Tony O'Kane | Mar 8, 2016

BMW celebrated its 100th birthday yesterday, and to mark the occasion the German automaker wheeled out a special present to itself: the BMW Vision Next 100 concept.

The first in a series of four Next 100 concepts - the Mini Next 100 and Rolls-Royce Next 100 will be revealed in mid-June, followed by the BMW Motorrad Next 100 later in the year - the BMW Vision Next 100 is a glimpse of what might be in store for the iconic Bavarian brand over the next century.

Taking a leaf out of the fabric-skinned BMW GINA concept's playbook, the BMW Vision Next 100 features flexible panels around each wheelarch that eliminate any gap between the rotating wheel and the rest of the bodywork - even when the front wheels are turned.

That helps see the concept's coefficient of drag drop to an ultra-low 0.18, allowing it to slip through the air faster while also consuming less energy.

But speaking of energy, BMW makes no mention of what actually powers its forward-looking concept. Is it a high-tune turbo petrol? Is it all-electric, maybe hydrogen-powered? We don't know, but 2116 is a long way away - it may well be nuclear fusion that motivates this car.

What is clear, though, is that while this concept is designed for autonomous driving, BMW still sees the driver playing a key role on the roads of the future. The BMW Vision Next 100 is equipped with a steering wheel (which looks more like an aircraft's flight yoke), something which some pundits reckon will fall out of fashion as soon as 20 year from now, nevermind 100.

The driver is fed information from a wide-angle head-up display, augmented by what BMW calls Alive Geometry - an array of moving triangles hidden in the dashboard that alert the driver to what's going on outside the car.

BMW envisions the car of the future won't have a traditional instrument panel - or indeed an infotainment display. Everything will be projected up on the windscreen, and when the car is in autonomous mode the steering wheel folds into into the dashboard and the centre console angles away from the driver.

Built around a carbon-fibre frame that features heavy use of recycled materials, the 3 Series-sized Vision Next 100 has space for four adults and their luggage.

How many of the BMW Vision Next 100's futuristic features will find their way into BMW's production cars? We've got quite a wait ahead of us to find out.

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