BMW's most powerful car is an EV prototype named Lucy
This modified 5 Series has three electric motors and is capable of some seriously quick acceleration.
Steven EwingFormer managing editor
Steven Ewing spent his childhood reading car magazines, making his career as an automotive journalist an absolute dream job. After getting his foot in the door at Automobile while he was still a teenager, Ewing found homes on the mastheads at Winding Road magazine, Autoblog and Motor1.com before joining the CNET team in 2018. He has also served on the World Car Awards jury. Ewing grew up ingrained in the car culture of Detroit -- the Motor City -- before eventually moving to Los Angeles. In his free time, Ewing loves to cook, binge trash TV and play the drums.
The car you see here started life as a BMW M550i xDrive. What it's become, however, is an absolute monster.
"We call it Lucy," the prototype's project manager, Matthias Stangl, tells me. "When you say 'Lucy,' everybody's thinking about 'Lucifer, and you see this amazing black car down there. But if you think of the Latin origin of 'Lucifer,' it's the one that brings the light."
As it turns out, that nomenclature duality couldn't be more appropriate. This
is fitted with three electric motors -- one at the front axle, two at the rear -- and it's used as a test bed for fine-tuning the dynamics of BMW's future electric powertrains. The engineers can alter the power output and torque vectoring characteristics, so Lucy can be used to develop a wide range of electrified products. "You can make it feel like a huge
, or you can make it feel like an SUV," Stangl says.
But you can also turn up the wick and make it feel like a total goddamn rocket. That's because, with everything set to max-power mode, this electrified 5 Series produces 720 horsepower and 848 pound-feet of torque.
A BMW engineer originally told me the torque output was "around 10,000 Newton-meters on the axles," which would equate to an absolutely staggering 7,357 pound-feet. A different engineer clarified that the actual powertrain torque is "1,150 Newton-meters," or 848 pound-feet. Axle torque, or wheel torque, is different from the actual power being produced from the motors themselves; Jason Fenske from Engineering Explained does a good job of breaking down the difference. In other words, while the 7,357-pound-feet number is technically correct, the 848-pound-feet number is more accurate.
Even so, these numbers represent an increase of 103 horsepower and 295 pound-feet over the BMW M5 Competition. So no matter how you slice it, Lucy absolutely hauls. This tremendous thrust allows the 5,300-pound prototype to accelerate to 60 miles per hour in 2.8 seconds, and I'm told that number is actually a conservative estimate.
It certainly feels conservative, at least while riding shotgun for a couple of quick laps around one of BMW's test facilities near Munich, Germany. The force with which this car launches is absolutely insane. You can feel the skin on your face being pulled back as your body is sucked into the 5 Series' seat. It sort of feels like Tesla's Ludicrous Mode, yet somehow more brutal.
The three motors draw their power from a 45-kilowatt-hour battery pack. If that doesn't sound very big, well, that's because it isn't, and Stangl says that using this smaller battery is an intentional choice.
"You need a car that reacts the same way independently of the state of charge," Stangl says. "As you might know, a
Tesla Model S
, for example, is degrading very much if you go on a fast drive, so that's not very good for function development, because the circumstances of the car change all the time. The focus was that this car behaves the same, stays on the same performing level over every state of charge."
Plus, the Power BEV's battery is capable of quick charging, so the pack can be replenished in a super short amount of time. "What we normally do [is] we have a time period with a very stable performance on whatever level, and then we can do quick charging -- 200 kilowatts -- and then we're going again. The aim is to waste as little time as possible."
After just six hot laps around the development track, the battery is almost out of juice. But only a couple of minutes later, it's topped up and ready to go. Besides, the engineers usually aren't driving Lucy at its most outrageous level of output, flooring it all ham-fisted around the Bavarian proving grounds. A lot of the development is spent tuning the electric torque vectoring between the two motors at the rear axles, in order to hone the overall handling.
As an engineer whips me through a couple of chicanes, the car behaves like I'd expect a 5 Series to. Despite the added heft of the electric motors, the car seems nimble through the series of tight cones, and on a second run with the traction control reduced, happily kicks its rump out to allow for a bit of intentional, tail-happy oversteer.
In order to handle the force of these electric motors, this 5 Series prototype uses the front axle setup from the updated, G12-generation 7 Series sedan. At the rear, you'll find more 7 Series architecture, though Stangl says this is a "prototype axle." The Power BEV development car rides on steel springs and uses conventional brakes.
The rest of the car carries over unchanged, too -- the battery, three motors and other necessary upgrades all fit into the existing 5 Series architecture. "The interior is completely G30 5 Series," Stangl says. "We spent lots of effort to keep it that way. It should look that way. We didn't want to do anything freaky-fancy in that car."
In fact, Stangl thinks of this development prototype as a "whole car concept." The Power BEV itself might not preview any specific upcoming product, but Stangl says "it's important to integrate all the systems in a way into the car that the customer has the same ergonomics, the same space in the interior and the same space in the trunk."
"Everything that we're doing in development of this car will somehow lead into a series product," Stangl says. "But this car is one of a kind."
Originally published June 25, 1:30 a.m. PT. Update, 7:17 a.m.: Clarifies powertrain torque output.
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