We drive a BMW from several hundred metres away | CAR Magazine

We drive a BMW from several hundred metres away

Published: 23 January 2024 Updated: 23 January 2024

► Trying out the BMW remote parking concept
► Could allow a valet to tuck your car up safely from another city
► About three years from production

Remember that BMW 7 Series in Tomorrow Never Dies? The one that Pierce Brosnan’s James Bond drove remotely using a – for the time – high-tech mobile phone?

Reality didn’t catch up as fast as it has for some other futuristic movie innovations (we gawped at huge-screen video calling once) but we have finally had the chance to drive a BMW iX while being nowhere near the driver’s seat.

Before you get your hopes up, though, our experience was somewhat more pedestrian than Bond’s high-speed chase through a multi-storey car park.

Our drive did, however, also take place in a parking lot, but we were outside CES in Las Vegas and, instead of crouching down in the rear seats while evading gunfire, we were in what looked a lot like a high-end gaming rig with several large screens in front of us.

Almost self-parking

We were trying out a system that is very much in concept phase at the moment, which is hoped to help in situations such as valet parking. The autonomous car of the future might well be able to park itself in a standard spot in a conventionally shaped lot, but any driver knows that this is not how most car parks work. If your event parking is in a field nearby the exclusive country house your evening ball is taking place in, your car isn’t going to be able to rely on reading the signs and road markings for example.

This system, therefore, is designed to provide backup when there are oddities that need to be navigated. It’s been jointly developed with Valeo, the automotive tech company that specialises in areas such as electrification, on-board tech, lighting and, of course, assistance systems.

This isn’t the first time we’ve tried out one of BMW’s futuristic systems – we had a go at driving a BMW M4 around track using a VR headset for example.

The car in question here was an electric iX SUV, although it was hard to make out given the camouflage wrap it was sporting. And the fact that it was the other side of a relatively large parking lot outside the CES show halls in Vegas.

We were sitting in something that bore no resemblance to the interior of a BMW, though. Instead it felt more like a high-end gaming rig that belonged on a non-automotive stand somewhere inside the tech show. All that was missing was the four-point harness on the figure-hugging bucket-style race seat.

The BMW rig felt more suited to a racing sim than low-speed manoeuvres.

To go with this was a small racing wheel, two pedals and five large displays – three in place of the windscreen and two either side of the wheel. Given the 6mpg (10km/h) top speed of the car out in the lot, this felt a little bit much. It could just be that the tech geeks behind the development couldn’t resist going overboard on the hardware though.

On the move

Despite that severely limited top speed, the sensation of driving felt a lot more urgent. Whether it was the digital display or just the fact that we felt like we were sitting in something more set up to hurtle around a virtual Nürburgring, we routinely felt like we were travelling faster than the readout said.

This meant we felt minded to ease off, probably to BMW’s relief, more often than not. The odd sensation was compounded when we glanced up to look at the real car travelling at no more than a crawling pace around the car park.

The chances of crashing were made even more remote by the many systems on board the BMW that leapt in to keep you from even getting close to the road furniture. It’s so cautious that you won’t get anywhere close to a nearby bush or bollard before it brings everything to a halt.

Everything feels faster on the screen than it really is.

It will also bring everything to a standstill if it loses the wireless connection, which happened a couple of times. Granted, you might have a little more control over the wireless network in an isolated car park than you do sitting just outside CES in Vegas.

BMW and Valeo have tweaked the driving sensation, so it feels, frankly, nothing like piloting an iX. It uses a one-pedal system, so you only have to lift your foot off the accelerator and it will, once again, come to a complete stop.

As all this suggests, there is little chance of your valet parking attendant going berserk with your car when you drop the keys off with them – even if they try their hardest, they are unlikely to come to any grief.

If something bad did happen, then it could well be that they are nowhere near to suffer the consequences or sort the problem out. This is designed so that the driver could be anywhere, even in a totally different location tucked away in a little booth, playing parking attendant.

This isn’t going to happen any time soon, though, as we are at least three years away from this becoming something that could make it into a production car. Whether it becomes more or less cautious in that time remains to be seen, but it is unlikely to get faster and more reckless.

Should the BMW remote parking system make it to the US market, expect someone to come up with an adjoining system that allows you to tip your parker. Even if they are several states away, they won’t want to miss out on that part of the process.

By Tom Webster

Vans editor across CAR and our sister brand Parkers.co.uk