By on October 1, 2012

If the thought of a four-cylinder BMW gives you the creeps, then this will cause chronic dermatitis:  BMW is thinking of putting three-cylinder engines into vehicles sold in the United States.

“Hybrids with a three-cylinder engine are coming rapidly,” BMW sales chief Ian Robertson told Automotive News [sub]. However, the three-bangers will be used for more than just charging a battery.

A BMW source told AN that the three-cylinder will be used for the Mini brand and for cars based on the new front-wheel-drive UKL platform. This in addition to powering the BMW i8 plug-in hybrid.

Says Robertson:

“It behaves like a six-cylinder, it is half of a six-cylinder engine and has the noise of a six cylinder.The output from a relatively small engine is not what you would have imagined.”

Blame it on CAFE, small gasoline engines displace bigger mills. Ford will bring its three-cylinder, 1.0-liter EcoBoost engine to the United States. AN thinks it will go into the Fiesta.

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51 Comments on “Is Nothing Sacred Anymore? BMW To Bring Threebangers...”

  • avatar

    Long as they don’t touch the motorcycle specs…I’m ok with this :)

    • 0 avatar

      Concering motor cycles and threebangers. Some years ago I drove a Triumph Rocket III. It has a carstyle in-row threebanger, 140 cui. And a threebanger configuration is perfect for turbocharging! That bike had 267 rwhp and 426 Nm. And very civilized, an absolute fantastic bike to drive.

  • avatar
    Ron B.

    Think back 50 plus years , BMW was saved by a little horror called an Issetta designed by ISO,Italian maker of Fridges and Chevy powered sports cars. . In todays green politic infested world, it would make sense for them to forget the M5’s etc etc and go back to the roots of their post war beginnings in order to survive the coming financial crises.

    • 0 avatar
      Robert Schwartz

      Bite your tongue. Those things were death traps. The only thing between you and oncoming vehicles was the door, which was the entire front of the vehicle.

      • 0 avatar

        I can see the future.

        BMW engineers working feverishly on the next big thing: The 2015 X5 powered by a 0.75 liter, zig-zag 3 cylinder with 6 turbochargers attached.

      • 0 avatar


        Wonder if anyone ever thought of making that 3-cylinder a radial engine, as in some WWII ICE airplanes?
        The advantage of 120-degree separation of each cylinder from its neighbor is keeping better and more continual force application to the crankshaft for higher RPM, hence higher efficiency.
        Would that make sense?


      • 0 avatar

        Higher RPMs mean less efficiency – the friction losses go up nonlinearly, and air acts less and less like an ideal fluid when it’s compressed and expanded rapidly. That’s why an engine is most efficient at low rpms (1500-2000), bigger engines even at lower rpms.

      • 0 avatar


        Yes, intuitively, that is what I would have thought from a MPG-efficiency point-of-view. But from a “getting-HP-out-of-the-engine” viewpoint, are not higher RPM engines more “efficient” at doing that? If not, why do many super-car makers (like Ferrari) always strive for higher and higher RPMS to claim more and more HP? (The F12 Berlinetta is now up to, what, 740HP at 8500 RPM?)

        And, of course, F1 engines routinely achieve 15-18K revs to get their HP output.


  • avatar

    Anybody who has doubts about the smoothness and sporting potential of three-cylinder engines needs to take a ride on a modern Triumph 3-cylinder motorcycle.

    Their 3-cylinder motors are widely regarded as being among the best engines ever put on a bike.

  • avatar

    Having driven machines with both three- and four-cylinder powerplants, I’d rather have a three.

    (I agree, one of the best three-cylinder experiences was my Triumph Sprint ST.)

    • 0 avatar

      How come? I am not arguing…I am just curious to know what you found the advantages to be.

      • 0 avatar

        One of the big advantages of an inline triple is the flat torque curve, in other words, power across the entire rev range.
        I own two Triumph Tigers and being able to pass several trucks at once with just a twist of the throttle and the instant power surge is totally addictive.
        No need to change down gears “to get in the band” just cruise in sixth and when the gap appears twist and go.
        Plus triples have a certain revvy throbbiness to them, its almost like the engine is alive. I can ride either of my bikes all day and as soon as I get off I want to jump back on and go for another ride.
        I think you have to own one to fully appreciate how good they really are.

      • 0 avatar

        Not that it will matter with turbocharged engines, as the BMW ones will be, but a three-pot sounds infinitely sweeter than a four-pot. Unless that four-pot is a boxer or a vee… both of which are more expensive to build than an inline engine.

      • 0 avatar

        Richarbl has summed it up better than I could. There is an indescribeable readiness of sound and vibration that communicates to the operator that the machine means business. I will always remember the symphony of sound when I first followed a Triumph Speed Triple for 50 miles. Growling, snarly sounds at a wide rev range. I knew that some day I had to ride a Triumph three-cylinder…which would likely cause me to own one. Lo and behold, my suspicions came true.

