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BMW 1 series


Abarth 595

Summary

BMW 1 series

It wasn’t that long ago the notion of a front-wheel drive (FWD) BMW was unheard of, but along came the third-generation 1 Series five-door hatchback in September 2019.

The 'F40' 1 Series' predecessors were based on rear-wheel drive (RWD) platforms, as was every other model in BMW's long history – to that point.

Ironically, though, the F40 1 Series' performance flagship remains the all-wheel drive (AWD) M135i xDrive, but now it has a FWD counterpart, the Volkswagen Golf GTI-baiting 128ti.

Critically, this represents the first time since the late 1990s range of 3 Series Compact three-door hatchbacks that the ti, Turismo Internazionale, badge has been affixed to a BMW.

So, does the 128ti hot hatch live up to the ti lineage of sporty BMW small cars? And perhaps more importantly, does it prove a FWD BMW can be truly desirable? Read on to find out.

Safety rating
Engine Type2.0L turbo
Fuel TypePremium Unleaded Petrol
Fuel Efficiency6.8L/100km
Seating5 seats

Abarth 595

Since 1949, Abarth has been giving the venerable Italian brand, Fiat, a patina of performance, based largely on giant-killing feats in small modified cars like the Fiat 600 of the 1960s.

More recently, the brand has been revived to boost the fortunes of the smallest Fiat on sale in Australia. Known formally as the Abarth 595, the tiny hatch packs a bit of a surprise under its distinctive snout.

Safety rating
Engine Type1.4L turbo
Fuel TypeRegular Unleaded Petrol
Fuel Efficiency5.8L/100km
Seating4 seats

Verdict

BMW 1 series7.9/10

It might not be rear-wheel drive, but the 128ti is a thoroughly enjoyable BMW to steer, proving the 'f' in front-wheel drive can stand for fun. It’s a very good hot hatch.

And given how expensive mainstream hot hatches have become, the 128ti is a bargain, giving would-be Golf GTI, Focus ST and i30 N buyers a thing or two to think about.

After all, the 128ti is a premium hot hatch by virtue of the BMW badges it wears and the higher quality of its parts, but not its price. And for that reason, it cannot be ignored.


Abarth 5955.8/10

It’s tough to be kind to the Abarth 595. Based on a platform that’s more than a decade old, the car has been left behind by its rivals in many ways, including basic ergonomics and its value equation.

The larger engine does work well in this smaller package, and its road-holding ability belies its size. However, only die-hard fans of the Abarth brand will be able to cope with the uncomfortable seating position and a complete lack of even the most perfunctory features that cars costing $10,000 less are able to offer.

Could you look past the Abarth 595's foibles? Let us know in the comments below.

Design

BMW 1 series8/10

You can count me among those who aren't fans of the 1 Series' version of BMW’s 'kidney' grille. It’s not just out of proportion, but arguably, misplaced.

In fact, it just spoils the front end, although I'm also not a fan of the bumper's 'smiling' centre air intake.

But, thankfully, that’s where my unfavourable opinion ends, as the angular headlights and hexagonal DRLs look the part, while the 128ti's red-trimmed side air intakes bring a sense of occasion.

And you better be a big fan of red trim, as the 128ti liberally applies it around the side, where the brake calipers have some presence behind the attractive 18-inch Y-spoke alloy wheels. And don’t forget the side skirt insert and 'ti' decal!

At the rear, aside from the obligatory '128ti' badge and the relatively subtle red-trimmed side air intakes, there isn’t much to separate the 128ti from a garden variety 1 Series, but that’s no bad thing as it's its best angle.

The sporty rear spoiler, sleek tail-lights, stupendous diffuser insert and scintillating dual exhaust tailpipes are gorgeous. And the 128ti is attractive in profile, thanks to its appealing silhouette and smoothly sculpted lines.

Inside, the 128ti stands out from the 1 Series crowd with the red stitching applied to the steering wheel, seats, armrests and dashboard, while the floor mats have – you guessed it – red piping.

The most interesting design flourish, though, is the red-stitched ti logo on the centre armrest. That's one way to make a statement, and it all combines to make the 128ti feel special.

And being a 1 Series is a leg-up in the first place, as high-quality materials are used throughout, in concert with a simple but effective design.

Mercifully, the centre stack features physical climate and audio controls, while the centre console has an appropriately sized gear selector and a rotary dial to control the multimedia system.

That's right, the 128ti has multiple input methods aside from the 10.25-inch central touchscreen and voice control, making it a relative breeze to operate, especially with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto support of the wireless variety.

That said, there's plenty of room for improvement for the 128ti's 10.25-inch digital instrument cluster, which lacks the breadth of functionality of its competitors.


