However, you will also notice that there’s no traditional gearstick, and that’s because the 128ti is offered solely with an Aisin eight-speed torque-converter automatic gearbox. BMW claims the gearing for any manual would have had to have been overly long for emissions tests and that market research shows that uptake would be minimal. There’s probably truth in those statements, but the fact is that the 128ti purports to be a ‘proper’ hot hatch, yet you can’t have it with three pedals. And in light of that, you might be left wondering just how ‘proper’ it can be.
Well, in some respects, it’s very proper indeed; and in others, a little underwhelming. First, BMW has been brave with this car, nailing its colours to the mast in the form of the passive dampers. Should the chassis feel too soft on back roads, there’s no push-button rescue service to raise the level of control. Equally, if BMW’s set-up feels like skateboarding down cobbled streets when you’re on the motorway, that’s your lot.
Fortunately, an unusually fine balance has been struck. And while there’s some low-speed jostle that can sometimes feel only just the right side of punishing (please, stick to the 18in alloys), once you’ve got some speed up and begun to work the dampers, the 128ti flows with what could be called ‘forgiving poise’.
It’s almost exactly the blend of comfort and control that I want in a hot hatch: serious enough that the car immediately feels lean and toothy and capable enough to deal with Britain’s frequent crests and troughs without making your heart skip a beat, but also compliant enough to live with daily.
Overlaid on this is the revised steering, the gearing for which is measured without ever feeling ponderous. It’s a world away from the frenetic rack in the Renault Mégane RS, although still crisply responsive around the dead-ahead and, thereafter, more convincingly weighted than that of the Golf GTI. (It’s best left in Comfort mode; Sport is too artificially heavy.)
Its overall effect is to give the 128ti an enjoyable sense of dimension-shrinking precision, which is gratefully received in the era of hatchbacks almost as wide as an early Lamborghini Countach.
As for the engine, it’s more effective than engaging. The B48 2.0-litre is now well known, its undersquare design packing a uniformly powerful, if slightly laggy, punch that does plenty to push you forward from 2000rpm upwards but little to pull on your heartstrings. It’s well-matched to the gearbox, though, whose shifts are crisp and, in Sport mode, theatrically forceful.