BMW has revealed the future of its performance cars with a spectacularly styled concept that matches M3-rivalling performance to Mini levels of fuel economy.
The Vision Efficient Dynamics concept, which made its a public debut at this week's Frankfurt motor show, is a showcase for BMW's lightweight body construction, advanced hybrid-drive technology and new packaging and aerodynamic ideas.
Many of these features are under development at BMW's FIZ R&D base, and will be used on forthcoming BMW road cars, including a new range-topping sports car, the Z10 ED, which is due by around 2015.
The concept is roughly the size of a 3-series coupe, at 181 in. in length, 75 in. in width and 49 in. in height, but it demonstrates its supercar credentials with a considerably lower roofline.
At the heart of the Vision Efficient Dynamics is a diesel-electric hybrid system. The engine is a turbocharged 1.5-liter, three-cylinder powerplant that will be introduced in 2011 in the next 1-series. Other BMW models, including the next 3-series, will then adopt the motor.
With 163hp and 214lb ft of torque, the engine is more powerful than the latest and most economical version of BMW's existing 2.0-liter, four-cylinder turbodiesel. It uses the Getrag seven-speed double-clutch gearbox that was introduced on the M3, albeit with new shift programs and unique ratios.
The diesel engine is supported by a pair of electric motors mounted at the front of the gearbox. One of them supplies drive to the rear wheels, the other powers the front wheels via a single-speed reduced-ratio transmission.
The rear motor has 34hp and 214lb ft, although it can achieve 51hp for short bursts. The motor acting on the front wheels delivers 80bhp and 162lb ft, but can supply up to 139hp momentarily. Altogether, BMW's new diesel-electric hybrid system is rated at 356hp and 590lb ft.
This endows the 3,075-lb Vision Efficient Dynamics with a power-to-weight ratio of 255hp per ton, or just 7hp per ton below that of the current 414hp 4.0-liter V8 M3. It's not surprising, then, that it is claimed to go from 0-62mph in 4.8sec and on to an electronically limited top speed of 155mph. Those figures match the M3's.
Fuel economy is much improved over the M3, though; the combined fuel consumption figure is 75.1mpg and CO2 emissions are just 99g/km; both figures are comparable to those of the Toyota Prius.
The batteries are charged by regenerative braking or by plugging the car into the mains; there's a socket located in the right front wing. When the car is hooked up to a standard 220V/16A system, overall recharge time is put at two and a half hours. At a higher 380V and 32A this is reduced to just 44 minutes. The battery pack, sited within the central chassis tunnel, weighs 187 lbs.
The car can run on electric power, its diesel engine or a combination of both. In pure electric mode the range is put at a modest 31 miles, but the diesel engine offers an additional 400 miles.
As well as highlighting technical developments that we can expect to see in showrooms within the next five years or so, the Vision Efficient Dynamics also adds a new energy-saving component: a thermo-electric generator in the exhaust system. Originally developed for use in spacecraft, the unit generates electricity when heated. That electricity is then used to power the steering, air-con and seat adjustment.
The suspension setup is aluminum-intensive double wishbones all round. It supports aerodynamically optimized wheels shod with low-resistance tires.
Inside, the Vision Efficient Dynamics offers 2+2 seats and 150 liters of luggage space. Access to the cabin is via butterfly-style doors that extend along the side of the car.
A prominent center tunnel divides the plush leather-lined interior, which features a futuristic-looking dashboard and trim panels mirroring the layered surfacing approach taken with the car's exterior.
The Vision Efficient Dynamics also acts as a template for BMW's future design lineage.
The first car to be styled completely under BMW Group design boss Adrian van Hooydonk adopts a radical shape that doesn't provide a direct link to a single upcoming model, instead introducing ideas to influence future cars. Say goodbye to flame surfacing – and hello to layered surfacing. Since the X Coupe concept car in 2001, BMW design has been dictated by the flame surfacing theme introduced under Chris Bangle.
Now there's a successor – layered surfacing – initiated under new group design boss Adrian van Hooydonk. While emphasizing that flame surfacing is not consigning to the history books, BMW says, “It has been developed to enhance its effect further.”
The idea is to smooth the shutlines and joints within the body for what van Hooydonk describes as “a more cohesive and harmonious appearance.”
Body surfaces are layered on top of each other in a move that is also claimed to improve aerodynamic efficiency without the requirement for any additional body elements.
“By using the structure of the surface without adding any appendages, we're able to optimize the airflow,” says van Hooydonk.
The prime examples, he says, are the A-pillars, which channel the airflow at the front in the same way as the wing-profile rear lights.
Van Hooydonk's team has attempted to instill visual lightness within the body of BMW's latest concept through the extensive use of glass, which covers a good expanse of the hood, roof, sides and trunk lid. Other forms of stylistic experimentation are evident in traditional BMW elements such as a re-interpreted kidney grille.