One day before the start of the 2013 New York Auto Show, BMW invited us up to its North American headquarters in northern New Jersey to take part in a prototype drive of its all-new three-cylinder motor.
While we've seen video of what the new three-cylinder sounds like and we've even seen a clip of Evo Magazine's Harry Metcalfe being driven in the engine's first application, the BMW i8, it's much better to get behind the wheel and experience it first hand for yourself.
2013 New York Auto Show Photo Gallery
Currently BMW is touring the powerplant around the globe under the guise of two European-spec 1-Series five-door hatchbacks painted in what appears to be Imola Red. For our purposes, BMW actually shipped the two vehicles — by air — from Europe for us to drive.
Though don't get too excited. I am shooting in the dark here but likely because the cars are Euro-spec and likely because of insurance purposes we could only pilot them on BMW's property, which is not small but not exactly massive. We each received two laps on a "ring road," which added up to approximately 10 minutes of wheel time.
So, how was it?
Well, first things first, when you opened up the 1-Series' door it was impossible not to notice the gigantic red fire extinguisher placed just in front of the driver's seat. Then there was the large red button near the transmission that looked like something out of a James Bond or Austin Powers picture. They weren't kidding with the whole prototype thing, huh?
After getting settled and hitting the Start button, the motor woke up. Once you get underway and start giving the motor some throttle at low RPMs at parking lot speed, it's easy to notice this motor is very chattery and sounds "agricultural." However, once you actually open it up and get above 2,500 revs, its character quickly changes into that throaty, six-cylinder sound that most BMW lovers are accustomed to. At wide open throttle (WOT) the motor revs up fast and upon shifting you'll get that lovely "burp" from the exhaust.
What I found unique about this powerplant was the smoothness. Even though it was loud and sounded chattery at lower RPMs, it didn't feel harsh or unrefined. Two parts of the noise, vibration and harshness (NVH) are already in check and this powerplant has — according to the BMW folks on-site — one more year of development work to go. That's a lot of time to really fine tune this thing.
Though I think it's safe to say that the i8 will receive BMW's Driving Dynamics Control with various settings (ECO, Comfort, Sport, Sport +), another thing I found particularly interesting with the 1-Series prototype was how sharply tuned this vehicle's throttle was. Throttle tip-in felt similar to a Sport and Sport + setting on an M car.
This 1.5-liter three-cylinder motor is said to be making about 180 horsepower and somewhere in the neighborhood of 200 - 220 lb.-ft. of torque.
In the 1-Series, this amount of power was more than adequate and, frankly, I wouldn't be surprised if this three-cylinder goes on to be featured in other models post i8 implementation. It just has too much of the traditional BMW DNA in its blood not to be utilized in the 1-Series, 3-Series and if they can get creative with tuning, even the base 5-Series.
Though I appreciate the 2.0-liter four's performance and efficiency, that motor is essentially kryptonite to me. It sounds far too Honda-like at idle and it completely lacks the certain BMW characteristics that make driving a BMW special.
After popping out of the prototype I felt good about what I experienced with the all-new three-cylinder. Everything felt just about right, with exception of the low-end chatter, and if this powerplant is a sign of things to come going forward, to me it's clear the future is very bright for the Bavarians.
Hell, just imagine what the new six-cylinder will be like if this is what the three is delivering!
- Iconic, BMW sound
- Quick revving motor
- Power is more than adequate
The BAD:- Chattery, agricultural engine noise at low RPMs
The LOWDOWN:- The smartest thing BMW could do is utilize this engine in other cars aside from the i8 (1-Series, 3-Series, 5-Series)
- BMW's future with this motor is BRIGHT
AutoSpies.com is ranked #1 on Google for auto show photos!
2013 New York Auto Show Photo Gallery