When it arrives in November 2020, the BMW 128ti will be the first proper hot hatch on the front-driven architecture. The 128ti will slot into the range between the 181 hp 120i and the 302 hp M135i xDrive. It will also clearly compete with the VW Golf GTI. The 2021 BMW 128ti loses the four-wheel-drive set-up of the M135i in favor of front-wheel drive.

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The result is a car that’s 80 kg lighter. The 2.0 liter four-cylinder turbo makes 265 hp and 400 Nm of torque. BMW has also fitted a mechanical limited-slip differential, so the 0-62 mph (100 km/h) time of 6.2 seconds comes as no surprise. But unfortunately, drivers will only have the option of an eight-speed automatic. The lovely six-speed manual is not part of this “ti” package.

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Our sister-magazine BimmerToday went to the Nurburgring to sample this latest offering. Exclusive track time on the Nürburgring Nordschleife is unusual even for a BMW test drive. Andreas Stumm, Project Manager Driving Dynamics, explains the idea behind the new compact sports car in a workshop.

“We wanted to make the car as active as possible and create a basis that is even more neutral in its basic balance than the existing 1 Series,” Stumm says. “The goal was not to create a racing car that would only drive the fastest lap on the ring. We wanted to build a car that is fun on the country road, that gives direct feedback and that the driver can play with.”

A Revised Suspension

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The specially tuned M Sport springs come with a 10 mm lowering. Furthermore, there are revised elastokinematics on the front axle and a new axle carrier at the rear. The steering has also been adjusted compared to the M135i xDrive. BMW says that the steering set-up is deliberately not overly direct.

The result? A softer and more predictable handling. The mechanical Torsen differential has the locking ration slightly reduced to 31 percent from 38 percent. The 2021 BMW 128ti also comes with standard M Sport brakes and Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tires.

Lots Of Fun On The Ring

On the Nurburgring, the 128ti is stable, with its behavior easily controlled by the gas pedal input. The M Sport brakes are also superb. Meanwhile, the differential throws the BMW 128ti into the curves as if on rails, without looking as brutal as the big M Performance brother.

The well-known eight-speed Steptronic does its usual excellent job in combination with the easy-revving 2.0-liter four-cylinder. The maximum 265 hp and 400 Nm torque arrive between 1,750 and 4,500 rpm. Top speed is good for 250 km/h (155 mph), which comes quite quickly.

Especially here on the Nordschleife, the 18 inch Michelin Pilot Sport 4S, in combination with the ARB system, ensure an impressive level of grip. Instead of the rock-hard dampers, there is decent everyday comfort and, on top of that, driving behavior that is still worthy of the ‘Ring.

As always, the tight run-off areas, surprisingly tight curves and the elevations demand maximum attention. As the M2 Pace Car in front us starts to speed up, we try to keep up and push further the 128ti. A missed braking point needs to be corrected with a tight brake intervention, but that doesn’t seem to be an issue for the new hot hatch.

The 1,520 kilo-heavy 128ti appears pleasantly light-footed and alert. The newly reengineered steering works precisely without being too hectic.

As we turn onto the country roads for a short cooling-off lap, we collect our thoughts. Can the “Sheer driving pleasure” be experienced in a front-wheel drive car as well?

The engineers in Munch offer a convincing solution for this demanding challenge. The new BMW 128ti creates a finely tuned balance between everyday comfort and sportiness. It drives precisely and dynamically, supports the driver in testing the limit area and maintains a charming, natural character.

The multitude of changes in the areas of chassis and driving dynamics alone makes it clear that BMW is taking seriously its entry into the new segment.

And so the BMW 128ti does exactly what you can expect from a Hot Hatch from Munich: front-wheel drive with an exclamation mark!