Abarth 5957/10

Despite being based on a design that’s a decade old, the Abarths still stand out. Based on the classic Fiat 500 shape of the 1950 and '60s, it’s more cute than cut-throat, with a narrow track and tall roof giving it a toy-like presence.

The Abarth attempts to beef things up with deep front and rear bumper splitters, go-fast stripes, new headlights and alternate-colour wing mirrors.

The 595 rides on 16-inch rims, while the Competizione runs 17s.

Inside, it’s definitely different to most mainstream cars, with colour-coded plastic panels on the dash and a very upright seating position, along with a dual-tone steering wheel.

It’s a love-it-or-hate-it proposition. There’s no middle ground here.

Practicality

BMW 1 series9/10

Measuring 4319mm long (with a 2670mm wheelbase), 1799mm wide and 1434mm tall, the 128ti is a small hatchback in every sense of the term, but it makes the most of its size.

The boot's cargo capacity is competitive, at 380L, although it can be increased to a more accommodating 1200L by stowing the 60/40 split-fold rear bench.

Either way, there's a decent load lip to contend with, but four tie-down points, two bag hooks and a side storage net are on hand for securing loose items.

In the second row, there's a welcome four centimetres of legroom behind my 184cm driving position as well as a centimetre or two of headroom, even with our test car’s optional panoramic sunroof.

Three adults can sit on the rear seats on short journeys, but they will have next-to-no shoulder-room, plus a large central tunnel (necessary for AWD 1 Series variants) to deal with.

Young children are accommodated, though, with two ISOFIX and three top-tether anchorage points available for fitting child seats.

Amenities-wise, those in the back have access to the storage nets on the front seat backrests, clothes hooks, the centre console's directional air vents and two USB-C ports.

The door bins can take a regular bottle each, but there isn't a fold-down armrest with cupholders.

Up front, the glove box is surprisingly large, while the driver-side cubby is not only decently sized, but two-tiered. The central storage bin is also solid, and has a USB-C port hidden inside.

Ahead of that are a 12V power outlet, a pair of cupholders, a USB-A port and a narrow, open cubby that should house a wireless smartphone charger (but doesn't). And yes, the door bins are ready to swallow a regular bottle apiece. So, pretty damn good overall.


Abarth 5954/10

This is another area where the Abarth falls down. First and foremost, the seating position for the driver in both cars is utterly compromised.

The seat itself is mounted far, far, too high, and has little adjustment in any direction, and there is no reach adjustment in the steering wheel column to allow a taller (or even an average height) driver to get comfortable.

The more expensive Competizione we tested was fitted with a set of optional sports bucket seats from racing company Sabelt, but even they are mounted literally 10cm too high. They are also ultra firm, and even though they look supportive, lack decent side bolster support.

The tiny multimedia screen is okay to use, but the buttons are miniscule, while there’s a complete lack of storage places in the front. 

There are two cupholders under the centre console, with two more in between the front seats for rear seat passengers. There are no bottle holders in the doors and no storage for rear seaters.

Speaking of the rear seats, they are the very definition of cramped, with little headroom for moderately sized adults and precious little knee or toe room. There are two sets of ISOFIX baby seat mounting points, though, should you fancy wrestling your wriggling toddlers through the narrow aperture.

The seats flip forward to reveal more cargo space (185 litres with the seats up, and 550 litres when the seats are down), but the seat backs don’t fold flat into the floor. Under the boot floor is a can of sealant and a pump, but no space saver spare.

In truth, it was a long day testing this car… at 187cm, I simply could not get comfortable in it at all.

Price and features

BMW 1 series8/10

Priced from a tempting $55,031, plus on-road costs, the 128ti finds itself right in the thick of the hot-hatch action, with its M135i xDrive big brother at least $10,539 dearer, while its most direct rival, the Golf GTI, is just $541 cheaper.

Of course, more affordable FWD hot hatches are available, and they're more potent than the 128ti and GTI, including the Ford Focus ST X ($51,990) and automatic Hyundai i30 N Premium ($52,000).

Either way, the 128ti stands out from the 1 Series crowd with its bespoke steering tune, lowered sports suspension (-10mm), black grille, unique two-tone 18-inch alloy wheels with 225/40 Michelin Pilot Sport 4 tyres, upgraded brakes with red calipers, and black side-mirror caps.

There's also red trim on the front and rear air intakes, and side skirts, with 'ti' decals positioned above the latter. The steering wheel, seats, armrests, dashboard and floor mats have similarly coloured accents.

Other standard equipment includes a body kit, dusk-sensing adaptive LED headlights, rain-sensing wipers, a tyre repair kit, power-folding side mirrors with heating and puddle lights, keyless entry and start, a 10.25-inch touchscreen multimedia system, satellite navigation, wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto support, digital radio and a six-speaker sound system.

