BMW 1 Series 128ti 2021 long-term review

Why we’re running it: To see if the first of a kind for BMW can tackle established rivals as a car not just to drive but also to live with

Month 1 – Specs

Life with a BMW 128ti: Month 1

Welcoming the 128ti to the fleet – 26 May 2021

Well, this is interesting. There I was enjoying life with the Ford Focus ST far more than I had expected when the opportunity to swap it for this BMW 128ti dropped into my lap. What to do?

On the one hand, I couldn’t really see me having much more fun in the less powerful, heavier and inevitably slower BMW, but on the other, the Ford had been with me since last summer, and the opportunity to chop it in for such a close rival and interesting newcomer to the class seemed too good to miss.

Of course, the BMW would be much more expensive – except it isn’t. It’s about £500 cheaper than the Ford, or make that £2000 once you’ve optioned a two-pedal transmission, which the BMW gets as standard. Nor is the BMW poorly equipped; in fact, its standard specification is pretty close to that of the Ford.

But the real interest is that the 128ti exists at all. There has never been a sporting front-wheel-drive BMW before.

Indeed, I can recall being told at the time of the launch of the original 130i why front-wheel drive didn’t work for such applications, citing the usual arguments about weight distribution and traction. But that was 16 years ago, when the world was a very different place. And here we are.

This car itself will look familiar to frequent readers, as it’s precisely the same 128ti that was used for our UK first drive. It arrived in Alpine White paint, with 4000 miles on the clock and a sensibly limited option count.

More than half of that cost was accounted for by the Technology Pack, whose useful components include LED headlights with automatic dipping, a head-up display and a wireless phone charging tray. Otherwise, it has a heated steering wheel (which is great), tinted glass (which is not) and a Harman Kardon surround-sound system (which, given how lame was the sound of the last standard BMW stereo that I used, is probably very welcome).

All in and on the road, this is a £35,480 car, which doesn’t sound bad value to me for a well-equipped, sporty BMW with more than 260bhp.

What do I like most about it so far? Certainly not its looks, which are absolutely not helped by the paint. Actually, when it comes to grille-based crimes against eyesight, the 128ti is nothing like as guilty an offender as certain other modern BMWs, but I would so much rather it were a grey, blue or, in fact, almost any other colour.

No, currently what I’m fondest of is the ti badging. Well, perhaps not the red side decals, but definitely the spirit behind them.


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