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BMW rejigs the front-wheel-drive 1 Series as a GTI-taunting hot hatch

The third-generation BMW 1 Series is not sold in the United States. It's also front-wheel drive, a switch that left BMW fans in a dumb stupor. Mounting the engine sideways means the hatchback is no longer eligible to receive a straight-six, but the Munich-based firm is taking advantage of the new layout to catapult the 1 into a segment dominated by the Volkswagen Golf GTI: hot hatches.

Called 128ti, the sprightly variant of the 1 Series wears a nameplate that was famously worn by the 1602 and the 2002 sold during the 1960s. No one seems rattled by the fact that Alfa Romeo has also used it for decades, and it continues to do so in 2020. Back to the road: BMW's modern-day ti is powered by a turbocharged, 2.0-liter four-cylinder that sends 265 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque to the front wheels via an eight-speed automatic transmission and a Torsen limited-slip differential. It doesn't sound like a six-speed stick will be available.

Hitting 62 mph takes 6.1 seconds, according to the firm, but the 128ti was developed for roads shaped like an overcooked spaghetti, not to live life a quarter-mile at a time. BMW noted its engineers tweaked the steering to make the hatchback more engaging to drive, and they developed a lower, firmer suspension to keep body roll in check. Brakes sourced from the range-topping, all-wheel drive M135i xDrive are part of the package, too.

BMW released images of a camouflaged 128ti being put through its paces on the picturesque roads surrounding its headquarters in Munich, Germany. It looks like the only parts hidden from view are the air vents chiseled into both bumpers as well as the emblem on the hatch. In other words, it will take a well-trained eye to pick out the 128ti in a crowd. Photos of the interior haven't been released, but we're not expecting epoch-shaping changes.

Can BMW beat Volkswagen at the game it has been playing since 1975? It's easier said than done; several have tried, and many have failed. We'll have a better idea of where the 128ti stands in the hot hatch pecking order when it begins arriving in European showrooms in November 2020. Don't expect it to turn a wheel in the United States, where the standard 1 Series hatchback has never been available. However, we do get a three-box version of the car named 2 Series Gran Coupe, so creating a 228ti is technically feasible. Whether it makes sense from a marketing perspective is another matter. We've reached out to BMW, and we'll update this story if we learn more.

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