While the phrase ‘Power BEV’ might not immediately stir the soul - no more than images of a mildly disguised 5 Series do - there’s more to this humble development mule than meets the eye. Because not only is this 5 Series the fastest accelerating BMW car ever, it also offers clues to how the next generation of electric BMWs will drive.
Unlike the i3 or i8, which use clever composite platforms to deliver torsional rigidity as a base for their handling dynamic, this Power BEV uses regular 5 Series underpinnings. Its party trick is in the electric torque vectoring. BMW says it permits “maximum drive power to be translated into forward propulsion even in extremely dynamic driving manoeuvres.”
If that sounds encouraging, there’s more, BMW is keen to suggest that the Ultimate Driving Machine mentality can extend into electrification: “The result is more effective than precise than with a limited-slip differential, because actively targeted inputs are possible in any driving situation.” Given BMW’s Active M Differential is already one of the best around for accurately deploying power across the rear axle, the promise of something even better is quite something.
The Power BEV achieve its feats of dexterity by using three of BMW’s fifth generation electric drive units (of which the iX3 will use one). One is mounted up front and the other two out back, allowing independent control of each wheel’s torque distribution. The added benefit of packing the 5 Series full of motors, beyond the e-torque vectoring, is performance: power is 720hp, torque around 737lb ft, and 0-62mph takes less than three seconds.
It’s worth noting, too, BMW’s slightly cryptic suggestions at the end of its Power BEV press release, talking about the “possibilities opened up” by the torque vectoring, and how in future “the right technology can be selected for the model at hand”. Could it be that the tech works in front-wheel drive too, for the most focussed Mini derivatives? Imagine the torque vectoring doubled up for an off-road application, meaning immediate and precise torque distribution to the wheel that needs it most.
For something a little more tangible, PH was invited to BMW’s Driving Academy in Maisach for an early taste of what this technology is like is actually like. There’s no driving just yet, instead five minutes in the passenger seat and a chat with the engineers – who are justifiably quite proud of what they have achieved.
Now it would ludicrous to suggest the torque vectoring could be sensed from the passenger seat in a 30mph slalom – because it can’t – but the way the Power BEV seems to behave so naturally and cohesively at higher speeds is pretty remarkable. Given what it’s having to juggle, the seamlessness with which driver aids intervene and the power apportioned as opposite lock is applied is pretty staggering. Especially so given the suspension is a mash up of 5 and 7 Series bits, with the motors sitting where they have to sit. It appears only to work at the limit as BMWs always have: progressively, with balance and with a tangible rear-driven feel. The car itself may not look much, with tape and cables hanging around and non-functioning dials, but what’s underneath bodes very well indeed. It does the face-bending EV accelerative trick, of course, but it’s the dynamic depth which makes it interesting. Especially as it still weighs two and a half tonnes.
There’s far more to the Power BEV than speed and skids, too. This car will serve as a prototype for many models, the flexibility and adaptability of the EV architecture meaning this is a lot more than just a 5 Series application. In addition, the combination of 45kWh batteries and 200kw charging means swift replenishment, BMW also adamant that this setup delivers consistent performance across its charging range. Some EVs suffer a performance depletion with the charge – these latest batteries, so it’s said, will not. (Interestingly, too, BMW does not yet make its own batteries, instead giving a spec to an unspecified supplier.)
Consequently, while the Power BEV doesn’t directly preview a specific BMW production model, as a sneak peek at the forthcoming technology it promises a lot. Of course, we’re going to miss the engines, and it would be daft to pretend otherwise - but if in their place we can have BMWs that are better resolved dynamically and use battery tech that reduces the hassle of electric driving, then the future doesn’t look all that bad at all.