BMW is promising its iNext due in 2021 will be able to drive itself for extended periods of time.

The electric SUV is confirmed to launch with Level 3 self-driving capability, meaning it will be able to drive on its own in limited situations but still require a human driver to be ready to take control within seconds outside of those situations.

Knowing which way the wheels are pointing when retaking hold of the steering wheel will be vital in such situations, which is why BMW has changed the traditional shape of the steering wheel for the iNext.

The automaker on Monday provided an early look at the new design, which like in a race car features a flat section top and both and curved grip areas left and right. Compared to a round steering wheel, the new “polygonal” shape makes it quick and easy to recognize the steering angle based on the position of the steering wheel, both visually and through touch.

BMW curved display in iNext SUV

BMW curved display in iNext SUV

Having the flat section on top also provides greater visibility of the dash, which in the iNext will feature a large curved display. In addition, the flat section on the bottom means getting in and out of the vehicle will be easier as there's more space in which to move. This also benefits the driver on long trips as he or she will have more space to articulate the knee.

The Vision iNext concept rolled out in 2018 hints at the design of the iNext, which will be a battery-electric model with a range approaching 400 miles on a single charge. While initial versions of the iNext will have limited self-driving capability, BMW by as early as 2024 is expected to have versions with Level 4 self-driving capability. This means a vehicle can handle itself for extended periods and can safely stop should a human driver fail to take back control when required. The final goal is a Level 5 car that can safely handle all conditions without a human, though this isn't expected to be ready until the next decade, at the earliest.