A lot is going to change with the next generation MINI. The aesthetic design of the car will be part evolution and part revolution, and the underlying chassis platform was designed from a blank sheet in close collaboration with BMW. At the center of all this change is a new family of engines — not simply a refresh, but a whole new engine platform. It’s the soul of the machine, so MINI fans around the world are hoping BMW gets them right. As we’ve previously reported, the engine lineup for future MINIs (and a few cars in the BMW lineup) is based on a half-liter-per-cylinder platform. This will mean not only a drop in engine displacement from 1,600cc to 1,500cc, but a change from four cylinders down to three.

Perhaps “down” is the wrong way to put it, though. Doing more with less has always been at the heart of MINI.

Between BMW’s Valvetronic technology and MINI’s experience with twin-scroll turbos, getting performance out of 1,500cc shouldn’t be an issue — and we should see impressive mpg numbers to boot. That’s kind of a given at this point. But there are those who will look down their bonnet at a three cylinder engine just on principle. We say that’s premature. In fact, we anticipate that the three cylinder engine in the F56 will be chock full of character and growl. Autocar got its hands on a three cylinder 1-series prototype and they seem to be confirming our hopes:

It is the responsiveness of the new unit, though, that really stands out, giving it the sort of sporting attributes that have become part and parceled of just about all BMW engines down through the years. We are yet to discover exactly how much boost pressure it runs, but there is little hint of lag, just a lovely linear flow of power.

It sounds great, too, different to BMW’s existing four- and six-cylinder in a lot of ways. There is less of the characteristic turbine whine and more of a mechanical growl from up front, and the exhaust note is deeper with a character not unlike that of Subaru’s horizontally opposed four-cylinder once the revs begin to rise. And rise they do. As Steinpanzer explains: “One of the key development goals was to ensure the B38 could be carry its revs like traditional four- and six-cylinder BMW engines. We didn’t want to give up that unique selling point.” The delivery is sophisticated, with strong urge from around 1500rpm well past the 5000rpm mark. Keep it spinning – and with such a fascinating exhaust note there is great incentive to do just that – and it will pull to 6500rpm before the onset of the electric rev limiter.

With some 44bhp and 37lb ft more than the turbocharged 1.6-litre four-cylinder used by the 116i, I’d suggest the prototype it would record a 0-62mph time of less than 8.0sec. On light throttle loads and typical motorway speeds, the trip computer also suggested something in the region of 56mpg, although as BMW was quick to point out this should only be taken as a very rough guide. It is, after all, just a prototype.

None of this sounds like bad news. Great throttle response, lots of power, and tons of growly character. This squares with early three cylinder prototype MINI reports we’ve heard off the record as well. Power and pull aside, anything in the neighborhood of 56 mpg on the (presumedly) heavier 1-series is phenomenal. Fuel economy is at the center of this new engine program, so these numbers are not that surprising, even if they are encouraging.

So take heart, MINI fans, I think we’re in for a good change here.

[Source: Autocar]