JUST when the front-wheel-drive hot hatch market was starting to look full, BMW has come out and announced that it will be joining the party with its new 128ti, a performance 1 Series devoid of the M nomenclature but still packing a punch.
Armed with a Torsen limited-slip differential as standard, the 128ti is expected to touch down on Aussie soil in the first quarter of next year and is the first performance-oriented BMW ever to send its power exclusively to the front wheels.
Power will come from a detuned version of the flagship M135i xDrive’s turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine, which in 128ti guise, churns out 195kW and an as-yet-unspecified amount of torque while gear shifting duties will be catered for by the familiar eight-speed automatic transmission.
While the new front-driver may be down on power, the omission of the xDrive all-wheel-drive system has shaved some 80kg from its kerb weight, allowing the 128ti to scramble from 0-100km/h in 6.1 seconds.
These key stats thrust the 128ti right into the thick of the current hot hatch action, out-muscling the Volkswagen Golf GTI (180kW) in terms of power and matching the Hyundai i30 N for acceleration.
It remains to be seen how much torque the 128ti will have at its disposal as it begins its final testing at the Nurburgring, however we expect it to be around the 400-420Nm mark given the all-paw M135i boasts 450Nm.
That would put the fresh-faced Bavarian right at the pointy end of the field with the Ford Focus ST (420Nm), Honda Civic Type R (400Nm) and Renault Megane RS Trophy (400Nm).
According to BMW, fuel consumption for the detuned engine is rated at between 6.1 and 6.4 litres per 100km, while CO2 emissions are pegged at between 139 and 148g per kilometre.
Despite being down on power and ultimate grip compared to the M135i, BMW says a “special focus lies on the dynamic handling characteristics of the new variant of the BMW 1 Series, which has been consistently designed for active driving pleasure”.
As such, the 128ti borrows many of its suspension components from the flagship as well as M Sport parts bins, featuring lowered M Sport suspension, BMW Performance Control (torque vectoring), pre-stressed stabiliser bearings and stabilisers, all of which have been tuned and adapted specifically to the front-wheel-drive set-up.
M Sport brakes have also been confirmed as standard while ‘sport tyres’ will be available as a no-cost option – local pricing and specification is yet to be detailed.
“The new BMW 128ti is much more than just a new BMW 1 Series variant,” BMW said in a statement.
“In addition to many differentiating exterior and interior features, the entire suspension and steering were specifically tuned to offer extremely sporty and driver-oriented driving dynamics.
“Consequently, the new, exclusively front-wheel drive sports car addresses a particularly young target group with a focus on typical BMW driving pleasure.”
As for the rest of the 1 Series range, BMW has sold 1618 units so far this year ending August, accounting for 17 per cent of the $40,000-plus small car segment behind the Mercedes-Benz A-Class (4336/45.5%) and Audi A3 (1702/17.9%).