2021 BMW iNEXT electric SUV: First official images

BMW has released official “spy shots” of a pre-production version of the iNEXT electric SUV undergoing winter testing

Following its debut at the 2018 Los Angeles Motor Show, BMW has released the first images of the production iNEXT SUV undergoing winter testing, despite the all-electric flagship SUV being some years away from showrooms.

The BMW iNEXT is due to enter production in 2021, acting as the technological halo for the firm’s all-electric “i” range. A final name has not yet been hinted at by BMW.

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BMW says the purpose of the winter excursion was to test the limits of the iNEXT’s all-wheel-drive system, as well as find out how cold weather affects both the efficiency of its electric motor and the charging characteristics of its battery pack.

Even though this “spied” mule wears heavy camouflage, we can see some substantial changes in design between this and the concept model. The rear suicide doors have been ditched in favour of conventional units, while the concept’s front end has been redesigned with a smaller grille and an added air scoop.

The concept’s missing B-pillar has been reinstated and its wing-mounted cameras have been replaced with conventional rear-view mirrors. However, the concept’s slim LED headlights and swept-back panoramic windscreen appear to have been transferred onto the mule.

BMW are yet to reveal full information on the iNEXT’s performance, range and powertrain but the firm has discussed its next-generation electric drivetrain and platform plans before. When the iNEXT launches in 2021 it’ll be one of the first vehicles on BMW’s common platform capable of supporting petrol, diesel, plug-in hybrid and fully electric powertrains, though the iNEXT will be only available as an electric vehicle.

Looking to the upcoming i4, also set to use the platform, a maximum battery size of 120kWh will be supported, claimed to enable an official range of 435 miles on a single charge in that particular model.

BMW Vision iNEXT concept: exterior design

At just over five metres long, the Vision iNEXT concept is a large two-box SUV, similar in footprint to X5 and in height to an X6. The concept rides on 24-inch wheels, and is free of a B-pillar thanks to a set of ‘suicide’ rear hinged back doors.

Though it won’t be a regular member of the BMW line-up, X7 cues are seen in the form of the tall and upright gills placed at each corner of the front apron. The new ‘streamflow’ style window line employed on the iVision Dynamics concept – which will become the i4 – makes it clear that this is an i car.

At the front end, extremely slim four-piece headlights sit either side of a huge interlinked kidney grille, blanked off to signify the car’s electric powertrain. In place of the traditional door mirrors are a pair of cameras – one facing forward and one backward – which, in combination with a selection of radars, lidars, cameras, GPS antennas and an external microphone, enable the iNext to drive with level 3 autonomous ability.

This will be enhanced further by the inclusion of 5G communication, which will eventually allow the facility for autonomous cars to communicate with each other, even in the sort of busy urban environments which, due to the interference of crowded networks, would make this impossible with Wi-Fi or 4G.

The windscreen sweeps upwards into the car’s roof to create a seamless panoramic panel, while the boxy proportions at the rear of car are a little more conventional, completed with a set of horizontal LED tail lights.

BMW iNEXT concept: interior design

The cabin is strictly concept and does not preview the interior layout of the production car. As such, it’s loaded with stargazing features that won’t be seen in the finished item three years from now.

Created from a combination of open-pore wood, illuminated crystal glass and textile cloth, the front compartment features a steering wheel that partially collapses into the dashboard and pedals which fold flush into the wooden floor when the concept is switched into autonomous mode.

The interior is constructed from vegan-friendly materials, and each seat in the boutique hotel-inspired cabin is unique. The lounge style rear quarters is asymmetrical, with one side assuming a more relaxed position pointing towards the centre of the car. This will allow easier conversation with the front passenger, who is able to fold the headrest 90 degrees backwards to give a clearer view of those behind.

Though a huge touchscreen display sits atop the dashboard, BMW says that the Vision iNEXT’s interior has been designed to showcase how smart materials, not screens, may be used to control in-car functions in the future.

Hidden underneath a veneer of wood on the centre console and embedded in the fabric used on the vast rear bench is a combination of sensors and micro LEDs, which respond to the touch. Pinching and swiping like you would on a smartphone draws illuminated patterns on the surfaces, and allows those on board to control minor features such as music volume.

Similarly, there are no screens in the back of the concept. Instead, BMW showcases what it calls Intelligent Beam, which uses interactive projectors capable of tracking blank books and projecting information and entertainment straight onto the pages as an alternative to displays and tablets.

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