In Depth

BMW i5: Leaked patents uncover next i car

Drawings reveal a mid-sized saloon to bridge gap between the i3 city car and i8 sports car

Images of BMW's next i car have leaked online, with a series of recently discovered patent drawings completely uncovering the electric vehicle's design.

Initially picked up by AutoGuide, the drawings have since been posted on numerous motoring websites.

Previous rumours have suggested BMW's next EV could be an SUV or crossover, but the car in the pictures is a mid-sized saloon with a hatchback boot – a vehicle that would go some way to bridging the large gap between BMW's i3 city car and i8 sports car.

In terms of design, it has a familiar face, bearing the low and wide headlight and kidney grille arrangement used on the i8. The car features a smooth, sloping, aerodynamic roofline, while running down the sides are the upward flicked lines seen on BMW's electric sports car, complete with a floating C-pillar on one side. The back end is noticeably squared off.

It's unclear if BMW will offer the car as a pure EV, says Auto Express, using the battery pack fitted in the recently updated i3 or a different powertrain - the i8 sports car, for example, is a plug-in hybrid.

However, there's a "good chance" the vehicle will come with self-driving capabilities similar to those offered on the Tesla Model S.

The name "i5" has consistently been suggested for BMW's next i car, but the leaks reveal the company has patented all potential names through i1 to i9. Autocar believes this model will be the i4 and that the i5 could arrive as an SUV at a later date.

It's not yet known when BMW plans to reveal its patented new i car.

BMW i5: Could it be the next i car?

17 March

Following on from the sale of more than 50,000 i3s and i8s, BMW has plans for another i car to join its growing stable of electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles.

While the company has said the next vehicle in the range is codenamed i Next, rumours have long suggested it will be called the BMW i5 at launch. It should sit between the small, electric i3 city car and the flagship hybrid i8 sports car – both are due updates and spin-off models such as the BMW i8 Spyder, now confirmed for 2018.

What crumbs of information have come out so far?

It could be a four-door saloon…

According to Car and Driver, up to now, BMW's i range consists of "distantly related cousins" rather than a close-knit family of electric and hybrid options. The i5 will act as a bridge between the "chasm-sized gap" currently separating the two and will fire the starting pistol on a much broader range.

As such, it could be a four-door saloon set to go up against similar offerings from Tesla.

…or a crossover

Alternatively, Auto Express understands that an SUV/crossover body style is favoured by higher-ups at BMW as SUV sales continue to be strong globally, particularly in the ever more important Chinese market. This would see the i5 rival Tesla's Model X SUV - a car BMW is studying. According to CarScoops, an SUV would make more sense than an electric saloon as "Tesla has the niche all to its own and can't build them fast enough to satisfy demand".

It will have a range-extender option

In an interview with Car and Driver, BMW i division product chief Henrik Wender said: "We are thinking of a new i model above [the i3] to attract families and that means it must be capable of being the first car in the household", before confirming that a range-extender option, as on the smaller i3, will be coming to future i cars, but will be dropped once battery tech is on par with conventional petrol and diesel engines. This also confirms that the i5 will be wholly electric rather than a hybrid in the manner of the i8.

It will use a carbon fibre structure

In the same interview, Wender confirmed that carbon fibre construction will remain at the heart of the i sub-brand and will be a certainty for the i5 and indeed any future BMW i models.

This could open the door for future convertibles in the series, after the executive said: "The advantage of the carbon structure is that it's so rigid you could take away the roof without destabilizing the car."

The news goes against the grain of previous reports suggesting the i5 would use the same platform as that on the Chinese market long-wheelbase 5-series, picked up by Autoblog last year, though the possibility remains open of the car being a saloon, possibly set to launch alongside a new 5-series in 2018.

It should be autonomous

BMW says its next i car will be "revolutionary" and that it is investing heavily in "new forms of automated driving."

The company's efforts with its first two i cars enabled it to "build up the necessary expertise in electric mobility" and it will now follow an "equally ambitious path with respect to automated and fully networked driving".

Top Gear notes the company, which prides itself on creating "The Ultimate Driving Machine", makes no mention of driving dynamics. "BMW sees the future in self-driving ability, and from this statement, it's going all-guns blazing against Google and Tesla."

Jalopnik adds that alongside the suite of autonomous features, the model will also be "highly digitalised", making use of sensors, cloud computing, enhanced mobility services and artificial intelligence, as well as HD maps.

Reveal

BMW has confirmed that the project will launch at some point in the next decade as part of its Project i 2.0 plans.

Auto Express had previously reckoned that given this is BMW's centenary year, it could be a wise move to introduce the car at some point in 2016. Following on from the news from Munich, it seems BMW has used the centenary angle only to confirm another i car is in the pipeline.

On the flip side, BMWBlog's prediction that the company would not release another i model until the early 2020s appears to have been accurate, leaving the i3 and i8 as distant cousins for some time yet, although the i3 is due for a battery upgrade in 2016 and a second, convertible i8 model is on the way in the next few years.

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