BMW didn't hold back on this one.
Five years have passed since the i8 made its production debut, and it’s still hard to think about BMW’s hybrid sports car as an aged vehicle. Following the electric i3 to dealerships, the i8 was built to signal that BMW’s i brand was focused on delivering the future before it had arrived, but it also was a promise to drivers that the electric era didn’t have to mean we’d be penalized with boring cars.
Although its looks are anything but dated, electric cars have come a long way in those five years, making the i8's hybrid tech seem less impressive now than it was before. And besides, there’s a new kind of vehicle on the horizon that’s threatening to kill more driving fun than EVs ever could: the autonomous car.
So in order to signal the i department’s commitment to the NEXT name (which started with the NEXT 100 Concept), confirm that the M Division is now a part of the forward-thinking i brand, remind us that the company is still ahead of the technological curve, and renew its promise to keep cars fun in the electric and autonomous age, BMW has pulled the wraps off the new Vision M NEXT concept. When BMW first debuted the Vision NEXT 100 Concept, the car featured EASE and BOOST modes, the former delivering the utmost comfort to riders by getting them to their destinations autonomously and the latter providing owners with the most engaging driving experience possible.
BMW has effectively spun those two drive modes off into their own cars, the Vision iNEXT SUV, which replaces the i3, and now the i8’s successor, the Vision M NEXT. BMW’s intentions are projected most clearly in the M NEXT’s design.
Like the i8, it has a low-slung supercar roofline, closed off-kidney grilles (though the M NEXT’s clear grille covers have a mesh pattern etched into them), and an aggressively futuristic look to it brought on by a blocky two-tone color scheme, thin laser head and taillights, and plenty of recycled carbon fiber used to make the side skirts and rear diffuser.
Unlike the i8, the M NEXT adopts a somewhat retro look to it as well by borrowing styling cues from older BMWs, including the rear windows and three-piece engine cover fins from the M1 and BMW roundels emblazoned on the taillights as a nod to the 1972 Turbo Concept.
BMW has also rewritten the rules of automotive interior design for the M NEXT, starting with the facial recognition door unlock system and steering-wheel-mounted starter button that scans the driver’s fingerprint in order to ensure they are indeed the car's owner.
Once inside, a driver will find memory foam seats, an innovative blend of materials, and a minimalist interior that seems to be cut from a single mold, with the car’s styling elements and technology all focusing attention on what's ahead of the car. BMW designers even took the liberty of trying to hide the air vents in order to keep attention focused forward, where three tiers of driver display systems relay different information to the driver depending on the vehicle's speed. The first layer is made up of two small screens placed on the steering wheel. The next is what BMW calls a Curved Glass Display that sits on top of the steering wheel and in the driver’s line of sight, and an augmented reality head-up display makes up the third layer.
Distracting as the display sounds in theory, BMW promises it’ll help drivers harness the M NEXT’s biggest improvement over the i8: its powertrain.
While the i8’s combined 369 horsepower output made it so the car’s looks wrote checks its performance levels couldn’t cash, BMW has given the M NEXT a turbocharged four-cylinder engine that can route its power to the rear wheels exclusively. All-wheel drive modes will activate electric motors that augment the gasoline engine and help send a combined 600 horsepower to the pavement, giving drivers plenty of reason to keep hybrid modes active.
With both propulsion systems running, the M NEXT can hit 62 mph from a standstill in just 3.0 seconds before going on to a top speed of 186 mph. A BOOST + button on the steering wheel also helps unleash small bursts of extra power with a single press, but if efficiency is the priority, the plug-in hybrid M NEXT can also run on pure electric power for 62 miles, helping it skirt upcoming regulations in many European cities that ban combustion engines entirely.