New commercial aero engines for 2050 are expected to have lower specific thrusts for reduced noise and improved propulsive efficiency, but meeting the ACARE Flightpath 2050 fuel-burn and emissions targets will also need radical design changes to improve core thermal efficiency. Intercooling, recuperation, inter-turbine combustion and added topping and bottoming cycles all have the potential to improve thermal efficiency. However, these new technologies tend to increase core specific power and reduce core mass flow, giving smaller and less efficient core components. Turbine cooling also gets more difficult as engine cores get smaller. The core-size-dependent performance penalties will become increasingly significant with the development of more aerodynamically efficient and lighter-weight aircraft having lower thrust requirements. In this study the effects of engine thrust and core size on performance are investigated for conventional and intercooled aeroengine cycles. Large intercooled engines could have 3%–4% SFC improvement relative to conventional cycle engines, while smaller engines may only realize half of this benefit. The study provides a foundation for investigations of more complex cycles in the EU Horizon 2020 ULTIMATE programme.