Jaco van der Merwe
Volkswagen can’t afford to take threat of the 128ti lightly, and a proper hot hatch war might be brewing.
BMW’s announcement that its newly-arrived 128ti is taking the fight to Volkswagen’s iconic local favourite has divided opinion, similar to that on the grand stand at a Soweto derby.
Motoring media, having experienced the car for themselves last week, were unanimous in praising the merits of the 128ti. And their assessment had many a motoring enthusiast sit up with excitement over the prospect of BMW entering the hot hatch fray.
But this was met with strong resistance by the pro-GTI crowd on social media, a group which greatly outnumbers any other in all fairness. And their general narrative was: How dare anyone even mention the newcomer in the same breath as the local legend?
But a clear indication that VW might take a slightly more cautious approach than the average GTI fanboy was its timely response to the 128ti’s grand entry. Within a week the carmaker responded by releasing specifications of the Golf 8 GTI set to touch down within the next few months.
REALTED: WATCH: BMW declares hot hatch war on Golf GTI
Whether VW was planning to release that particular information at that exact time anyway is plausible, but on the surface it would seem like a well-timed response to the 128ti’s arrival.
If there was ever a good time for BMW to make some sort of inroads into the hot hatch segment with its uniquely-styled offering, it would be over the next few months. With local stock of the standard Golf 7.5 GTI drying up to the extent that VW currently only advertise the limited edition TCR ahead of the arrival of the eighth generation GTI.
The Golf 8 GTI GTC made its world debut on the South African racing circuit last year, but the production edition’s roll-out has been postponed until the second quarter of this year.
BMW 128ti rear
Realistically, even with the lag time ahead of the Golf 8 GTI’s arrival, the 128ti is not going to perform miracles overnight and neither does BMW expect it to. The GTI’s heritage is simply too deeply embedded in South African culture and no-one can argue with the vocal fan club on this.
But VW would be extremely foolish not to take note of what the 128ti offers, not only in terms of product, but also value and badge appeal.
BMW has indicated that it is committed to the cause and are not going to go away overnight like some hot hatches have done over the years. In fact, the GTI hasn’t really had a direct rival since the discontinuation of the Ford Focus STI.
In terms of technology, BMW has used research and development from its electrified i3 to its advantage in the 128ti. While the initial idea of the 1 Series offering front-wheel drive models might have made BMW purists cringe with disgust, torque-steering technology from the i3 gives the 128ti a definite edge. That, along with various other M sports components and its unique red-lettering styling and stitching, make the 128ti a very attractive package.
BMW 128ti interior
The very aggressive tag price tag of R687 418 along with the backing of one of South Africa’s most appealing car brands all tick huge boxes for the 128ti. The standard Golf 7.5 GTI sold for R632 700 and the TCR is priced at R689 200.
In terms of performance, the playing field is very even in terms of standard production specification.
Both the 128ti and Golf 8 GTI are powered by a 2.0-litre turbo engine, with the BMW’s powerplant mated to eight-speed Steptronic transmission and producing 180kW/380Nm compared to the VW, which is mated to seven-speed DSG transmission with an output of 180kW/370Nm.
The 128ti is claimed to go from 0 to 100km/h in 6.3 second compared to GTI’s 6.4 sec.
BMW 128ti logo
Regardless of who edges the first drag race between the two, BMW acknowledges the fact that the GTI heritage wasn’t established on numbers alone. It’s sound, the styling, the handling, the appeal, the instant respect it warrants, and the lasting value all needs to be factored into its immense loyal following.
You can’t do any of that if you don’t have the right product. That product has just pulled in. Watch this space.
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