Tuesday 21 May 2019

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Motors

BMW’s iNext electric car goes all conventional

Wednesday, 6th March, 2019 4:29pm

BMW’s iNext electric SUV, the car that will be its rival to the Audi eTron and the Mercedes EQC, has been spotted testing above the Arctic Circle in Sweden.

The iNext will be launched to the market in 2021, but judging from these prototype photos, it has become rather more conventional in its looks than was suggested by the original iNext concept car.

The concept was wild and way-out, with a rear window line that followed the distinctive kinked-line effect seen on the i3 electric car, vestigial headlamps, and a tall and narrow interpretation of the BMW kidney grille that had fans of subtle style reaching for the smelling salts. As a concept it was not only fully electric, but potentially fully autonomous.

The iNext production prototype has become rather more normal in the interim.

Peering beneath the camouflage, there’s no sign of that dramatic rear window line, the overall shape has become less of a futuristic capsule and more of a conventional SUV, and while the front is heavily covered up, it appears to be no more arresting in its style than that of the (somewhat OTT) X7 or facelifted 7 Series.

The car is currently testing in the freezing conditions of Arjeplog in northern Sweden, a popular destination for the globe’s car makers when putting their new vehicles through the extremes of cold weather testing.

Temperatures there regularly drop below -20 degrees Celsius, and the vast lakes of the area freeze solid, making for ideal nothing-to-hit test tracks.

BMW says that it’s using the harsh conditions in Arjeplog to “optimise, examine and harmonise all drive, chassis and suspension components under extreme climate and road conditions. The cold poses a challenge, above all, for the electric motor, the high-voltage battery and the cooling system of the iNext.

“The testing engineers also attach particular importance to the eDrive energy management system. They analyse the way in which the extreme sub-zero temperatures affect how the energy storage system recharges, how electricity is transferred to the electric motor, how the electrical system is supplied with energy and how the heating and air condition systems respond. The power transmission and suspension regulation systems are also tested far beyond what is standard in day-to-day traffic conditions. On closed-off, ice-covered surfaces, electronic regulation can already be provoked at low driving speeds.”

In the meantime, BMW seems to have taken a step back from predictions of fully autonomous control for the iNext. When the original concept car was revealed last year, BMW was confidently stating that by the time of its launch in 2021, it would have fitted the car with entirely robotic driving tech.

Now, though, there is more talk of ‘automated’ rather than ‘autonomous’ driving systems.

It’s a finely judged semantic point, but generally an ‘automated’ system is one that helps a human driver, rather than taking them out of the control loop altogether.

Somewhat surprisingly, BMW is currently the best-selling electric car maker in Europe, as long as you include plugin-hybrids as well as ‘pure’ battery electric cars.

The company shifted 140,000 electric or plugin-hybrid models last year, and currently holds a 17 per cent ‘electromobility’ market share in Europe.

In spite of that, the company has — in terms of visibility — fallen behind rivals such as Audi, Mercedes, and Jaguar in the race to bring new, long-range, electric vehicles to the market.

BMW’s recent efforts have only recently yielded an updated i3 with a bigger battery, and plugin versions of models such as the new X5.

The iNext, then, is a crucial addition to the BMW range, as is the i4 which has also been spotted testing in Arjeplog.

The i4 will be a much more sleek and smooth four-door coupe, and looks from the disguised photos to be like a half-way house between the old 3 Series GT fastback and the four-door 4 Series Gran Coupe.

It is due for launch in 2021 as well, alongside the iNext SUV, and BMW is talking about both models having a one-charge range of more than 700km, which would put them well ahead of their Anglo-German competition, and ahead of Tesla.

It’s a long time between now and 2021, mind…Neil Briscoe

neil.briscoe@mac.com

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