While the i3 and i8 are on their way to extinction, their DNA lives on quite clearly in the iX, and not just in terms of design. Both cars used the innovative LifeDrive architecture, a very bold – and very costly – step in 2011 and still a technological eye-opener today, thanks to a carbonfibre reinforced plastic (CFRP) passenger cell sitting on an aluminium running chassis.
The iX debuts a new platform for BMW, one which is an inversion of its predecessors: It uses spaceframe predominantly made of aluminium (ASF), but with key points reinforced by CFRP to form what BMW terms a Carbon Cage. While neither ASF tech (already widely used by Audi and Jaguar) or CFRP are by themselves new tech, the novel combination of the two is still unique to non-supercar/exotic machines.
Unlike the original pair of BMW i cars, this platform is scalable, and will set the stage for the next immediate wave of BMWs regardless of propulsion tech, and be extremely flexible in its application.
“The i3 and i8 were completely independent and we were not using those components anywhere else. But with the iX, its components will now be used throughout our portfolio, as BEVs are now becoming more mainstream,” says Weber.
In conjunction with the iX, BMW also announced a near-production electric scooter to be made by BMW Motorrad, and a more fanciful (i.e. it won’t be produced) Mini concept, the Urbanaut, with the idea of a car as a mobile urban living space.
But what about the biggest letter in ‘BMW’ – M? Weber was coy on that, saying that typically the Group avoided making specific comments for future vehicles, but he did concede :“For the BMW Group, in the second phase of electrification we will push heavily in all the brands that we have -, Mini, Rolls-Royce and of course, BMW M.”
What will lighten BMW M fans’ hearts is the existence of an EV 5 Series test mule, the Power BEV, with triple motors (one in front, and one per rear wheel) that should enable lurid drifts, thanks to 720hp and a 0-100km/h time ‘comfortably under’ three seconds. The triple motor layout seems to be a key choice for high-performance EVs – the Audi E-Tron S already boasting a 500hp, 1000Nm triple-motor setup.
BMW even has the bones of the next step in hand: A new architecture development that is currently underway, and which will arrive in the middle of the next decade. The current platform has a BEV focus, but its heritage comes from internal combustion engines – the next platform will be, from its core, a BEV concept.
Another area where the iX pushes the envelope is with data, both in terms of connectivity, computing power, and artificial intelligence.
The drive toward autonomy has meant sensor build up in all cars, not just mainstream ones, and that means a stream of data which needs to be processed, networked, and uploaded to the cloud. The iX has more than 20 times the computing power of previous BMWs, and it’s also the first car equipped with 5G because ‘connectivity is the heart of the vehicle, it’s needed for all features, so it’s the enabler and platform for the car of the future,” says James Mallinson, Head of Development Vehicle Connectivity and Mobile Communications.
BMW has prepared for this with its BMW Group High Performance D3 platform, a technology platform setup in 2019 as part of the required back-end for autonomous driving, to process over 250-million kilometres of real-world and test driving data from BMW Group’s Automated Driving Test Fleet, all of which is used to train current features like Driving Assistant Professional and autonomous driving capabilities of the future.
While the iX is going to be the first BMW offered with Level 3 autonomous drive capabilities (Level 3 – self-driving under human supervision), that isn’t such a big deal. Audi has boasted its A8 capable of Level 3 right at its launch three years ago, the problem being that cars aren’t allowed to self-drive anywhere in the world.
But there’s light at the end of the tunnel, with a European legal framework for autonomous vehicles being drawn up by the end of 2021, BMW will roll out features like self-driving thanks to over-the-air updates.
All these future-ready steps have been in place for some time, though, and in the meantime it’s not as if existing BMWs with petrol engines will simply lag into obsoletion. We already see the first evidence of this process here: BMW just released an OTA update – what it calls Remote Software Update – for Singapore introducing Android Auto to BMWs for the first time, and wirelessly at that, and an improved Intelligent Personal Assistant (IPA), the latter an existing example of BMW’s on-board AI making a driver’s life easier.
We’re more used to that in the realm of smartphones, but carmakers have caught on and can do an amazing number of things with OTA updates, everything from improve efficiency and power, to making OS and feature updates.
And to speak of small reflecting the big, if there’s one small detail that shows just how serious BMW is about all is, it’s the fact that the iX is the new tech flagship for the company. That it’s not the 7 Series luxury limousine, which for decades held the role of undisputed King Of Shiny New Stuff From BMW, says just as much as what all its top executives and overt messaging does. This is the New BMW.