The BMW launched the electric powered i3 in 2013, and the pug-shaped high-roof hatchback proved immediately popular amongst urban drivers used to navigating narrow streets and perpetually challenged by scant parking. But the i3 wasn’t an island unto itself, always planned as the first of several “project i” vehicles. BMW is back with a design noticeably more sexy and dynamic than its hatchback predecessor – a flagship crossover with prognostication written all over it: the BMW Vision iNext Concept.
Chairman of the Board of Management at the BMW Group Harald Krüger calls the iNEXT a project encapsulating and representing BMW’s plans to integrate electric mobility across their entire range of BMW and Mini vehicles, a concept designed to answer the question, “What does a vehicle look like which no longer needs to be driven by a person but can be if desired?”
The answer is an electric powered crossover SUV outfitted with future-forward technology and a lavishly adorned interior that makes some living rooms pale in comparison. Just one look at the jacquard fabric stretching across the entire expanse of the back seat section and the comfort-first intentions of the concept become seriously evident (Enlightened Cloudburst, the name of the green-blue upholstery, seems like something found listed on a dispensary menu); the soft touch material hides gesture-activated music controls that light up from underneath the upholstery, one example of what BMW is calling “Shy Tech”, three technology applications kept out of sight, yet always available upon command: Intelligent Personal Assistant, Intelligent Materials and Intelligent Beam.
Intelligent Personal Assistant: BMW’s version of Alexa or Siri, a voice activated system intended to tie together its many smart BMW Connected features.
Intelligent Materials: Surfaces inside the vehicle are engineered to change according to modes. The console’s wooden surface turns into a control center in “Ease” mode, with a perforated surface illuminated by points of light that follow any touch across it.
Intelligent Beam: One part reading light, another part interactive projection screen, this feature brings touch-activated augmented reality features into the cabin.
Where the previous effort of the BMW i3 still sported the identifiable kidney grille front shared by its roundel adorned predecessors, the iNEXT adopts a bolder angularity engineered to hide a sizable array of autonomous driving and safety sensors. Combined with the sleek, stretched LED headlamps, the taller connected grill adopts the toothy visage of an aggressive and angry animal, with the glowing Liquid Greyrose Copper painted exterior continuing BMW’s love affair with complex matte-sheen hues (this a bit more subdued than the wonderfully audacious orange hued BMW Concept Z4 roadster revealed last year.
The interior cockpit is given the detailing of furniture rather than automotive seating, with patterned wood veneer paired in a luxurious contrast to the metallic Mystic Bronze and Jacquard weave cloth spilling from the back into the front where driver and passenger seats are designated in Purus Rosé, Brown and Beige surfaces.
Two digital display panels – one directly in front of the driver’s seat, the other stretching wide across the flat beige cloth covered dashboard – eliminate the telltale signs of a traditional car for a more spacious atmosphere intended to allow passengers the freedom to stretch out relax.
BMW aficionados will be placated knowing the iNEXT’s powertrain will be given the attention associated with “The Ultimate Driving Machine”, delivering instantaneous performance via an electric motor at each axle for all-wheel acceleration measured in milliseconds.”
Like the recently unveiled Volvo 360c Concept, BMW recognizes the future of automotive luxury is to be increasingly defined by the technology and comforts of their interiors. We’re curious whether the BMW iNEXT will deliver on its evocative vision by 2021 as promised by BMW R&D – an interactive environment engineered for the passenger, rather than the driver, as the primary beneficiary.