BMW just fully revealed what might be its most desirable compact car in some time, the 2021 BMW 128ti. (It previewed the new hot hatch earlier this year.) The 128ti may only be the second-rowdiest BMW in the 1-Series lineup next to the more powerful, all-wheel-drive M135i xDrive, but it may just be the one to buy—provided you live where it’s sold. The 128ti promises to be more affordable, almost like a BMW-badged Volkswagen GTI, but with BMW’s vaunted ti heritage behind it.
The ti, or “touring international,” badge hasn’t been used on a BMW in 15 years. The last time it appeared was on a variant of the E46-generation 3 Series—that’s more than two entire 3 Series generations ago. But, hey, no worries—ti is back and looking to have a little fun with the BMW 1 Series that isn’t sold here in America. The 128ti packs a newly developed 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine under its hood. It makes 265 hp, and even though there’s no word on torque, the engine is directly related to the unit in the top-dog M135i, which suggests the number might be close to that car’s 332 lb-ft.
Power is routed through BMW’s eight-speed automatic to the front wheels only. The car sits on a set of 18-inch wheels and gets Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tires as standard. It’s also packing a ton of other go-fast tech such as a Torsen limited-slip differential, stiffened anti-roll bars, M-sport suspension that was turned at the Nurburgring and is 0.4 inches lower than the standard setup, and M sport brakes with red calipers.
Speaking of seeing red, there is plenty of it on the 128ti. The vertical “air curtains” on either end of the front bumper are painted in a bright red color, as are the side skits and the “ti” badges that sit just in front of the rear wheels. It’s an interesting touch, but they’re only red as standard in Germany, as are the black grille and mirror caps. Other countries will have to specify those accents. Also, if you happen to pick red as your 128ti’s exterior color, the red “ti” badges are either removed or painted black.
Inside, the red accenting goes ever further. The standard sport seats have red stitching and red trim on the backrest, and the rear seats get the same treatment. The doors, dashboard, steering wheel, and center console also get spicy contrast stitching with a red “ti” logo stitched into the center armrest. Pricing will start at the equivalent of about $50,000, which sounds like a lot until you realize a fully loaded Golf R costs similar money.
So, to review: BMW is making a hot hatch with sticky tires, a stout engine, better brakes, and a new suspension that weighs less than the M135i xDrive. And Americans can’t have either of them, even though BMW could send us the ti treatment for the 1 Series’ U.S.-market cousin, the 2 Series Gran Coupe . . .