New BMW iNEXT 2021: specs and on-sale date for electric SUV

BMW iNEXT pictured undergoing hot-weather testing in South Africa, as flagship electric SUV prepares for production in 2021

BMW Vision iNEXT

BMW has released new images of its iNEXT, a prototype large electric SUV of similar size to its X7 combustion-engined model. They show the car undergoing hot-weather testing in deserts of South Africa. The company says its programme in South Africa will evaluate and develop how the car handles extreme heat and solar radiation, as well as permanent dust formation and off-road terrain.

Based on the Vision iNEXT concept that was revealed in September 2018, the BMW iNEXT previews a production car that'll become the technological flagship for the company’s range of i models when it goes into production at the firm's Dingolfing factory in 2021.

According to BMW, the iNEXT will "set new benchmarks in sportiness, efficiency and range in a battery-powered automobile", while its suspension control and driver-assistance systems will "pave the way for a further step towards autonomous driving".

BMW earlier released a teaser image of the steering wheel that'll feature in the production iNEXT. Featuring a squared-off shape, the wheel is designed to help drivers switch between manual and “highly automated” driving modes. It should also give drivers a better view of the instrument panel, while also increasing legroom and comfort.

BMW Vision iNEXT styling

Several key changes have been made to the design since the concept was unveiled: the rear-hinged back doors have made way for conventional ones, and the grille has shrunk in size and been joined by an extra air intake. Meanwhile the B-pillar has been reintroduced, and the concept’s Audi e-tron-style rear-view cameras have been replaced with conventional door mirrors.

Initially, the Vision iNEXT concept took its inspiration from the BMW X7, boasting upright 'gills' at each corner of the front apron and a ‘Streamflow’ window line designed to mark out the car as an ‘i’ vehicle.

The blanked-off grille was intended to show that the Vision iNEXT concept was an electric car, simultaneously housing many of the sensors required for the level 3 autonomous driving features BMW is targeting for 2021. It’s not yet clear if these will be relocated by the time the production model is signed off.

Interior design

The hot and cold-weather testing images released by BMW give nothing away about the iNEXT’s interior design, so we’ve only got the concept’s layout to inform us for now. That car included all manner of amazing features, such as a steering wheel that collapses into the dashboard when the car is in autonomous mode, and touch-sensitive panels built into the fabric of the rear seats. These would allow passengers to control minor functions like the audio volume, but there’s little chance they’ll appear in the production car.

Drivetrain and performance

So far, BMW hasn’t made any mention of performance figures for the iNEXT, however we do know it'lll feature a pure-electric drivetrain. The purpose of the winter testing programme in Arjeplog, Sweden, was to assess the all-wheel-drive system in cold-weather conditions, as well as monitor the performance of the electric motor and battery in low temperatures.

The BMW i4 – a premium four-door coupe – is set to use the same platform, and will support a maximum battery size of 120kWh, for a range of 435 miles. The iNEXT is a larger vehicle, and BMW says it'll achieve an official range in excess of 373 miles. The platform for the iNEXT will support petrol, diesel and plug-in hybrid vehicles, too.