And then there’s a 10.25-inch digital instrument cluster, a 9.2-inch head-up display, dual-zone climate control, a sports steering wheel, power-adjustable front sports seats with memory functionality, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, black/red cloth and synthetic leather upholstery, 'Illuminated Boston' trim, ambient lighting and M seat belts.

Options include a $3000 'Enhancement Package' (metallic paintwork, panoramic sunroof and adaptive cruise control with stop and go functionality), which was fitted to our test vehicle for an 'as tested' price of $58,031.

Other key options include a $1077 'Convenience Package' (power tailgate, boot storage net and ski port), a $2000 'Executive Package' (alarm, rear privacy glass, 10-speaker hi-fi sound, gesture control and tyre pressure monitoring) and a $1023 'Comfort Package' (heated steering wheel, and front seats with lumbar support).


Abarth 5954/10

The range has been stripped back to just two cars, and costs has come down slightly, with the 595 now starting at $26,990, plus on-road costs. 

A new 5.0-inch touchscreen multimedia system (with digital radio), a leather wrapped steering wheel, TFT dash display, rear parking sensors, alloy pedals, 16-inch alloy rims, and (front-only) adaptive dampers are standard on the base 595.

A convertible, or more accurately, a rag-top (cabriolet) version of the 595 is also available for $29,990.

The 595 Competizione is now a whopping $8010 cheaper at $31,990 with a manual gearbox, leather seats (Sabelt-branded sports buckets are optional), 17-inch alloys, a louder Monza exhaust, as well as front and rear adaptive Koni shocks, and Eibach springs.

Unfortunately, what stands out more on the Abarths is what they don’t come with. Auto lights and wipers, cruise control of any sort, driver aids including AEB and adaptive cruise… even a rear view camera is missing.

What’s more puzzling is that the Abarth’s architecture, though a decade old, has provision to accept at least a rear view camera.

Abarth’s explanation that the car’s home market doesn’t see these inclusions as important doesn’t really hold water, either.

In terms of value, the lack of basic content sends the Abarth to the bottom of a competitive pile that includes both the Ford Fiesta ST and the Volkswagen Polo GTI.

Engine & trans

BMW 1 series8/10

The 128ti is motivated by a familiar 2.0-litre turbo-petrol four-cylinder engine, with its version producing a promising 180kW of power at 6500rpm and 380Nm of torque from 1500-4400rpm.

Disappointingly, Australian examples are detuned relative to their European counterparts, which are 15kW/20Nm more potent due to their market-specific set-up.

Either way, drive is sent to the front wheels via a dependable ZF eight-speed torque-converter automatic transmission (with paddle-shifters) and a determined Torsen limited-slip differential.

This combination helps the 128ti sprint from a standstill to 100km/h in a brisk 6.3 seconds while on the way to a not-in-Australia top speed of 243km/h.

For reference, competitor outputs are: M135i xDrive (225kW/450Nm), Golf GTI (180kW/370Nm), i30 N Premium (206kW/392Nm), and Focus ST X (206kW/420Nm).


Abarth 5957/10

The Abarth 595 pair use the same 1.4-litre 'MultiJet' four-cylinder turbo engine in differing states of tune. The base car makes 107kW/206Nm, while the Competizione makes 132kW/250Nm, thanks to a freer-flowing exhaust, a larger Garrett-branded turbocharger and an ECU re-tune.

The base car can do 0-100km/h in 7.8 seconds, while the Competizione is 1.2 seconds quicker; the optional 'Dualogic' automatic is 0.2sec slower to the mark in both cars.

A five-speed manual gearbox is standard, and neither car is fitted with a limited slip diff.

Fuel consumption

BMW 1 series7/10

The 128ti's fuel consumption on the combined cycle test (ADR 81/02) is a promising 6.8L/100km, while its carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions are 156g/km.

However, in real-world testing, I averaged a reasonable 8.4L/100km over an even combination of urban and highway driving. Without my heavy right foot, an even better return could be had.

For reference, the 128ti's 50L fuel tank takes more expensive 98 RON premium petrol at minimum. Its claimed driving range is 735km, but in my experience, I got 595km.

 


Abarth 5957/10

Over 150km of testing, the Competizione consumed a dash-indicated 8.7 litres per 100km, against a claimed combined fuel economy figure of 6.0L/100km. Our brief test of the 595 revealed a similar number, against the same claimed figure.

The Abarth will only accept 95 octane fuel or better, and its small 35-litre tank is good for a theoretical 583km between fills.

Driving

BMW 1 series8/10

So, can a FWD BMW be fun to drive? As far as the 128ti is concerned, the answer is a resounding yes.

Yes, you get the feeling you’re being pulled rather than pushed, but the 128ti attacks corners with entertaining vigour.

