In the BMW museum at the company’s solidly futuristic headquarters, next to the old Olympic stadium site in Munich, you can view a century of evolving mechanical desire. BMW has long prided itself in creating “ultimate driving machines” and all that Bavarian engineering pride is dramatised in the decade-by-decade progression of engines that harness ever more efficient power in steel, and car bodies that have moved with the ergonomic times. Each sequence of cars on show leaves a gap at one end, ready to showcase the next generation of technical advancement. Over the past century, innovation has smoothly followed innovation; it is likely, however, that the next stage will be a paradigm shift rather than a marginal gain. The next empty space, or the one after, is likely to be filled by the ultimate driverless machine.
The person leading BMW’s prototype efforts to make that car a reality, Michael Aeberhard, does not want to see it in those terms. As he takes me for a drive in what seems a regular 5 Series, he is at pains to suggest that the new model now in gestation is simply another improved iteration of what has gone before.