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BMW is already working on the next 'i' car

Could the i5 be on the cards? TG's Paul Horrell gets the inside line

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BMW is getting cracking with development of its next i car. “i Next”, BMW people are helpfully calling it. Launch is planned for five years from now, in 2021.

It’ll be somewhere between the i3 and i8 in price, and will probably get a number because BMW has registered as trademarks all the i numbers between 3 and 8. It’ll be an all-electric saloon about 5-series size. Critically, it’ll use a step-change batteries.

At the launch of the Mini and Rolls-Royce centenary vision cars, BMW’s sales and Marketing chief Ian Robertson announced, “The i Next will be our new spearhead for innovation and technology.”

He went on: “Planned for 2021, it will offer autonomous driving, digital connectivity, intelligent lightweight design, a totally new interior. And ultimately it will bring the next generation of electro-mobility to the road.”

Fascinating but a bit non-specific. So in a quiet moment Top Gear pushed him for more. He stressed again that the i project isn’t just about battery cars, but also lightweight construction. “The 7-series is 200kg lighter than the previous one, and that wouldn’t have been possible without the i3 and i8.” So we can assume lots of carbon fibre and aluminium.

“The i Next will carry the next steps in autonomous driving. Maybe not fully at first, but in most respects,” he told us.

He also said it will “have our next design steps”. Sources say it takes inspiration from the looks of the amazing, ultra-low-drag, shape-shifting BMW Vision Next 100 (pictured above).

That Vision car also embodies the results of BMW’s research into driver interfaces and controls for the autonomous age. It uses the whole windscreen as an augmented-reality display. It can superimpose the ideal cornering line on the road, and images of obscured hazards (recognised by vehicle-to-vehicle comms) in the direction from which they’ll appear. You will “become the ultimate driver”, said Robertson.

In fully autonomous mode, the Vision 100 retracts its steering wheel and turns the seat inward, making more of a self-propelled sitting room.

Power for the i Next? “It will definitely be an EV. It will have the next big thing in batteries. Battery technology is definitely on the verge of the next big thing. We just increased the range of the i3 by modifying the lithium ion cells in the same battery structure. Next there will be lithium air batteries. you’ll be able to get 400 mile range easily, and the recharge time is a cup of coffee. And then solid state batteries are on everyone’s lips. They have package, energy density and safety benefits.”

The “digital connectivity” part of the i Next’s makeup is also something that BMW has been previewing in the onboard artificial-intelligence virtual assistants in the Rolls, BMW and Mini show cars. They’re called ‘Eleanor’, the ‘Companion’ and the ‘Cooperizer’ respectively. What exactly all this means for life five years hence, though, is a bit indistinct. Depends greatly what car-to-car and car-to-infrastructure connectivity is in place by then. But you can expect a big heap of digital driver support, customisation and concierge-y stuff.

Robertson was also keen to tell us that the i Next won’t stand in isolation. The i cars are meant as incubators for technology that goes across the range. The 7-series uses carbon fibre. The i8’s drive train, detuned and running in reverse, is already available in the 225e Active Tourer and will come to the X1 soon too.

“In months – just months – and years after the launch, you will see much of the i Next technology on other cars in the range.”

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