New BMW 128ti quicker, more affordable than Golf GTI

No manual gearbox, though

BMW has unveiled the 128ti version of its 1 Series, a front wheel drive hot hatchback to rival the ever-popular Golf GTI and recently further-improved Honda Civic Type R.

Prices start at £32,995, which is about £500 cheaper than an entry-spec Golf GTI and only £150 or so more than a Civic Type R, making it very competitive financially. And you get a lot of bang for your buck — the engine is the same 2.0-litre, four cylinder unit used in the range-topping M135i, albeit detuned by about 40bhp to produce 261bhp. That’s good enough for 0-62mph in 6.1 seconds, which is 1.3 seconds slower than the £37,000 M135i but half a second quicker than the Golf GTI, which has a 35bhp power deficit.

These may only be marginal advantages, but it makes the hot hatch market — one of the most hotly contested segments thanks to cars that also include the Ford Focus ST, Renault sport Megane R.S. and pricier Mercedes-AMG A 35 — even more competitive. The fact that the 128ti is BMW’s first front-wheel drive hot hatch makes it even more exciting (although the company has experience with such beasts under the Mini marque).

Other high-performance features include the same M-Sport braking system found in the M135i (complete with go-faster red calipers), as well as specially-tuned M Sport suspension that’s been lowered by 10mm compared to the standard model (as well as predictably stiffened) and a Torsen limited slip differential that stabilises power delivered to the road in high-speed situations.

There’s also a not-insignificant 80kg weight saving on the normal model, which is like removing one of your passengers. BMW says this makes for “highly engaging driving pleasure”, and it claims that torque steer (sometimes cited as an issue in the range-topper) has been eliminated thanks to a new steering setup.

It also looks very much like a sporty BMW, kitted out with the M Sport exterior package as standard, with the addition of some red trims in order to set it apart from other variants, though as with other recent models from Munich, the design may divide BMW traditionalists — particularly the oversized front grille.

Hot hatch aficionados may also lament the fact that there’s no manual gearbox to go with the 128ti. The Civic Type R and Golf GTI come with a six-speed manual as standard, whereas the only option for the BMW is an eight-speed Steptronic Sport automatic transmission with steering wheel paddles. It’s worth noting that if an automatic gearbox is your preference (they’re often faster and more fuel efficient these days), you’ll have to pay a £1,500 premium on the Golf GTI, making the price difference between the rivals even more more significant.

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