2016 marks the centennial anniversary for the Bayerische Motoren Werke AG, better known today as BMW. In order to celebrate one hundred years of existence, the brand has rolled out a series of concepts that celebrate both the history of the marque, as well as what it’s future holds. These concepts are being shown at four locations across the globe and are being celebrated with much fanfare: Los Angeles, London, Beijing, and Munich.
Ah, the perks of living in L.A.
Upon rolling up to the event, we were greeted with a few of the BMW family flagships.
In the background, some of BMW Motorrad’s bikes can be seen as well.
Inside of the hangar, located at the Santa Monica airport, the tone and attitude of the event was decided more formal and upscale. Outside, people were clamoring all over the cars, pushing every conceivable button and chatting it up with the brand reps. Inside, impeccably dressed servers bounced between groups of well to do people, social influencers, and well, us, offering pomegranate-infused drinks and dishing out elegantly prepared slices of chocolate truffle cake.
The mood lighting enveloped all light from the hangar doors and brought silence with it. Refined, hushed voices spoke of lifestyles several notches above my pay grade. This all continued until the voice of God almighty announced that it was time.
I stood in the background and snapped a few pictures as the well-dressed and well-to-do took their seats. A coworker got in my ear and said we should bail, because more important items were on our agenda. An Editor from GQ came to the stage and began talking about where the future was taking us. That was easy, I thought, it’s taking us to the test drives.
“All I want to do is rip an i8 around.”
In addition to the NEXT 100 event happening in the hangar, BMW had very kindly brought their entire electric fleet to the event for test drives: the i3; i8; 330e; x5-40e; 740e, and oddly a Mini Cooper S John Cooper Works Edition. Very kind indeed.
Now, we could all pretend that I’m deeply interested in electric vehicles, but I’m really not. However, the i8 looks bonkers and I had to give a whirl. Oh yeah, before that, my coworkers and I sampled some of the more mundanities in attendance.
The 740e was exactly as comfortable and luxurious as you would expect it to be. Deposit $95,000 to your local BMW dealer and buy one, why not. No picture, it looked just like the silver one at the introduction.
The i3 was an oddball. I rode in the backseat for this which is an interesting place to be. It has suicide doors, which tuck behind the front doors, so there is no entering or exiting the back of the car without assistance from up front. Similarly, while comfortable in terms of headroom and legroom (the car is a rolling cube, and is all wheelbase), the backseats are devoid of any luxury pretense. A used $5000 Hyundai offers great backseat luxury. The rear windows are fixed, there are no speakers back there, or air vents. Say what you will about the exterior aesthetics, but the less discussed interior is equally questionable. The outside looks like a bumper car from the year 2148, but interior is decidedly of the present, modern and minimalist. I could say the materials felt and looked cheap, because, well, they do. It’s unintentionally driver-focused just because there is literally nothing for passengers to do or touch. For the purposes of commuting, when realistically, there will only be one or two people in the car, it’s acceptable, I guess, but decidedly very un-BMW-like in character. Oh, the acceleration and handling are fine for a city car, so job done on that review.
Here’s what I came for.
Getting in to and eventually out of an i8 is...trying... to put it generously. Yours truly is 6'1', 180lbs, so hardly a giant. The butterfly doors do not open out or up as far as they should, and the sills of the carbon tub are very high for crash safety, so the motion to maneuver can be bested described as Keanu Reeves’ Matrix limbo mixed with a two step or crab walk. Many props to my coworker for being able to plop herself into the i8 while wearing a dress and heels.
Once inside, it feels oddly conventional. The controls from the other electric BMW’s and indeed many modern BMW products are borderline interchangeable here. That’s no knock on the i8, the switchgear all feels quality, and that conventionality means everything is where you would expect it to be. Within five seconds, I had “DSC off” and the car in Sport Mode (i.e. making that the turbo-3 cylinder work for it’s keep). It all feels typically Germanic, which means the initial build quality is impeccable.
Shame on me for not bringing my GoPro and proper audio recording equipment. Here’s a quickie cellphone video of me coming to terms with the i8 before enjoying a nice drive.
