BMW iNext test mules work up a sweat in the African desert

Ronan Glon



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The electric BMW iNext is inching its way toward production. The German carmaker released images showing camouflaged test mules doing their best to stay cool as they explore the Kalahari Desert under the scorching sun.

It's not easy being a prototype. One day, your door seals are frozen in a remote part of Sweden. The next, an engineer is cooking an egg on your hood in a remote part of Botswana. It's summer in the Southern Hemisphere, so BMW shipped iNext test mules to southern Africa to learn how the electric crossover withstands extreme heat. The knowledge it gains by playing in the desert will benefit other development programs, because the iNext shares technology with the upcoming iX3 and i4. Several Jaguar Land Rover models will use its electronics, too.

Testing prototypes in the African desert also lets engineers put suspension and chassis components through their paces while ensuring the opening parts keep dust out of the cabin. This practice is common in the automotive industry, though some choose to let prototypes loose in Death Valley or in the Middle East, and it has been that way for decades. What's a little bit unusual here is that BMW released photos of the cars it's evaluating.

The crossover is the production version of the Vision iNext concept unveiled in 2018. The images suggest its overall proportions haven't changed much, but stylists toned down its design by giving it larger headlights and eliminating the kinks in the window line. The wide, almost Audi-like hatch that encompasses the rear lights remains, as does the giant grille. We've already seen parts of its interior, which gets a polygon-shaped steering wheel and a curved touchscreen display on the dashboard, and we know BMW is working jointly with Samsung to make the model available with 5G connectivity thanks to a built-in SIM card as soon as production starts. 

Although the 2020 Geneva show is around the corner, there's no indication the iNext will make its global debut in Switzerland. The star of the event from BMW's standpoint will be the Concept i4, a close-to-production design study built to accurately preview a 3 Series-sized electric sedan. Instead, we expect to see the iNext — a name that won't make the leap to production — in the metal without camouflage for the first time before the end of 2020, likely at a standalone event, and production will begin in BMW's Dingolfing, Germany, plant in 2021. 

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