BMW on Sunday rolled out a new concept that hints at a technologically advanced SUV to join its lineup in 2021. A showroom appearance isn't expected until 2022, however.
The concept is a preview of the much-hyped “iNext,” a new addition destined for BMW's i sub-brand and a technological flagship to encapsulate the core principles that will define BMW Group vehicles going forward, the three main ones being zero emissions, self-driving capability and connectivity.
“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,” BMW CEO Harald Krüger said of the concept.
The concept's official name is BMW Vision iNext, and its lines are a precursor for the look of future BMWs. According to the automaker, the design “answers the question about what the driving pleasure experience is going to look like in future.” There's still the signature pair of kidneys forming a grille up front, which instead of allowing air to cool an engine serves as an “intelligence panel” fitted with sensors required for self-driving capability.
BMW is short on technical details but says a pair of electric motors provide acceleration from 0-60 mph in under 4.0 seconds. The production iNext will also be an electric car and feature a fifth-generation battery design. The biggest battery is expected to be a 120-kilowatt-hour unit with over 370 miles of range.
The vehicle will also offer Level 3 self-driving capability in certain highway situations. Level 3 means the driver can let go of the wheel and even look away for extended periods, though they have to be ready to take over within seconds.
BMW said the iNext will also be technically capable of Level 4 self-driving, though this feature may not be offered to the public, at least initially. This is because the situations required will be very limited and regulations may not be ready in time to support it, even at the vehicle's 2022 sales date.
BMW said the iNext's Level 4 capability will function in traffic moving in the same direction and where there is a solid barrier separating oncoming traffic. Level 4 capability is similar to Level 3, with the key difference being a much longer time span given to the driver to take back control. In some cases, the driver would even be able to take a nap behind the wheel.
For the cabin design, it's all about relaxed ambience. A large panoramic glass roof floods the interior with light, creating a cheerful, welcoming atmosphere. And controls are integrated into furnishings that light up only when an occupant brushes a finger over them, or what it called “shy tech.” Turning on the music, for instance, could be achieved by drawing a note on the panel of glowing dots that appears on the seat upholstery. Voice activation is also available, initiated with a phrase echoing Silicon Valley: “Hey, BMW.”
Thankfully, there's still a steering wheel. BMW says owners can can choose to either drive themselves (Boost mode) or be driven (Ease mode). In Boost mode, the vehicle's powertrain throws away efficiency to deliver maximum driving pleasure.
Production of the iNext will take place at BMW's main plant in Dingolfing, Germany. It's possible BMW ends up badging the vehicle an i9.
It will be just one of 12 electric cars the BMW Group will launch by the end of 2025. The first of these will be the Mini Electric compact hatch due in 2019, followed by the iX3 small SUV in 2020. An i4 sedan has also been confirmed for around 2021.