The upcoming 2021 BMW iNext crossover isn’t just the future of BMW’s electric cars, it’s also meant to be the flagship for BMW’s self-driving system. Because of that, BMW claims it needs a funny-looking polygonal steering wheel.
The iNext’s steering wheel, pictured above in a dark, moody teaser image, is shaped like a hexagon instead of the traditional circle, or flat-bottomed circle wheels you find on most modern cars. There’s also meant to be optical fibers that light up to communicate the car’s actions to the driver.
BMW claims all of this is to help smooth the communication and transition between the human driver and the car’s promised self-driving mode. The shape of the wheel is meant to help the driver immediately understand the steering angle of the moving vehicle if they suddenly have to take over control. It also claims that the flat bottom allows for a more relaxed seating position for the legs when the pedals aren’t in use.
The lights in the wheel are there to indicate what the self-driving system is doing, as well as to alert the driver when the car needs them to take back control. Though, I don’t really see where they are in the dark press photo.
While that’s all fine in theory, I’m not sure the actual hexagon shape is all too necessary for BMW’s stated function. The orientation of the middle part of the wheel—the button panels and the BMW roundel on the airbag—should probably be enough to even subconsciously communicate steering angle. Even just a flat bottom on the wheel could be enough. All they’ve done now is added pointed sides on the circumference to make that distinction a little easier, I guess.
In another teaser for the interior of the iNext, BMW also talked about the giant curved widescreen the car will be getting for its infotainment system. The company claims the screen offers an “intuitive and ergonomically perfect use of the touch function.” Information tiles can be moved from the driver side of the screen over to the passenger side out of view of the driver, and vice versa.
The teaser image leaves a lot to the imagination, showing the screen from above and behind through the windshield to show off how its mounted to the dashboard. BMW claims from the front seats you can’t see how the screen is mounted and this offers a sense of lightness to the display and keeps the interior from feeling too congested.
This all seems fine? Automakers have been and should be very worried about the actions and functions of a car in any semi-autonomous or self-driving mode being clearly communicated to the passengers, so the lights in the wheel could be a clever idea. I’m just not sold on the pointy wheel. It feels a little redundant and gimmicky, but also harmless.