The Next to electrify

The front seats of the iNext concept car are supported by aluminium legs while the centre armrest resembles Star Trek's Starship Enterprise.
The front seats of the iNext concept car are supported by aluminium legs while the centre armrest resembles Star Trek's Starship Enterprise.PHOTO: SHREEJIT CHANGAROTH

BMW's iNext is a showcase of electric and autonomous technologies bound for future models

The BMW iNext concept car looks like no other BMW, although you can detect some styling cues from the i3 electric hatch. It is, however, much bigger than the i3.

Like most new models being unveiled today, the iNext takes the form of an SUV. This two-box design sits high off the ground on 24-inch wheels and has a massive curved tailgate.

Some may not even identify it immediately as a BMW because the iconic double-kidney radiator grille has taken a new form.

The "kidneys" have now merged to form what is probably the largest grille on any BMW. It is also not exactly a grille, since the iNext is an electric car and does not require engine cooling.

Instead of wing mirrors, the car has cameras. And its lights - both front and rear - are so slim, they appear more like accent lines.

Door handles are conspicuously absent. As is the B-pillar when the electrically actuated doors open remotely. Like in the BMW i3, the doors swing open in opposite directions.

But what is most mind-blowing is the car's interior. BMW's head of interior design Matthias Junghanns says the cabin layout and styling were inspired by the interiors of funky boutique hotels.

Upholstery is all cloth, with front and rear seats in contrasting colours. The front seats are supported by polished aluminium legs instead of conventional seat rails.

The highlight is the centre armrest/console, which resembles the Starship Enterprise from the Star Trek series.

We were not allowed inside this concept vehicle, but it definitely looks inviting, comfortable and desirable.

Finished in an unusual matt copper, the iNext drove into the event hall at the Los Angeles Motor Show all by itself.

It has Level 3 autonomous functions, which means it is capable of operating without human intervention unless in unusual circumstances. BMW claims the car is even ready for Level 4, which allows it to drive completely without human intervention.

The production version of the iNext will be ready in 2021. Level 3 autonomous driving will be part of the production package, but the car can still be fully driver-operated.

Technical specifications have not been announced yet, but it is known that the car will conform to Generation 3 assembly, where motor, transmission (one-reduction gear and differential) and power control hardware are in a single module. Hence the layout could offer both two-and four-wheel-drive.

Hopefully, the production version will have as splendid an interior as the concept.

• The writer contributes to Torque, a motoring monthly published by SPH Magazines.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 08, 2018, with the headline 'The Next to electrify'. Print Edition | Subscribe