This week BMW brought the curtain up on the new family of three cylinder engines and the new front wheel drive BMW. Both are incredibly informative to us in understanding MINI’s future but it’s the new 1.5L three cylinder that we have the best view of.

The fact that the MINI was going to be getting a three cylinder engine in its next iteration has been blown for years of course. But would MINI be replacing all four cylinders with equivalent 3 bangers? Our sources are now telling us that looks unlikely for at least the first iteration of the next generation MINI family. Instead we now believe that MINI will likely continue to use an updated version of the four cylinder “Prince” engine for Cooper S and JCW models through at least 2015. That said we believe this engine will eventually range from under 100 hp to up to 200 in front wheel drive form.

We believe that MINI intends on spreading the three cylinders across the MINI One and Cooper models initially. Sources are telling us that power ratings should be slightly higher than the current range on both the three and four cylinder models. But it’s the efficiency gains and the weight losses that are the big story. We’ve been told to not be surprised to see US Spec Cooper achieve upper 40 mpg figures on the highway. Additionally the engines should be measurably lighter and allow for better weight distribution front to rear.

Ultimately we believe that the three cylinder engines will not only make their way to the hatch based models but also other MINIs as well. For instance don’t be surprised to see the base Cooper Countryman eventually get the ultra efficient power plant in a late cycle update.

Another update will be the packaging. In most markets MINI will be adding a hard plastic engine cover under the hood (or bonnet) designed to insulate the engine and make it cooler and more economically. How it works we don’t know but our sources were adamant that It could be a way for MINI to dress up the engine compartment while reducing noise and adding some level of efficiency.

The N37 will publicly debut in the front wheel drive BMW Active Sport Tourer shown at Paris this September. While it’s be officially labeled as a concept, it should be very close to production in technology and drivetrain – the very two things the new MINI hatch will be sharing with it when it hits the market in late 2013.