Just how badly do you want people to stare at you? It’s a question I had ample time to consider, hunkered down in the comfortable standard sports seats of the 2021 BMW 128ti and trying not to make eye-contact with fellow motorists, pedestrians, or the cyclist that almost swerved into its black metallic flanks.
For a hot hatch that makes excess its lodestar, the exterior red finishes compliments it perfectly. After all, with its 2.0-litre engine is good for 180kw of power and 380Nm of torque, 0-100 km/h is 6.3 seconds away, and frankly that feels conservative. To say that the 2021 BMW 128ti is basically a detuned M135i xDrive, would be an insult too. Here, though, power goes to the front wheels only, a Torsen Limited slip differential is standard and it makes up for the lost power by shedding off 80kg.
Those red finishes we spoke about earlier make their way inside to the seats including Race Red backrests on the rear seats. This distinguishes it from other 1 Series models. You will also find “ti” badging on the centre console and several parts on the exterior, as with other BMW models, the badging is optional and can also be ordered in black.
The BMW 128ti definitely isn’t an M car in the way it goes about its business. It’s subtle where they’re often aggressive. BMW has only fitted one suspension setup, bespoke to the ti and a passive system that doesn’t allow you to toggle through various levels of stiffness. And it’s one setup done right: There’s a firm edge to the ride over bumpier roads, but it soaks everything up with a lot of enthusiasm, and were this to be the middle mode of an adaptative system, you’d leave the car in it almost all of the time.
The engine and the gearbox are finely judged in their behaviour, too. This eight-speed paddle-shifter is a belter and makes its way into the 1-Series having proved itself in quicker, more expensive, more luxurious cars. The ratios are super-short—take manual control and you’ll have a whale of a time—but the car’s brain smartly shifts through them all when left in Drive, too. At which point you’ll have a very good chance of achieving BMW’s claimed 6.8l per 100km. Or perhaps even surpassing it.
The 2021 BMW 128ti will set you back R687 418.