The roads of Los Angeles are appalling and the city streets of Santa Monica are no exception. Despite that, the i8 was unperturbed. Over what may as well have been cobblestone pavement, full throttle was effortless and the car was overwhelmingly comfortable. I chucked it around some corners and again, no fuss. The turbocharged 1.5L 3-cylinder engine sounds demonic, but it never bites back. As is the way with all of the new turbo BMW’s the powerband is broad and power delivery is smooth. Also as is the case with BMW’s it doesn’t feel as fast as it is, especially with the electric assistance. It felt quick, most certainly, but the entirety of the drive could be summed up as accelerating vigorously to what I perceived to be the speed limit, look at the speedometer, only to realize I was traveling substantially faster than said limit.
Perhaps that’s why I found myself back at HQ all too soon. The i8 can cover a lot of ground.
Back inside the hangar more presentations were happening. The voice of God mentioned “Sustainability...” and “futuristic solutions...” as I went looking for the restroom. Told you the i8 was quick. After using the fanciest and most upscale urinal I have every experienced, I found myself wadding through all of the black curtains and drapery in the back of the hangar before stumbling out the other side.
There were the BMW Next 100 concepts all sitting pretty. As the voice of God talked solutions, I poured over the details.
First, the BMW Motorrad Vision Next 100 concept:
The shape is evocative, low-slung and desperately pretty. Looking beyond the crystal and polished brightwork, it’s clear BMW is putting carbon fiber and electric tech at the forefront. The display “engine” is actually representative of an electric power module, with the rear wheel being spun by an electric motor. In person, this bike looks closer to production than the outrageous aesthetics announce. Ergonomically, by raising the handlebars an inch or so, and fitting a small windscreen, it’s pretty much good to go. The ergo makes total sense in person, and while it obviously wouldn’t replace anyone’s touring bike, it seems no less comfortable than any Japanese sport bike on the road today.
The MINI Vision NEXT 100 was all brightwork. In tandem with it being the most well-lit of the bunch. it’s clear (pun intended) that MINI’s focus is on the ever changing concept of “mobility” and what that means in terms of their products.
This concept again uses electric motors for propulsion. A demonstration video indicated that each wheel would have it’s own motor, allowing for a very unique form of traction control via individual wheel torque vectoring. We really are living in the future, kids.
Although this is a design concept, there is a lot of i3 happening inside the not-so-mini MINI. Much like the i3, this MINI is all wheelbase, with minimal rear-passenger accoutrements and a floating dash up front. Platform sharing between the two stablemates seems inevitable. Hmm...
The BMW Vision NEXT 100 concept was striking, and in person, surprisingly i8-inspired. 1/3 BMW GINA concept, 1/3 i8 and a 1/3 blend of BMW’s Pebble Beach homage concepts makes for the Vision NEXT 100 cocktail.
The front fenders and rear quarter panels seem to have the same taut, stretched “skin” aesthetic as the GINA concept. The face features the same thin, LED lighting elements and emboldened kidney grille design from the brand’s past few Pebble Beach concepts, notably this year’s Hommage R. From the back and 3/4 view, it’s all i8-inspired with aerodynamic sills and an aggressively sculpted backside.
By all accounts I thought the BMW Vision NEXT 100 would be the top dog of the bunch. In all of the press pictures and media coverage, it had the top billing. That’s all nonsense, because the Rolls-Royce Vision NEXT 100 blew them all out of the water, and it’s not even close.
Designated internally as the Rolls-Royce 103EX, it’s one of the most evocative shapes I have ever seen. Up front, carbon fiber main tub is separate from the fenders, which house the Formula car style suspension and veiled wheels, which are again turned by electric motors. The side profile is aggressive, with deeply concave sills and air channels. The cabin sits higher than expected, as the entire underside of the car is a giant diffuser. It resembles an aerofoil boat with it’s aggressive aerodynamic shape.
The aesthetic is a beautiful blend of 1930's streamline and a futuristic interpretation of elegance. Some 18 feet long, it’s presence simply could not be ignored, and that’s why there is no video of the 103EX, because all of the other media schmucks (read: actual journalists, with real photography hardware) were brawling for the best angles.
Ah yes, it’s time for conclusions. By this point, I had been wandering around this Santa Monica air hangar for some five hours, and as those pomegranate cocktails didn’t have actual alcohol in them, my ability to wax poetic about all of this elegant sheet metal had waned. My cobbled together notes were mainly a mess of unintelligible scribbles, and that’s quite alright. If electric is our future and this is what the future looks like, everything will indeed be quite alright.
Jake Stumph is an unabashed car enthusiast and track day bro. His day job as an Automotive Journalist and Editor allows him access to fun cars and events on a somewhat regular basis. If you found any of his drivel entertaining, then he suggests you follow him on Facebook and YouTube.