Cyrano de Bergerac was a Gallic novelist, playwright and duellist, highlights Iain Robertson, yet he will forever be remembered for possessing a most sizeable nose, a factor that Germanic wit may have transposed onto several of its most recent BMW models.
Despite leading a very full life, Monsieur de Bergerac died at a very youthful 36 years of age in most unfortunate circumstances, leaving a remarkable literary legacy. Coming from a privileged background, at the age of 19, he joined the corps of the guards but was wounded in action. However, he was notorious for boasting about his noble status and became an accomplished duellist. He wrote both comedic and tragic stories and plays, which accorded him a repute as an early ‘science-fiction’ aficionado in the mid-17th Century.
While his life was not chronicled fully, an amusing semi-biographical play about his fascination for a girl called Roxane became a noted piece by Edmond Rostand in 1897, turned into a 1990 Hollywood movie (‘Cyrano de Bergerac’) starring Gerard Depardieu. Despite the critically reported inaccuracies of Rostand’s play, its popularity arose from the charm of the big-nosed central character, whose depth was significantly greater than the low esteem in which he held himself. Thus, I urge you to look beyond the BMW’s big conk and to appreciate the role of the 128ti model that, in name alone, reflects a sporting pedigree important to the Munich firm’s colourful past.
Although the ‘ti’ designation was last applied to a 3-Series model some 20 years ago, I can recall owning a 2002ti in the late-1970s, which is not only a modern classic today but demonstrated signs of greatness in era. Based on the company’s 1-Series, the new 128ti could be referred to as a return to pioneering sports engineering at a significantly more affordable level. Price tagged at £32,995 and intended to go on sale from November 2020, it might also become a seriously in-demand model, as much as having a future classic value.
Of course, BMW has been under fire from traditionalists for shifting its driven wheels from the rear to the front of the car. So far, the zippiest model in the 1-Series line-up has been the M135iX, in which all four wheels are driven, a factor that overcomes some criticism. Yet, the range has been missing a ‘special attraction’ and, with all of the experience BMW has gained from front-wheel drive engineering (in both Mini and the 1-Series’ lesser models), it employs a lot of the technology applied to the M135iX and warrants M Sport specification straight out of the box.
The transversely mounted 2.0-litre, four-cylinder, turbo-petrol engine develops a cool 265bhp and a strident 295lbs ft of torque, which gifts the 128ti with a 0-60mph acceleration time of 5.8s and an electronically limited top speed of 155mph. The drive is through an 8-speed automatic transmission (and a Torsen limited-slip differential), which can be manually shifted using either the stick, or the ‘up-and-down’ steering wheel located paddles. However, typical of BMW, its high performance does not equate to worryingly steep running costs, as its CO2 emissions range from 139 to 148g/km, while returning up to 46.3mpg on the official WLTP fuel economy tests.
To meet drive-by noise regulations, the sound heard in the cabin is a slightly (electronically) enhanced version of what is happening outside the car but it is not as distasteful as some symposed noises, thank heavens! While the front-end of the car works efficiently, providing high grip levels and faithfully reactive steering, standard yaw control ensures that the rear axle does not behave waywardly, unless the driver switches off the traction control and encourages greater dial-in agility. The safety margin is high but the driving dynamics are engaging, because some ‘naughtiness’ can be introduced and the power understeer that faults several potent front-wheel drive cars is virtually absent from the menu.
Although I am not suggesting that BMW always gets it right, it is fortunate that the engineering team recognises that stopping is every bit as important as progression and the 128ti is fitted with M Sport brakes that provide not only increased fade resistance but also exceptional pedal feel. The front, four-piston, aluminium callipers carry the M logo and are the first to be painted red in a 1 Series. They clamp onto 360mm x 30mm inner-ventilated discs, while floating callipers, again with inner-vented brake discs measuring 300mm x 20mm, are fitted at the rear. Naturally, they are visible between the standard Y-spoke, 18.0-inch diameter alloy wheels; more so, if the 19.0-inch double-spoke optional alloy wheels are selected.
It will come as no surprise to discover that BMW is offering the full range of M Performance accessories and carbon-fibre trim enhancements that can soon whisk the list price in a heavenwards direction. Yet, the standard detailing should be more than adequate, as the 128ti features high-class materials throughout, with inevitable red accents, that create a bold contrast to its jet-black headlining. The front centre sections of the standard sports seats are also in red and the ‘ti’ logo is stitched into the centre armrest, should you forget, which, like the door cards, the instrument binnacle, steering wheel rim and floormat edging, are also red stitched. Standard equipment also includes the protective M door sill-strips and M seat belts. The backlit dash and door strips remain unaltered.
Needless to say, for a modern BMW, the stock equipment is good, with customary connectivity and ADAS technology included. Finally, it is worth pointing out that the 128ti’s handling is a delight and the suspension is sportingly firm but compliant enough to allow comfortable suspension movement. The driving position is excellent, with a good range of adjustment to suit a wide range of driver shapes and the sports seats do not bruise the buttocks of the more generously proportioned.
Conclusion: BMW is entering the traditional hot hatch arena with its new 128ti but it is so competent and capable that it will not surprise me, if it becomes the enthusiast’s favourite by a long chalk. Even on brief acquaintance, it is setting a fresh benchmark and it is competitively priced too.