This is what future BMWs will look like. After an extended teaser campaign, the Bavarian firm has finally taken the wraps off its much-hyped Vision iNext concept car which it says is a precursor for the styling of future BMWs.
The hi-tech electric SUV, which will go on sale in 2021, will retain the signature BMW kidney grille, but with no engine to cool, the blanked-off grille will now serve as an "intelligence panel" fitted with sensors required for self-driving capability.
Super-slim headlights are part of a modern interpretation of BMW’s signature four-eyed front end, while the rear is styled with similarly thin light strips.
The windscreen extends smoothly into a large panoramic roof, and there are two large opposing doors with no B-pillar separating them, but it’s not known whether those super-sized 24 inch wheels will make it into production.
Inside, a blend of furniture-like cloth and wood creates a homely ambience more akin to a lounge than a car interior, an effect enhanced by a coffee table-like centre console between the front seats. A generously-sized bench seat gives the rear a laid-back lounge character that "invites occupants to stay a while".
It creates a living space on wheels that BMW calls a "Favourite Space". There are no visible buttons on the minimalist dashboard; just two digital display panels and a steering wheel.
It’s envisioned that much of the technology will be integrated out of sight, only becoming visible and operable when required by the driver or passengers. For instance, in future it may be possible to operate various functions via surfaces made out of wood or cloth. Displays would no longer be essential, as intelligent projection could turn any surface into an interactive display, says BMW.
Turning on the audio system, for instance, could be achieved by drawing a musical note on the panel of glowing dots that appears on the seat upholstery.
An Intelligent Personal Assistant — a feature that is about to be introduced in BMWs from March next year — switches on in response to the prompt "Hey BMW" and allows the driver or passengers to control functions using natural spoken language.
The Vision iNext will be interlinked with smart devices and a smart home network, making it possible for drivers to close the windows of their smart house, for example, by voice command.
Encapsulating BMW’s core principles of being highly automated, emission-free and fully connected, the iNext will assume the role of the brand’s new technology flagship.
"The iNext project will provide our building blocks for the future, from which the entire company and all of its brands are set to benefit," said Harald Krüger, BMW AG chairman.
BMW says it has designed the car as a mobile environment that enhances quality of life, a new "Favourite Space in which we can be ourselves and relax".
The vehicle will be powered by two electric motors which will give it the ability to accelerate from 0-96km/h in under four seconds, with a claimed maximum range of nearly 600km on a single charge.
The vehicle will also offer level 3 autonomous capability in certain highway situations, meaning it could mostly drive itself but with the driver still having to take over in certain cases, for instance if the road’s painted lines disappear.
Thankfully, there’s still a steering wheel. BMW says owners can choose to drive themselves (Boost mode) or be driven (Ease mode). In Boost mode, the vehicle’s powertrain throws away efficiency to deliver maximum driving pleasure.
The iNext will be one of 12 new electric cars the BMW Group will launch by the end of 2025. The first will be the Mini Electric compact hatch scheduled for launch in 2019, followed by the iX3 small SUV in 2020, and an i4 sedan around 2021.