BMW Vision Neue Klasse: unravelling the tech secrets of the next 3-series | CAR Magazine

BMW Vision Neue Klasse: unravelling the tech secrets of the next 3-series

Published: 02 September 2023 Updated: 03 September 2023

► Meet the new BMW Vision Neue Klasse
► A landmark new concept car for Munich
► Previews next 3-series – and more besides

Do not adjust your sets. This is the new BMW Vision Neue Klasse, a concept car that is really important and one that we can rightly call radical without recourse to hyperbole.

Unveiled this weekend ahead of the IAA Munich motor show, the Neue Klasse previews a whole new philosophy that’ll underpin future generations of BMW arriving in the next year. Hence the name: German for New Class.

If you’ve found the pace of change at BMW disconcerting in recent years, you might want to crawl back behind the sofa and cover your eyes again: this show car ushers in a brave new design aesthetic, a breakthrough shift in electric vehicle (EV) platforms and some think-different features throughout.

BMW Vision Neue Klasse rear three quarters

Think Chris Bangle. Flame surfacing. iDrive. Project i. More recent stylistic anarchy in the design department. That’s the magnitude of what’s to come.

Best strap in and hold on tight while we explain what’s coming down the tracks…

BMW Vision Neue Klasse: the lowdown

First up the wardrobe. The Neue Klasse bloods a new look, started by earlier concepts i Vision Dee and i Vision Circular, the triptych of show cars below. They’re startlingly different, bringing a new, digitally informed face to within a whisker of production, cleaner surfacing and some fresh interpretations of long-held BMW staples such as the Hofmeister kink and double kidney grilles.

A triptych of BMW concept cars: Visions Neue Klasse, Dee and Circular

We’ve seen the signs coming for ages, but Neue Klasse is physical proof that such digital artistry is near: twin headlights and trademark kidneys are expressed by light pixels, the nose becoming a virtual face that can change expression depending on circumstance (or, dare we suggest it, budget… it’s clear that pricier M models and the like could have upgraded graphics if you tick the right options box).

The latest concept car is broadly the size of a 3-series – and this is no accident. What you see here is said to inform heavily the look of the next Three arriving mid decade…

‘The design of the Neue Klasse is typically BMW and so progressive it looks like we skipped a model generation,’ said Adrian van Hooydonk, head of BMW Group Design. Stand by for the next paradigm shift.

The tech

Our advice is to study the tech underpinning the Neue Klasse as much as the wardrobe draped over it. This is the next-gen EV architecture that’ll arrive from 2025 onwards. It’s pure EV and won’t accept combustion engines or hybrids. Yep – the BMW Vision Neue Klasse represents the roadmap for Munich going EV-only by the end of the decade.

BMW Vision Neue Klasse: four conventionally hinged doors

Although it’s not spelled out in the press release, CAR magazine has been grilling engineers and suppliers to decode the import of the Vision Neue Klasse. This is not a concept car that’ll be quietly retired to the museum and forgotten about once the dust has settled on the motor show stand.

This Neue Klasse matrix will over the next four years introduce four different wheelbases to underpin the majority of BMW’s car line-up, stretching from humble 1-series through heartland 3-series to imperious X7.

It’s a long and arduous journey and won’t happen overnight. But it does start somewhere and that’s here, on BMW’s doorstep at the IAA show in Munich.

The interior

Step inside the Vision Neue Klasse show car and enter a brave new world. It feels a blend of concept car meets near future. Ochre corduroy upholsters the seats and isn’t maybe as far-flung as you might think. Born-again fishing nets are turned into fashionable door panels and shredded fast-fashion garments resurface as lemony-soft second-life corduroy trim. There is no chrome or leather.

Full-width panoramic head-up display is coming mid-decade

It’s a decluttered space, a reminder that BMW believes physical switchgear can be largely replaced by voice, touchscreen and gesture control. A solitary display dominates the dashboard and the big news here is the widescreen display running along the whole of the lower windscreen, a bit like the news ticker on the bottom of a TV news channel.

We’ve sampled it in the studio, but not yet on the road. The driver’s primary field of vision is uncluttered and we found the graphics sharp and not too distracting; the prioritised data flow puts the key information right below the improved head-up display, and the display can be reconfigured or augmented from the icon and widget pool by a simple two-finger gesture.

Panoramic Vision is confirmed for production in 2025.

Batteries, specs, hardware

The Neue Klasse is positively dripping with technical innovation. BMW claims a fifth higher energy density and an average WLTP energy consumption of 4.8 miles per kWh against 3.8 miles per kWh for the current BMW i4 – meaning the new generation should have a range 30 percent longer than today’s electric models.

Can you spot the next 3-series in here?

Charging, too, is promised to be a third quicker and Munich says the overall efficiency will improve by a quarter, thanks to clever thermal energy management and a standard-fit heat pump. According to chief technology officer Frank Weber, the key efficiency contributors are – in this order – powertrain, low rolling resistance tyres, sleek aerodynamics, reduced weight, wheel bearings and brakes.

The press release tells us some detail, but CAR has gone the extra mile and downloaded more intel on the production iterations to understand the NK platform in more detail. Prepare for a chemistry A-level lesson if you seek to unravel the hardware driving the clever stuff on Neue Klasse.

Longer range, faster charging speeds

The 800-volt sixth-generation drivetrain marks the switch from prismatic to round lithium iron phosphate (LFP) and lithium nickel manganese cobalt oxide (NMC) batteries, which power between one and four motors and allegedly come in two sizes, dubbed 4695 and 46120.

Thanks to vented bottoms and a sandwich cooling system, the latest-generation cells promise a superior thermal performance said to contribute significantly to overall efficiency. Battery sizes are slated to come in 75, 90 and 105kWh capacity for production.

Light is the new chrome: the BMW Vision Neue Klasse

The cells are supplied to BMW specification by CATL, EDE and Northvolt from six plants in Europe, China and the US/Mexico. This new electrical architecture is optimised for rapid charging and takes around 12 minutes to top up enough energy to drive 200 miles, engineers claim. That is assuming you can find the necessary high-output charging stations that are a) working b) delivering their promised bolt of volts and c) not already hogged by a kilowatt-hungry electric newbie.

What we’ll see when

This is a fascinating concept car to decode. Neue Klasse is more a philosophy and a technical paradigm shift – a taste of BMWs to come in the near future. 

Munich is tooling up for a step change in how it designs, engineers and manufactures electric cars and the brand-new i Factory in Debrecen, Hungary, is scheduled to start producing vehicles in November 2024, bound for production in 2025.

It’s no coincidence that it’s starting with heartland, big-volume cars: the all-electric X3 is due in 2025, followed by the 3-series due a year later. BMW’s not quite yet forcing EVs upon us – combustion versions of both will be offered on existing platforms, but the direction of travel is plain to see.

Munich hopes that the New Class will make the switch to electrification even more compelling, easier and make less impact on your wallet and the environment.

More on BMW electric cars

By Tim Pollard

Group digital editorial director, car news magnet, crafter of words