        One of my favorite three-cylinders are Ford utility tractors with the three-cylinder diesel. While far from a car in nearly every way, they still manage to let the operator know that “Hey, I’m ready to work and I’ve got balls bigger than you.”

  • avatar

    I just hope the jerk with the license plate “DRECTOR” who droves his Z4 through my office parking lot at 40mph and has nearly hit me twice trades his car in for a 3 cylinder BMW…!

    That guy does about 10 jerks worth of damage to the BMW brand. There’s nothing wrong BMW cars in and of themselves, though the premium price does limit my interest. But when the nameplate gives way higher than normal odds that the driver will have the the same reckless disregard for safety and courtesy as “DRECTOR”, it kinda defines your brand perception.

    I’ve come to the surprising conclusion that drivers like “DRECTOR” are actually a small minority of BMW owners. But that guy’s flamboyant jerk-ness easily hides the relatively normal behavior of at least 10 other BMW drivers. He’s clearly not driving the car for its mechanical attributes, so one of the best things BMW could do to make their brand “aspirational” again would be to swap one of these 3 cylinder engines in to this guy’s car during his next “oil change”. :-)

    • 0 avatar

      Thank you. I spoke to someone recently who described their 3 as “the least expensive BMW”. There was no clue as to why it was good, the engineering behind it, or the quality of the build….it was a status symbol, but the “cheapest” one.

      I confess to fanboi-ism with blau mit weiss, but it kills me that the average buyer has no clue why the car is good-but it is expensive so it has to be, right ? Damn automotive Rolex to this sort, and the person for whom the option packages are priced.

      I’d never do a vanity plate, as I don’t need to be remembered by the general public. It’s bad enough Lawn Forcement has me on file :)

  • avatar

    Doesn’t matter what’s under the hood. Only thing that matters to most BMW owners is the badge and the numbers on the back. Just give it a higher number and they will buy it

  • avatar

    Why am I reminded of the old DKW 3=6 slogan of half a century ago? The logic went that a three cylinder two-stroke was somehow equal to a four stroke six cylinder. Something about power strokes per revolution. Looked convincing on paper, but the reality was very different.

  • avatar

    The downsizing is inevitable (and in many ways necessary). If their three bangers sound anywhere near as good as a Triumph I am for it.

    • 0 avatar

      Here’s a link to the Triumph. It does sound nice.

      I’d be all for the 220 hp version in a MINI. A little more engine bay space wouldn’t be bad either.

  • avatar

    Is it really any surprise that BMW would be the one to come up with the perfect cylinder?

  • avatar

    That ad makes it look like a single cylinder/twin turbo engine. But if you have a perfect cylinder, who needs more than one? Now just they need the perfect turbo.

    • 0 avatar
      bumpy ii

      BMW has been making some hay recently about a modular engine family, where they just add cylinders to bump the power output. IIRC they have a 2-cylinder floating around too.

  • avatar

    Hey, the Isseta 300 had only one cylinder!

  • avatar

    ““It behaves like a six-cylinder, it is half of a six-cylinder engine and has the noise of a six cylinder.The output from a relatively small engine is not what you would have imagined.”

    The expression on Robertson’s face that I pictured while saying this is the same expression that I picture Tim Cook will have when they launch the iPad Mini and have to explain why 10” wasn’t ideal for a tablet after all.

  • avatar

    People were cursing when Buick came out with the Verano and 4 cyl vehicles. Now Caddy is doing the same thing, and there are articles written how Caddy should be V8’s or bigger.

    Engine tech is getting better, fuel is getting more expensive. Smaller vehicles and engines are a necessity because that is what the public wants. Cheap gas in the US is over. People are rethinking what they need. Small cars with good mileage are now what people want.

    • 0 avatar

      Buick has had smaller cars in the past, Verano was a smart move and I have to give them credit for it… although I shake my head at 4 bangers even being offered in Regal/Lacrosse but I digress.

      Cadillac is not supposed to be a car for budget minded people, its supposed to be power/luxury appointments coupled with style & class. Chasing significant volume with Cadillac is just stupid, give your buyers what they cannot get in a comparable Chevrolet or Buick… V8 power for starters.

      • 0 avatar

        And yet, BMW is making smaller and smaller vehicles with a 3 banger. Mercedes Benz is looking at an A and B class cars for the US, which don’t do badly in Europe.

        The market for the vehicles that Caddy sold in the 50’s and 60’s doesn’t exist today.

        BMW sells a 5 series with a 4 cyl engine. MB sells some of their C C class models with a 4 cyl.

        Does BMW and MB sell to budget minded people?

    • 0 avatar

      Brian L…

      Yeah, as evidenced by the HUGE sales success of the new Chevy “Spark” in…of all places….Texas!


