BMW 3-cylinder Prototype

The fact that the brand-new prototype three-cylinder, 1.5-liter gasoline engine from BMW finds itself in a 1 Series is almost accidental. Heidelinde Holzer, who works on powertrain predevelopment, powertrain functions and powertrain integration, told AutoblogGreen her team simply took the cars that were available. After all, when you’re working on engines that are not destined to go into any vehicles in the near future – this has been a four-year project already – it’s okay to test them in whatever mule you’ve got access to. The first production vehicle that will use the three-cylinder is the upcoming i8 plug-in hybrid, which isn’t going to arrive until the first half of 2014. BMW didn’t allow us to play around in one of those, so we had to make due with our 1 Series prototype test drives yesterday at BMW’s Woodcliff Lake, NJ, headquarters.

Under a sky that alternated between bright and threatening-to-rain, two red 1 Series zipped around the BMW campus – we were not allowed to take them on public roads – between technical sessions about the engine, the upcoming four-cylinder 328d diesel and BMW’s new suite of apps. According to what we saw, future Bimmers are going to get a lot more efficient and a whole lot more connected.

Related GalleryBMW 3-cylinder Prototype

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bmw 1 series with 3-cylinder engine

There are only two 1 Series vehicles with the 3-cylinder engine in existence right now, they are both pure prototypes, with a reassuring fire extinguisher under the driver’s seat. The only part that’s “real” here is the engine, and even that will be upgraded before we see it in the i8. As it operates today the 3-cylinder performs admirably, propelling the 1 Series to highway speeds without hassle, even if it was somewhat noisy. It almost felt like BMW wants the driver to hear the three, to know that it’s got your back even if it’s also got fewer cylinders than you might expect. We didn’t notice anything missing from the drive experience, but then again we only had about ten minutes behind the wheel. No, the star of the show is the engine’s future potential, not what it can do today.

The only part that’s “real” here is the engine, and even that will be upgraded before we see it in the i8.

Holzer said the new 1.5-liter 3-cylinger engine is the first member of the new BMW EfficientDynamics engine family, and we can look at it today to learn a bit about how it’ll work in the plug-in hybrid next year – and in other models beyond that, but no one would offer specifics. We can see Mini taking advantage of the three, as well as smaller BMWs. In some ways similar to Ford’s 1.0-liter EcoBoost engine, the prototype engine uses TwinPower Turbo, which combines valve variability, direct injection and turbocharging to reduce fuel use. “Variability” in the TwinPower Turbo means, in gasoline engines, Valvetronic; in diesels, variable turbocharger geometry. While other automakers sometimes shut down entire cylinders during operation to save fuel, BMW’s strategy is to use Valvetronic, which multiple BMW representatives referred to as the difference between fading a light versus switching it on and off. With this technology, among others, BMW says it is ready to meet worldwide fuel efficiency targets.

bmw 3-cylinder engine prototypebmw 3-cylinder engine prototype

The New 328d Diesel

Despite having a plethora of diesel options in Europe, BMW is being selective in which oil-burning models it will sell in the US. One of the new options we’ll get is the 328d Sedan (a gasoline-powered Sports Wagen version will also be available), which was on display in New Jersey sporting underbody panels and the ability to drink biodiesel (up to B7), just to highlight the fuel economy angle. BMW didn’t say what the official fuel economy numbers will be, but we were told something like 45 miles per gallon on the highway is likely.

bmw 328d diesel sedan

This will be the first four-cylinder BMW diesel in the US and it will be capable of going 0-60 in the low seven second range. When it comes to options and trim levels, the diesel will get everything that the gasoline model has, except for a manual transmission. The reason is that BMW engineers feel that the diesel’s eight-speed automatic transmission is the best blend of performance and economy. Price will be somewhere under $40,000. The Sedan and Sports Wagen go on sale in the US in the late summer or early fall.

BMW 3 Cylinder Engine in a 1 Series Prototype.Mov

The Connected BMW

BMW also highlighted its upcoming suite of new connection devices, ranging from a BMW app that will allow your car to read you texts out loud (and Twitter and Facebook, because those two services aren’t omnipresent enough already, we need them to be blasted into our ears when we’re on the road, apparently). More useful are things like access to Local Wiki and Last Mile, which help you find nearby places and information about where you are. The car can connect to various web radio and calendar functions as well.

To make all this work you not only need a compatible iPhone but also the BMW Apps option (which costs $250).

To make all this work you not only need a compatible iPhone (3GS or newer running iOS 5 or newer. BMW says it is looking at developing an Android version, but it’s not ready yet) but also the BMW Apps option (which costs $250). Oh, and the BMW Connected app from iTunes. Some apps available in the App Store today, like Pandora, Audible and Glympse, will be considered “BMW Ready,” which means the standard version of the app will be able to communicate with your car, even without the BMW Connected app.

Safety also gets an upgrade, with eCall with 10-year subscription becoming standard equipment on all new models. The subscription is also transferable when you sell the car. This is different from the optional BMW assist safety plan that is offered today (standard on the 5 Series, 6 Series, 7 Series, X5 and X6; costs $650 on other models). eCall operates both as a driver-controlled SOS call and as an automatic data delivery system in the event of a crash, where BMW’s partners will gather data on what happened, try to call the car and send first responders if needed.

Lastly, BMW will introduce a dongle that will make the car an LTE hot spot. Details like price, data carrier and when it will launch were not disclosed, but basically, this is a MiFi-type device that plugs into your car and beams out a signal for passengers. It can also be used outside the car (with a 30-minute battery life or plugged in to the wall).

By Sebastian Blanco