BMW 1 Series 128ti 2021 long-term review

Wa the first front-wheel-drive hot hatch from Munich better than the Ford Focus ST?

Life with a BMW 128ti: Month 4

After a months-long 7500-mile real-world test, it leaves with its head held high despite its shortcomings as a hot hatch – 27 October 2021

My hopes for the 128ti were both high and low, if that is not too contradictory a statement. High because I’ve never driven a ti BMW I didn’t like and I fancied it might find a sweet spot between the standard 1 Series and the expensive, heavy M135i. Low because it was unfortunate enough to be replacing a Ford Focus ST outside my house.

And I’ll say now that as a thing to punt down a decent road, the Ford is better. Wet, dry, night and day, up hill and down dale better. It surprised me not at all that the ti came last at our Junior Handling Day – only that it was invited in the first place.

But the thing with long-term reports is that we’re not too concerned with all that stuff. I’m lucky enough to live in the Welsh borders, where I can be on a cracking road within three minutes of getting in the car, and even I don’t spend much time door-handling whatever I happen to be in. Because, like you, I spend most of my time behind the wheel on motorways, or in town, and who gives a stuff about yaw gain following lift-off oversteer there?

I care rather more that the car is quiet, which the ti is once you’ve learned to ignore the low- rev, part-throttle body boom, and comfortable. And in that regard, the 128ti is excellent: fine seats and just enough spring rate to control the body over crests and in dips without introducing any harshness.

The engine, however, is only so-so. Actually, its fuel economy was extremely impressive and I appreciated its ability to return a genuine near-50mpg at a steady 70mph motorway cruise – not bad for a 155mph car fired by petrol.

But it’s not an enthusiastic engine and cannot be made so even by the surprisingly responsive eight-speed auto ’box. It lacks both the power and character of the Ford’s punchy motor, denying it access to the hot hatch top table, even if its limited chassis abilities had not done so already.