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What is the best 3-cylinder car: BMW 1-series, Seat Leon or Volkswagen Golf?

In Auto Review 10 we test C-segmenters with a three-cylinder. So we are talking about quite mature cars, with a rather small engine. Below you can read the part of the test about how the 3-cylinder engines perform.

The best 3-cylinder car has about 110 hp

We test the BMW 116i – the base model with a 109 hp three-cylinder. It competes against the Golf and the Leon with 110 hp. They have the 1.0 eTSI engine, a three-cylinder with turbo and mild hybrid support. To further boost driving comfort, we test all models with an automatic transmission.

In the introduction we use the word ‘basic engine’, but that is not entirely correct with the Seat Leon and the Volkswagen Golf. Their three-cylinder petrol engines are also available without mild hybrid support, and are then 90 or 110 hp strong. It’s the same motor, but without the help of a 48-volt starter motor. If you opt for such an ordinary 1.0 TSI, you will also always get a manual gearbox. The most economical engine in combination with the seven-speed DSG transmission is the 1.0 eTSI, which makes it a kind of base engine. Glad we were able to clear this up by making it a little more complicated.

The benefits of mild hybrid

You don’t have to be the world’s most observant driver to notice the influences of the mild hybrid support. At a speed of up to 130 km/h, the Leon and the Golf can automatically ‘sail’. The 1.0 eTSI engine is decoupled to save fuel. As soon as you accelerate again, the 48-volt starter motor quickly cranks the combustion engine back on.

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Seats and Volkswagens with mild hybrid support also recover energy during the rollout. As you approach a red traffic light and release the accelerator, the generator charges a small battery. And with that energy he gives a boost during acceleration.

This increases comfort and reduces consumption. On average, the Leon and the Golf consume about 6 liters per 100 kilometers (1 in 16.7), the 1-series hunts almost a liter more every 100 kilometers (1 in 14.5). You do get better sprint performance in return and smoother turning properties. In the BMW you hardly notice that you are out with a three-cylinder. The Volkswagen makes its three-cylinder roll louder. Dilemma: do you want the finest engine or the most economical engine?


The three-cylinder BMW is the finest engine of the bunch. But without mild hybrid support to reduce fuel consumption, you are at the pump more often.

You can read the full comparison test of the BMW 1-series, the Seat Leon and the Volkswagen Golf, including all measurement data in Auto Review 10/2021.

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