      • 0 avatar


        ‘Yeah, as evidenced by the HUGE sales success of the new Chevy “Spark” in…of all places….Texas!’

        I’m guessing this was mainly in Austin proper. Something tells me the Spark couldn’t pull its own weight (let alone driver/passengers) on the new 85mph tollway.

        Hey Texas, quit letting the whiner commies from the west and east coasts in! That way, when I try to emigrate there, at least there will be a few less texting, makeup applying idiots on I-35 when i’m going to get to work getting oil out of the ground for the iPhone they are using (plastic) and gas for their 3-cyl BMW (ICK, ICK, ICK).

  • avatar
    Speed Spaniel

    How soon before we see 3 cylinders and a $50,000 price tag? And the sad thing is people will pay it because it has a BMW label. That chortling sound is BMW laughing all the way to the bank.

    • 0 avatar

      The value of a car is not determined by the number of cylinders but by how it drives and makes the driver feel. Gas prices are rising so if the technology is available to create a great driving experience with a 3 cylinder hybrid power train then why not do it?

      • 0 avatar
        Speed Spaniel

        Sorry but I couldn’t disagree more. Having owned naturally aspirated 4 cylinders, 4 cylinder turbos, naturally aspirated 6 cylinders, a 6 cylinder turbo and a hi perf V8, there is a direct correlation to the way a car feels in performance and refinement and thus how good a value it is. My personal experience? – the higher the cylinder count and or displacement, the smoother and more refined the car runs. I haven’t driven anything 4 cylinder that has “wowed” me in performance and refinement. The current crop of turbo 4s in some high zoot German machinery at the same cost (if not more) AND option level as my 2007 S4 with an 8 cylinder is the biggest scam going.

  • avatar

    As long as the engine is good and lives up to/exceeds a company’s reputation for quality, why does it matter? It’s not like you don’t have a choice.

  • avatar

    If BMW can make a 3 cylinder hybrid car that is fun to drive then more power to them. It’s about time that this technology was available in a car that is not Toyota dull.

  • avatar

    Ah CAFE, the extremely short-sighted and misguided legslation that is ruining automobiles.

    Soon (well, Ford is practically there now), all vehicles will be the exact same. same interior, same exterior, same engines, etc. It will be like opening a carton of eggs.

  • avatar
    Dr. Kenneth Noisewater

    The K75’s 3cyl motor was pretty well regarded, and BMW’s 1.6l inline 6 could fit in the same space as a small 4cyl, and gets like 160hp without forced induction..

  • avatar

    It will only be worthwhile if they also work on making the DAMN THINGS LIGHTER. Think of what wonderful performance we would have if you had the current generation of engines but with 25% less weight bogging them down.

    Threes are pretty good in motorcycles but I doubt that translates well into cars… Much more weight will mask the characteristics. A triple usually splits the difference between a twins bigger power pulses and midrange and the top end rush of a four, erring more towards the power of a four. But in the end it still feels like a four with a funny exhaust noise.

  • avatar

    BMW stopped mattering when it became an all things to all people kind of car company, that mostly sells family trucksters now.

  • avatar

    I’m less concerned about three cylinders, than 3 cylinders and a whole slew of turbos and associated tech to make them drive like larger engines. Are the few mpgs achieved by that kind of engineering really worth the added complexity over a somewhat larger 6 in real life? Or are expensive to buy and maintain, turboed mini engines simply easier to rig for gaming various government mileage tests?

    Or perhaps they are cost effective only in the kind of inflationary environments that have reigned in the past half century or more. Once one can no longer reliably afford a new car every two years based solely on the appreciation of one’s mudhut in the dessert, such anachronisms as cost of repair may once again become relevant.

    Oh, and how long before we’re seeing twins? Perhaps Harley will be seen as the cutting edge of car engines at some point. Now that ought to make “The Faithful” even more stuck up than they already are.

  • avatar
    MRF 95 T-Bird

    In the early 90’s I rented a Geo Metro with a 3-banger. Quite fun and zippy I also have driven the Saab 3 cylinder 2 cycle. With todays technology the number of cylinders is less important than HP and torque.

    • 0 avatar

      You must have gotten a manual Geo and drove it on flat ground off the freeway. My company had the 3-cyl auto, and my supervisor nearly jumped out of the car when I mashed the pedal and “accelerated” up a freeway on-ramp in low gear. The engine/tranny howled like a banshee, and I saw my supervisor reach for the door handle, but he caught himself and hung on. The Geo was doing barely 50 at the top of the ramp, and I had to stay in the breakdown lane to let a semi pass. The company sold the Geo’s after only one year and replaced them with Ford Escorts.

  • avatar

    Nr. NEIN! Das ist Schwachsinn. Nr. 3 Zylinder!

  • avatar

    My dyslexic brain read the headline as TREE-bangers. Well I knew they were trying to go green but this is ridiculous.

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