BMW is embarking off on a whole new engine architecture and BMWBLOG was fortunate to get a preview drive. BMW brought its two 1.5 liter 3-cylinder prototypes housed in a pair of red F20 1 Series 5-doors hatchback. These prototypes were shipped all the way from Germany for U.S. Journalists to drive just before the New York Auto Show. Those same prototypes are gonna catch a plane back to Germany to continue testing before the “baby-six” finally lands in the BMW i8 hybrid sportscar in 2014.

BMW’s new engine architecture will feature Direct Fuel Injection, Turbocharging and Valvetronic. They are also focusing on commonality which yields cost savings, development costs. How so? Well, each cylinder has 500cc displacement. So a 3-cylinder will be 1.5 liter, a four will be 2.0 liter and their six cylinder will be 3.0 displacement. This 500 cc/cylinder is the best displacement for efficiency, reduced friction and reduced vibration. The diesel motors will share the same displacement and thus development costs. The diesel will, however, have a different cylinder head to cope with the increased pressure needed to combust diesel fuel.


My last recollection of a 3-cylinder was from a Geo Metro and it was crap. Buzzy, no torque, how did they certify this crap for the road?! Not the BMW 3 cylinder engine though, just the opposite. I had to get out and look at the motor to make sure they weren’t pulling a fast one. I just was amazed at how fast it would rev, how eager it would pull even with three grown men in the car – we counted about 550 lbs all together. With this much power and performance from a 1.5 liter 3-cylinder, what a monster the new generation 3.0 liter 6-cylinder is gonna be! I can’t wait to see the production version of this 3-cylinder in the upcoming i8.


The benefit of using the 1 Series as a test bed for this motor is that BMW can hammer it, turn it over to lead footed journalists to help see how it performs and endures before putting it in a production vehicle. The BMW i8 will combine this 3-cylinder motor with an electric engine to give M3 performance. BMW’s “baby-six”, a term coined by us last year after our first test drive, makes 177 hp and 200 lb of torque and power is routed to the rear wheels via an eight-speed ZF transmission with slick paddle shifters.


The test track for the prototypes was just around the campus of the BMW of North America headquarters in Woodcliff Lake, NJ so driving the thing was an exercise in itself- restraint because it was about in the mid-30s Fahrenheit and the prototypes were wearing snow tires. Some wicked tall concrete curbing was there to punish those who didn’t stay on course. The prototypes also had a blow-off valve that won’t make it into production which is too bad because it sounds bad ass.

To capture the essence of this engine, BMWBLOG’s team put together two videos, first one demonstrating the growling sound of the 3-cylinder engine with a GoPro camera placed above the sporty exhaust, and a second clip showing the short test drive from the outside. Make sure to watch the entire videos to capture the blow-off valve and some deep sounds.