BMW is taking a very different path with its proposed three-cylinder engine for the 3 Series, but the layout is not without precedent.
Top 5: Three-cylinder engine cars
1955-1960 Saab 93
In 1948, Swedish aircraft manufacturer Saab debuted its 92; a swoopy, two-cylinder model that was unlike most other cars on the road. To follow that up, the company added a cylinder to the engine and produced the 93, which entered production in late 1955. Not only was it the first Saab to be exported to the US market, but the tiny 93, which produced just 33hp from its two-stroke engine, proved to be a surprising success on the rally circuit, often beating other cars with more than three times its horsepower.
1986-1989 Daihatsu Domino
Yes, it looked just like a felled telephone box on wheels, but the Domino was one of the world's best city cars. Its rorty 850cc three-pot gave it bags of character and the five-speed manual transmission, combined with a small engine and low weight, meant fuel consumption was as low as 3.7L/100km. With four doors and a hatchback, it was genuinely practical, despite the fact the boot space was laughable. We need more cars like this quirky Daihatsu.
1999-2006 Honda Insight
The start of a new century heralded a radically new type of car: the petrol-electric hybrid. Honda was the first with this unusual little two-seater, which melded an electric motor with batteries and a small, 1.0L three-cylinder petrol engine that combined for superior fuel economy that would be stellar even today, dipping down under 4L/100km, depending on the gearbox. Surprisingly, it wasn't bad in the handling department, either, but with just 75hp, don't expect scintillating acceleration.
1984-present Maruti Suzuki 800
With more than 2.5 million models sold, the tiny 800 was the best-selling car in India until 2004. The fruit of a partnership between the Indian government and the Japanese company Suzuki, this nondescript hatchback was cheap enough - starting at about 1.5 Lakh (Dh12,000) - for it to be embraced by a populace hungry for something more than a tiny motorcycle for family travelling. Ironically, its main competition today is from its own company: the Alto.
1998-present Smart fourtwo
Plenty of watches are spawned by famous cars, but how about vice versa? Nicolas Hayek, the inventor of Swatch watches, wanted to build a city car with the same simple and utilitarian principles found in his timepieces. He partnered with Daimler-Benz, but the venture flopped and he pulled out, leaving Benz as the sole owner of the brand. Smart developed a few different models but it's the tiny, two-seat fourtwo, with a three-cylinder diesel engine, that has survived to become something of a cult favourite.