BMWBLOG First Drive: BMW 1 Series with 3-Cylinder Engine

Featured Posts, Test Drives | September 16th, 2012 by 15
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We went to Munich to test drive BMW’s new three-cylinder engine. To showcase its capability, the Bavarians fitted the “baby-six” in a 1 Series Hatchback. …

We went to Munich to test drive BMW’s new three-cylinder engine. To showcase its capability, the Bavarians fitted the “baby-six” in a 1 Series Hatchback.

The new family of three-cylinder engines was introduced this week and will play an important role in BMW’s EfficientDynamics strategy in the upcoming years. The compact unit is a prime candidate for a wide range of vehicles and powertrains, from rear-wheel drive to the upcoming front-wheel drive and plugin hybrids. The 1 Series and 3 Series, along with upcoming compact models, are a great match for this type of engine.

The version of the gasoline 3-cylinder engine we tried outputs 180 horsepower and 270Nm of torque, mated to a modified ZF 8-speed automatic transmission that takes advantage of the engine’s architecture. As BMW engineers stated, this is still a prototype unit that has potential to achieve higher power outputs.

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Our experience starts with a quick look under the hood where the small three-cylinder fits perfectly in the compact engine bay. Upon pushing the Start button, an unexpected, yet satisfying growling sound emerges reminding us that its core engineering is derived from the award-winning six-cylinder turbocharged unit. The unique acoustics impress us at both idle and under full-throttle delivering a far more gratifying sound than the four-cylinder turbos.

For an engine of this size, vibrations are the engineers’ main concern, one alleviated by a counter rotating balancing shaft included in the setup.

We were initially granted a couple of laps around the improvised course track, but after whetting our appetite, we sneaked in a few more laps to somewhat get a better feel of how potent this three-cylinder can be. The throttle’s responsiveness reminds us again of the larger six-cylinder, with quick sprints, essentially minimal turbo lag and plenty of power at low RPMs. Did we already mention torque? Yes, it’s there and strong.

On the two straight lines, we pushed the engine to its redline which in this case and at this stage of development, kicks in at 6,500 rpm. Downshifting in corners is smooth, yet sporty enough to overcome them with ease and confidence. Shifting up and down gave us a chance to once again enjoy the growling exhaust note, putting a grin of admiration on my face, quickly observed by the BMW engineer who came along for the ride.

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In the next MINI generation of vehicles the three-cylinder powerplant could become purists’ favorite, delivering both performance and exceptional fuel economy at a lower price point. When mounted transversely, the three-cylinder unit will serve as the entry point powerplant in BMW’s future front-wheel drive vehicles.

To fully asses its capabilities and characteristics further time behind the wheel is required, but for now, BMW has got our undivided attention.

In our opinion, these new family of engines will place BMW on the first grid in the premium compact automobiles market where they will compete against similar offerings from Mercedes and Audi.

Read our full analysis on the new three-cylinder engine

15 responses to “BMWBLOG First Drive: BMW 1 Series with 3-Cylinder Engine”

  1. Dtutch says:

    What about fuel economy? Do you any numbers for the new 3 cylinders unit?

  2. johnparke says:

    So the redline will be 7,000rpm in the production version?

  3. Daniel says:

    Thanks for the review Horatiu. It sounds like a great engine.

  4. says:

    Yes the copy guys will be coming . Another proof of good engineering

  5. asdf says:

    whetting, not wetting

  6. Giom says:

    I was a little skeptical of this 3 cylinder motor. You put my mind at ease. Sounds like we have a winner here!

  7. Giom says:

    That engine sounds incredible! On the videos it sounds a lot more ballsy than the fours. +1 for that!

  8. Jon Seghesio says:

    wow for a three cylinder that sounds great Hazah! for BMW!

  9. Dani says:

    Cool!! BMW is at it again. Now I want this more than a four banger.

    Thanks guys for the review

  10. I like the idea of a small engine with lot of horse power, But the sound is wrong. its sound something like a moped or a mower.. and very unstable not the sound we are used to hear from BMW in a row six cyl.engine, and they has beefed up the exhoust to sound Bigger, they should do the oppesit, make it soundless.. the people how buy this with a small engine, is not intrested is noise and sporty sound.. they buy this car for comfort and economy, not fun. 1.5 liter is nothing with fun at all in a big heavy 1200kg. car. even then it has 180HK/270NM..

  11. kstadden says:

    Love it. Love the sound, the efficiency, and the number 3. Thanks for posting the review!

    I’ve been a fan of 3-cylinder engines ever since riding in my uncle’s Saab 96 in the 1960s. I rode 3-cylinder motorcyles (Kawasaki, Suzuki, Triumph, BSA) and went nuts over a 3-cylinder Daihatsu Charade I rented in Phoenix in the early 90s. I fantasize about owning a DKW some day. But back to the BMW: I wish we could get that body style in North America. And what’s with the automatic in a BMW? As good as the eight-speed is, there is no mention of a six-speed manual. Is one even available?

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