There are also suggestions that the firm is developing a new four-door saloon with a 1-series silhouette, a car described by Munich insiders as a genuine successor to the original 2002. It would be aimed at further penetrating the North American market.
As car buyers increasingly choose smaller, more fuel-efficient models, BMW chairman Norbert Reithofer has vowed to make the 1-series a key component in the company’s growth plans, in which it has targeted two million sales annually by 2020.
An internal sales strategy for the F20 has already been created that will pitch it more closely than today’s 1-series against some of Europe’s best sellers, including the Volkswagen Golf, Ford Focus and Vauxhall Astra. The aim is global annual 1-series sales of up to 300,000 by 2013, increasing to 400,000 by 2015.
Read about BMW's future Efficient Dynamics plans here
Despite recent rumours linking the 1-series to BMW’s Megacity project, which will create a range of models for city use, that idea has been denied by Klaus Draeger, BMW’s head of research and development.
“The Megacity is based around its own unique platform structure and production processes,” he said. “The requirements don’t dovetail with existing architectures.”
So as with today’s 1-series, the 2011 model features a modular platform with BMW’s traditional longitudinal engine layout, aspects of which are set to be shared with the next-gen 3-series. Together with standard rear-wheel drive - a feature that will continue to set the 1-series apart from all of its hatchback rivals - BMW is also considering adding four-wheel drive by using the system developed for the X1.
But the biggest news is the new turbocharged three-cylinder engine that will be fitted to entry-level models. It is expected to replace today’s normally aspirated 1.6-litre engine and forms an integral part of BMW’s future Efficient Dynamics programme.
Sources inside BMW’s R&D centre suggests the new engine delivers between 110bhp and 160bhp, depending on its state of tune. As a 110bhp unit it should be capable of delivering combined fuel consumption of over 70mpg and CO2 emissions of under 100g/km.
Also under development for the new 1-series is a turbocharged 1.6-litre powerplant. Replacing the naturally aspirated 2.0-litre petrol engine, it will put out between 150bhp and 200bhp.
Less clear are BMW’s plans for six-cylinder versions of the 1-series. While European sales centre around four-cylinder models, the US market will almost certainly demand a straight-six petrol, in both naturally aspirated and twin-turbocharged forms.
The competitiveness of today’s diesels means there will be no major changes to the existing 2.0-litre unit, which develops 141bhp, 175bhp and (in twin-turbo form) 201bhp. Expect improvements in the injection process and modified exhaust for reduced NOx. BMW is also working on a smaller 1.6-litre oil-burner, but whether it will be complete in time for inclusion in the new 1-series at launch remains to be seen.
To further enhance the car’s sporting image, BMW plans to revive the evocative ‘ti’ badge for a series of performance models under development at the company’s M division.
Although it will fall short of being a full-blown M model, the new ti has been conceived along the lines of one of BMW’s most revered models: the E30 M3. Powering the Golf R-rivalling model is a new turbocharged 2.0-litre, four-cylinder engine. Insiders suggest it can deliver up to 300bhp, but it is likely to be tuned at around 250bhp.