Of course, the 2.0-litre turbo-petrol four-cylinder engine’s 180kW/380Nm outputs can easily overwhelm the front wheels off the line, and torque steer is a threat, particularly when pushing hard around bends, but they’re welcome characteristics.

After all, corner exits are improved by the 128ti’s Torsen limited-slip differential, which works hard to optimise grip when you need it most.

When going for the jugular, understeer still rears its ugly head, but wrestling the 128ti into shape is half the fun.

That said, body control isn't quite as strong as hoped. Turn in sharply and the 1445kg 128ti generates a surprising amount of roll.

It’s worth noting the lowered sports suspension goes without adaptive dampers, its fixed-rate set-up attempting to find the delicate balance between comfort and dynamic response.

All in all, the 128ti's ride is firm but well judged, with short, sharp imperfections the only real bother. Needless to say, it’s capable of being a daily driver, and so it should be.

As mentioned, the electric power steering has a unique calibration, and it's nice and direct, with a good amount of feel. But if you prefer more heft, simply engage 'Sport' mode.

Speaking of which, the Sport drive mode also releases the full potential of the engine and the eight-speed auto, sharpening up the throttle and raising the shift points.

The 128ti engine is a gem, offering up plenty of punch, especially throughout the mid-range, where torque is at its fattest and power is about to peak. The accompanying soundtrack also has some presence, even if it is artificially 'enhanced.'

But the smooth yet relatively quick shifting automatic transmission can take plenty of credit for the brisk performance on offer.

That said, the 128ti's first and second ratios are surprisingly short, so pay attention if you take matters into your own hands via the steering wheel’s paddle shifters.


Abarth 5955/10

Ergonomics aside, the combination of torquey engine and lightweight car is always a good one, and the 1.4-litre turbocharged four is a good match with the front-drive Abarth.

There’s always enough mid-range urge to give the Abarth the hurry-up, and the longer-legged five-speed gearbox is a good match for the engine.

It also grips and turns surprisingly well, despite the Sport button adding too much artificial weight to the Abarth’s steering feel. 

That same button also firms up the front dampers on the 595 and all four on the Competizione, which works well on smoother terrain, but stiffens it too much over more undulating surfaces.

Around town it can be hard to strike a good balance between ride and comfort. The difference between soft and firm is much more pronounced in the Competizione, but it will still get tiring if your commute is a bumpy one. 

The turning circle, by the by, is ridiculously large for such a small car, making u-turns - already compromised by the lower front bumper - unnecessarily fraught.

The Monza exhaust on the Competizione gives it a bit more presence, but it could easily be louder (or at least more crackly) again; you’re not buying this car to be a wallflower, after all.

Safety

BMW 1 series8/10

The 128ti and the wider 1 Series range received a maximum five-star rating from independent Australian vehicle safety authority ANCAP in 2019.

Advanced driver-assist systems in the 128ti extend to autonomous emergency braking (AEB) with pedestrian and cyclist detection, lane-keep assist, cruise control, speed sign recognition, high-beam assist, driver attention alert, blind-spot monitoring, active rear cross-traffic alert, park assist, rear AEB, a reversing camera, front and rear parking sensors, and 'Reversing Assistant.'

That said, annoyingly, adaptive cruise control with stop and go functionality is part of the 128ti’s optional Enhancement Package fitted to our test vehicle, or as an individual option.

And tyre pressure monitoring is tied to its extra-cost Executive Package. Both should be standard.

Also included are six airbags (dual front, side and curtain), anti-skid brakes (ABS) and the usual electronic stability and traction control systems.


Abarth 5955/10

Despite a lack of electronic safety aids – and, somewhat amazingly in the current age, a rear-view camera – the Fiat 500 that forms the Abarth's basis still carries the maximum five-star rating from ANCAP it was awarded in 2008, by dint of its seven airbags and bodyshell strength. 

It wouldn’t have the same luck if it were judged under new ANCAP regs coming into force in 2018, though.

Ownership

BMW 1 series7/10

Like all BMW models, the 128ti comes with a three-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty, which is two years off the five years/unlimited km premium benchmark set by Audi, Genesis, Jaguar/Land Rover, Lexus, Mercedes-Benz, and Volvo.

The 128ti also comes with three years of roadside assistance, while its service intervals are average, at every 12 months or 15,000km, whichever comes first.

Capped-price servicing packages are available, with three years/40,000km starting from $1350, while five years/80,000km kicks off at $1700. The latter, in particular, offers great value.


Abarth 5957/10

A three-year/150,000km warranty is offered as standard on the Abarth 595 range, with a suggested service interval of 12 months or 15,000km.

Abarth importer Fiat Chrysler Automobiles Australia offers three fixed-priced services for the 595 range at 15,000, 30,000 and 45,000km, with the first costing $275.06, the second $721.03 and the third $275.06.