With the reveal of the Vision iNext, BMW is looking to future mobility it sees as electric, autonomous, super high-tech in connectivity and services — and an SUV. Befitting the lofty concept, the Vision iNext has been unveiled over five days in a specially outfitted Lufthansa cargo plane landing for events in Munich, New York, San Francisco and Beijing.
BMW says it will start building a production version of the concept sometime in 2021, which means that much of the self-driving technology will have to be scaled back to meet what is street-legal at that time. That's almost certain to mean not full autonomy, but high-tech assistance for a driver who still is taking full control of the vehicle. We hope some of the gadgetry in the Vision iNext can survive the demands of production, though.
For now, however, real-world nitpicking is no barrier to flights of fancy for this concept. Here are five fun things about the BMW Vision iNext.
1. Art on Wheels
The sculpted exterior is not quite as bizarre and definitely is more SUV-like than its predecessor, the Vision Next 100 concept car. But the striking color gradually morphs from copper to dark rose gold over the surfaces front to rear, past the big windows and panoramic roof and over the eye-popping 24-inch wheels. There's just enough black lower-body cladding to say, "I'm an SUV, not a hatchback car."
2. Supersize Kidney Grille
The signature BMW twin-kidney grille has grown into a giant pouty mouth, outlined with blue LED lighting when the vehicle is unlocked (along with more blue accent lines on the lower sides and rear). The "grille" is actually a diamond-patterned "intelligence panel," behind which is an array of sensors for the car's driving technology. Flanking the grille are super-skinny headlight pods, though they aren't as skinny as the taillights, which are just LED lines.
3. Rear-Hinged Doors
They may be virtually extinct on the road, but rear-hinged rear doors that eliminate the B-pillar are a concept-car staple to show off the interior. They show up in the iNext, too, and are almost as expected as the cameras in place of bulky side mirrors that the iNext also sports.
4. Mood-Shifting Lounge
BMW says the interior aims to be an owner's new "favorite space." Wood and cloth materials combine for warmth (including a wood floor), and an illuminated crystal refracts multicolor mood lighting through the interior. The interior can shift from "Boost" mode for spirited driving with the car's systems set for performance to an "Ease" mode that reconfigures the space for the occupants to relax, interact and play with the various high-tech systems. In Ease, the two dash displays shift their content to more entertainment, the steering wheel retracts, the front seats change orientation more toward each other and touchscreen control shifts to a touchpad in the wood surface of the center console that shows points of light following your finger motions. At any time, however, you can just use the "Hey, BMW" command to just talk to the car and even devices in your home via intelligent voice control.
5. Rear-Seat Sofa
The coolest place to be, however, is the rear seat that's a cloth-upholstered wraparound banquette. The cloth has sensors underneath that let you control music playback with gestures on the cloth. LEDs light up as you move your fingers. BMW calls this function and others, such as the wood touchpad and the voice control, "shy tech" that's designed to operate out of sight and is only apparent when in use.
More Electric Models
Along with the reveal of the concept, BMW also confirmed its actual next electric entries, a battery version of a Mini that will come in 2019 and an electric X3 SUV coming in 2020. The company says that by 2025, the BMW Group have 25 models with electrified powertrains, 12 of which will be electric-only.
The Mini EV will be a version of the two-door hatchback Mini Hardtop. BMW was early to the electric party with the quirky i3 hatchback in 2013, but the production electric X3 version of the iX3 concept unveiled in Beijing this year will be a bit late to the luxury electric SUV party. By the time it rolls out, it will have to take on the similar Jaguar I-Pace going on sale this fall, the already unveiled Mercedes-Benz EQC going into production in the spring of 2019 and the Audi e-Tron being unveiled tonight in San Francisco. BMW says the electric X3 will have a new-generation electric drivetrain with a 270-horsepower motor and an estimated range of 249 miles.
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