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Quick Spin: We try BMW's first 3-cylinder engine

The new twin-turbo engines are not slated for the U.S. but show that odd numbers of cylinders are becoming more common.

By Douglas Newcomb Mar 27, 2013 8:40AM

BMW 3-cyllinder prototype.General Motors and Ford are not the only automakers considering 3-cylinder engines. At an event at BMW’s U.S. headquarters this week prior to the 2013 New York Auto Show, we got a peek and a ride in a prototype vehicle from the European luxury automaker that uses a 1.5-liter twin-turbo 3-cylinder engine.

The company said it’s also developing a 1.0-liter 3-cylinder.

The prototype we drove was a European-spec 1-Series hatchback, which is a newer model than the 1-Series coupes and convertibles on sale sale here. Since the cars were prototypes, we didn’t get a chance to drive them on public roads and had to settle for a lap around BMW’s sprawling campus in Woodcliff Lake, N.J.

In that short time behind the wheel, we got a quick sense of the 3-cylinder engine's power and acceleration on one short straightaway. While not as zippy as BMW’s 4-cylinder twin-turbo engines, the gas-powered 3-cylinder did demonstrate decent power and significant low-end torque.

BMW didn't reveal fuel-efficiency numbers for the 1.5-liter engine, saying in a statement only that it “enjoys significantly reduced fuel consumption by virtue of its low internal friction.” BMW added that “the emotional sound of the engine also makes an important contribution to the driving experience,” and that the frequency of the sound of a 3-cylinder engine rises 50 percent faster than that of its twin-turbo 4-cylinder, which is used in the new 328i.

This makes the engine sound and feel “extremely vivacious and sporty,” according to BMW. But in our short drive, we detected more noise, vibration and harshness than in other BMWs we’ve driven -- and much more than in the 328d 4-cylinder diesel that BMW also had on hand for street driving and that will be available in the U.S. later this year. BMW representatives said the engine and cabin noise for the 3-cylinder prototypes were not representative of a finished production car.

BMW also couldn't say when the engine would appear in in the U.S., but it will debut next year in the BMW i8 plug-in hybrid sports coupe.

BMW 3-cylinder prototype.[Source: BMW]


Mar 28, 2013 8:12AM
"the gas-powered 3-cylinder did demonstrate decent power and significant low-end torque."

This will sound weird coming from me, but if 'significant low-end torque' is so important why not just use a diesel engine instead?  I mean, the obvious purpose of putting in such a small engine has to be for economy purposes and the diesel is certainly the right tool for the job.

Now, for me personally I will take my 1 series in 2 door coupe form (soon to be 228i I guess) with a big straight 6 in front.  What?  Would I like to super size my order?  Why yes twin turbos would be nice, make that the 235i special thank you.
Mar 27, 2013 10:28AM
Anyone who has ridden a Triumph motorcycle can appreciate an inline 3 cylinder engine.  And turbos should only make it better.
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