By Chris Haak
Cars sold under BMW’s small-car brand, Mini, will roll with three-bangers under their little hoods with their next-generation models, according to a report in MotoringFile. Fortunately, we can expect much better than 55-horsepower Geo Metro powerplants from Mini. According to the report, the three cylinder engines’ power outputs should be similar to today’s four cylinders.
This means that the base Mini Cooper will have a roughly 120-horsepower three cylinder, and the Mini Cooper S will have roughly a 180-horsepower three cylinder engine. This news comes not long after Ford announced its own boosted three-cylinder, which is intended to replace naturally-aspirated four cylinders, so we may be witnessing he beginnings of a new trend in automobiles.
The new engines will reach their fairly-high specific outputs through the addition of direct injection. One benefit of DI is that it permits higher compression ratios, and therefore more power per liter of displacement. According to the article in MotoringFile linked above, the new engines should range between 1.3 and 1.5 liters in displacement and match the stellar 50 mile per gallon fuel efficiency of the not-sold-in-the-US Mini D.
It is not clear at this point how much the next-generation Mini Cooper will weigh, but it seems to be within the realm of possibility that it could lose weight over the current car’s already fairly small mass, with the smaller engine and perhaps a weight-loss regimen headlined by additional use of high-strength steel, plus more exotic materials such as aluminum or magnesium. It’s had to imagine the Mini Cooper growing much larger from the current generation’s size, since the current Mini dwarfs the original, truly “mini” Mini.
Aside from potential consumer perception problems, the only real issue that I am aware of with three-cylinders is that they don’t run quite as smoothly as a four cylinder. (Nor does a four cylinder run as smoothly as an inline six.) But this being BMW, I have confidence that the company can make a fun-to-drive lawnmower economy car, even if it’s down in the cylinder count compared to today. And I don’t expect the new Countryman SUV to move to a three cylinder anytime soon, if ever. It’s curious to think about the Mini Cooper JCW, with its hairy-chested four cylinder, and what form its engine might take in the next-generation car. Are we moving to a world where a four cylinder engine would be a coup for a performance car? Times are changing, for sure.