BMW Vision iNEXT concept makes LA debut

The BMW Vision iNEXT concept teases a new large i SUV, which is set to arrive early next decade with level 3 autonomous features

The BMW Vision iNEXT has made its public debut in Los Angeles. In a press event held on the eve of the Los Angeles Motor Show, the all-electric SUV concept previews the next step in the firm’s i range from 2021 onwards.

BMW’s head of development Klaus Fröhlich explains that the Vision iNEXT will be the firm’s technology flagship, describing it to Auto Express as an “identification car” for a string of next-generation BMW i models. They’ll be joined by wholly electric versions of core BMWs, with the firm promising 12 battery electric vehicles on sale by 2025.

• All the latest from the 2018 Los Angeles Motor Show

At just over five metres long the Vision iNEXT is a large two-box SUV in profile, similar in footprint to an 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 boxier proportions at the rear of car are a little more conventional, completed with a set of horizontal LED tail lights.

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.

No specific powertrain details have been outlined, but BMW 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.

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.

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