiffening beams and ditching xDrive gubbins has a healthy effect on the 128ti’s waistline. At 1,445kg, it’s a whopping 80kg lighter than the M135i, which means the power-to-weight ratios are a lot closer than you might expect: 180bhp per tonne plays 198bhp per tonne.

    Course, the engineers are upset the 128ti is a long way off BMW’s hallowed 50-50 weight balance, but when you feel that unladen rear tuck into a bend, you probably won’t care.

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