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BMW 128ti vs BMW M135i – which is better?

The latest BMW 1 Series comes with two hot hatchback options with letter soup badges, but which one should you buy?

When the latest BMW 1 Series moved from rear-wheel drive to front-wheel drive, some enthusiasts worried that the car had lost its unique driving appeal. Perhaps to allay those fears, the 1 Series now offers not one but two hot hatch versions!

The M135i is, in BMW terms, an M Performance car. Not quite a full M car like the BMW M4, but enough sporty touches and power to put it head and shoulders above the standard 1 Series range. It competes with the most serious hot hatchbacks like the Mercedes-AMG A45 S, Volkswagen Golf R and Audi RS3, but that leaves a lot of space between it and a normal 118i.

Filling the gap is the 128ti, which is more of a rival to the Volkswagen Golf GTI and Ford Focus ST. It immediately looks sportier than the M135i, with most examples featuring bright red exterior accents – which are a lot more noticeable than the M135i’s slightly bronzed grille and wing mirrors. Whether you prefer your hot hatch to stand out or blend in is up to you.

BMW 128ti vs BMW M135i compared

BMW 128tiBMW M135i


  • More characterful
  • Sporty looks


  • All-weather confidence
  • Slightly quieter engine


  • Droney engine noise
  • Less grippy in the wet


  • Faster but not as fun
  • Can’t often use full power

Performance and power

Compare the raw numbers and the M135i is the winner. It uses four-wheel drive to effectively put down all its 306hp, for a 0-62mph time of just 4.8 seconds. A 1 Series that can keep pace with proper sports cars.

The 128ti is front-wheel drive and has 265hp, but it rarely feels like it needs more power. The 0-62mph time of 6.1 seconds is roughly between the Golf GTI and other front-driven hot hatches like the Focus ST and Honda Civic Type R.


BMW 128ti vs M135i rear driving

Imagine you’re driving down a wet road and want to eat a chocolate bar. You’d quite happily manage it in the M135i, but it’d be less appealing in the 128ti as you’d want both hands on the wheel.

The 128ti occasionally scrabbles for traction, even in the dry, and it’ll follow ruts and tramlines in the road like a dog following a scent. It’s lively, for sure, but also predictable enough that you can trust it on unfamiliar roads or in poor driving conditions. The noise – even if it is piped through the speakers – is throaty and louder than in any other 1 Series, although it can get droney when you’re sitting at motorway speeds. On the whole, the 128ti feels like an old-school hot hatch that prioritises character and fun above outright performance.

We drove these cars back-to-back, and immediately noticed the quieter engine noise of the M135i. It’s more muted, less likely to wind up your neighbours and almost entirely fades away at motorway speeds. And when you do use the engine’s full shove, the noise isn’t as nice as it is in the 128ti.

The M135i does feel noticeably quicker, and it’s so much easier to put the power down in situations where the 128ti dances around a bit. It feels resolutely stable and more grown up than the 128ti, but also a bit clinical in comparison. Everything’s easy. And, while it’s not the car’s fault, you might get frustrated with how little you can use the available power. Put your foot down on a clear stretch of road and you’ll catch up with the car in front in no time at all.

Both these cars have a pleasing duality that you don’t get in the Focus ST or Civic Type R. Yes, they’re rapid hot hatches but they can also settle down and cover long distances like a normal 1 Series.

Value and reliability

BMW 128ti vs M135i interior

Generally, the 128ti will be a bit less expensive than an M135i with the same age and mileage. As we write this, a year-old 128ti can be picked up for under £28,000, or around £350 per month on PCP finance with a 20% deposit. An M135i for the same price will likely be a couple of years old – although the M135i came out before the 128ti and there are more M versions on the used market, so you can spend less on an M135i if you don’t mind going for a slightly older car.

The 128ti has a small edge when it comes to running costs. It’ll manage 40mpg when driven fairly carefully, while the M135i will struggle to top 35mpg – and that’s if you can resist putting your foot down at every opportunity.

We’ve not heard of any major problems with the current-shape 1 Series, but you can enjoy total peace of mind by taking out an extended warranty that takes over once any remaining BMW warranty lapses.

Which is best?

BMW 128ti vs M135i front detail

That comes down to what you want your hot hatch to be. If you want it to be engaging and characterful, the 128ti is the ideal choice – especially if you like the idea of a hot hatch and a plush motorway cruiser in the same car. If you’d rather go as fast as possible and are wowed by numbers, the M135i is the only one that’ll satisfy you. 

Hunt out your hot hatch

Shop our wide range of used BMW 128ti cars and used BMW M135i cars for sale. Or, if you don’t have to have a BMW badge, check out our guide to the best hot hatches.