For decades, the flagship of every German luxury maker’s line has been its largest sedan: the Audi A8, BMW 7-Series, and at the pinnacle, the Mercedes-Benz S-Class.
But times change.
The BMW Vision iNext, previewed for small group of journalists this week before Saturday’s global debut, entirely rethinks what a “flagship” should be in a future age of connected vehicles that use artificial intelligence to drive themselves when desired.
The iNext has no powerful V-8 or V-12 engine. It’s entirely electric, powered by a high-capacity battery pack giving more than 370 miles (600 km) of range on the (optimistic) European test cycle, and twin motors that hurl the big vehicle from 0 to 62 mph in less than four seconds.
While BMW promises “engaging” roadholding, the iNext is intended to preview the company’s idea of how occupants will be catered to when a car operates autonomously. The company promises genuine Level 3 autonomy on limited-access highways, with later Level 5 autonomy as a “best-case scenario” in countries where it's legal.
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And, reflecting the global market shift, the new flagship is not a “three-box” traditional sedan but a higher, bulkier utility vehicle with a hatch at the back.
BMW says the car was conceived to answer the question: “How will we be moving around in the future?”
Note “driving” is not used in that sentence—the company assumes many customers for future high-end luxury vehicles will want their time to themselves. They’ll be content to leave the driving to the machine whenever possible.
For those buyers, “time is the most valuable resource,” the company said.
BMW iNext Concept
Project i 2.0
BMW board chairman Harald Krüger said in May the iNext project will “provide our building blocks for the future,” but at the press preview, the company didn’t want to discuss the battery, the motors, or any of the electric powertrain that will propel the production iNext.
Make no mistake: This is a preview of a future all-electric BMW flagship, though one not likely to hit the road until 2022 or so. It will be the third new battery-electric BMW to launch, following the BMW iX3 for 2020 and the BMW i4 sedan for 2021.
All three cars are the fruit of BMW’s full rethink in 2016 of its electric car program, which began 10 years earlier and was called “Project i.” It resulted in the BMW i3 small electric hatchback and the BMW i8 plug-in hybrid sport coupe, both new in 2013.