We Know Scent Can Change Your Mood. But Can It Change Your Drive? BMW Atmosphere Says Yes

Scent diffusers are not new, but BMW is innovating the idea, from mood-setters to multi-layered experiences to wellness solutions. Of course we took a test drive!

The Theater Screen In The Bmw 7 Series Adds To The Sensory Experience Of Atmos
The theater screen in the BMW 7 Series adds to the sensory experience of Atmos. Photo: Tanya Gazdik

Oh, the Joy of a Great Scent

Everyone loves that “new car” smell. But what if the delight of the new car smell could continue on once those initial scents fade away? And, what if that scent could be something you choose, or part of an overall experience, like a mood-lifter, an end-of-the-day relaxer, an early-morning energizer? And all of those things in the same day?

And consider this: that new car smell is actually the off-gassing of the new carpet and other fabrics inside a vehicle. Not so delightful once you know that. But, what if a new car’s scent wasn’t the result of chemicals, but a more thoughtful and intentional experience that years later, is as vibrant as the first day it arrived in your driveway?

BMW is studying this with the idea of offering scent experiences that can shape your in car experience and even aid your overall well-being.

Related: Car Air Freshener Challenge: Pura vs. Thymes

The Wheels On The Bmw Neue Klasse

The wheels on the BMW Neue Klasse. Photo: Tanya Gazdik

Celebrating BMW’s Innovative Technology

Notable for innovations such as developing the first in-car digital operating system, the iDrive, to breakthroughs such as theater-worthy screens in cars, gesture control and a lane change system that can be activated via the driver’s eyes, the luxury automaker is celebrating the 25th anniversary of the BMW Group Technology Office. Of course, a fête replete with tech demos and discussions about BMW’s newest technologies was a must.

At the event I had a front row seat for the North American debut of the stunning and futuristic BMW Vision Neue Klasse concept car, a vehicle that illustrates how BMW’s designers view the future. I was also able to see what the brand’s designers and engineers are working on, from electric car batteries to virtual reality, as well as one innovation that really caught my attention: how scent could be used in a new way.

BMW calls this feature “Atmosphere.” This isn’t just a simple cartridge that you plug into the car’s ventilation system, as with some existing diffusers on the market now. These are carefully curated scents that are based in part on the type of environment the vehicle is being driven through as well as other input from the driver and passengers. It’s essentially fragrance AI for the car.

Related: 2024 BMW 5 Series: A Gleaming Princess Cut of a Luxury Car

The Theater Screen In The Bmw 7 Series Adds To The Sensory Experience Of Atmos In Car Scent System

The theater screen in the BMW 7 Series adds to the sensory experience of Atmosphere. Photo: Tanya Gazdik

This May Be the Most Luxe Way to Experience Scent

To experience Atmosphere, I sat in the back seat of a luxurious BMW 7 Series, notable for its amazing theater screen that spans the entire width of the car.

While graphics changed colors on the screen, different scents wafted up from the front of the vehicle. The colors of the graphics changed as the scents changed.

A voiceover accompanying the graphics explained the thinking behind Atmosphere.

Imagine a journey. You sense a wisp of fragrance, it floats weightlessly, and then vanishes. In a breath, you feel surprise, intrigue, and anticipation. A moment that lifts your mood and spirit. A moment that evokes a sense of time and presence.

Atmosphere is an intelligent, dynamic scent journey, re-imagining how we experience our sense of smell, exploring our human sensory system and phenomenon associated with the psychology and physiology of scent. Building upon the deep connection scent has to our emotions, memory, and perception, Atmospere brings together new fragrance and purification technology to create moments inspired by the people, places, and things that surround us and connect us to our journeys.”

Related: Aromatherapy in the Car without the Luxury Price Tag

The Opportunities of In-Car Fragrance are Endless

BMW Senior UX Designer Iris Koser, who has worked on this project for several years, was on hand to answer my questions after my experience, which featured a base of 12 different scents that can be mixed to create additional scent profiles. Iris said there are “endless opportunities” for scent can be used in a vehicle interior.

“Our goal is to create a multi-sensory experience,” she says. “So, it’s about olfactory experiences and possibilities that we can get out of a car. But it also plays together with all senses to create special experiences, so we’re not just having scent, but it’s also a combination of triggering all senses together to create specific experiences.”

“We can use context-based data,” she explained, including data from the car and its surroundings. “Traffic or weather, time of the day, but also the digital life of the customers,” to create special moments and basically allow every drive to be different.

Iris noted that the research on this project continues and it has not yet been decided when Atmosphere might be offered in production vehicles. “We are exploring what’s possible,” she said.

The Front Cabin In The Bmw Neue Klasse Concept Which May Have The Atmos In Car Scent System

The front cabin in the BMW Neue Klasse concept. Photo: Tanya Gazdik

Beyond Delight, to Wellness

The possibilities extend beyond creating sensory experiences to wellness. “We can also do a scent when somebody’s motion sick, for example, and release the scent that smells like ginger that helps to soothe people and to get over their motion sickness,” she told me. “So, it’s not just emotional, but it can also be functional.”

The system I experienced, which Iris said is considered an advanced prototype, diffused the scent from the front, but that could change if Atmosphere is offered in production vehicles; rear seat passengers can have their own scents, too.

Where the vehicle is being driven can also influence both the scent and the color of the patterns on the screen, she says.

“The idea that if you drive by the ocean, for example, you can get an ocean breeze,” Iris told me. “If you drive by some flowers, you can get a different scent. If you drive to work and you’re tired in the morning, you might get some energizing scent. If you get out of work and you want to drive home, you might get something that brings you down again and relaxes you. And what we did is we curated the multi-center experience with also an animation and colors and all together we can help you to feel different emotions.”

A Multi-Sensory Experience Is On the Horizon

Instead of the graphics on the screen, front seat passengers might experience changes in ambient lighting.

“We could also use the massage function of the seat and the climate control to also enhance this multi-sensory experience,” Iris said.

While some other luxury automakers are offering scent in vehicles, this is the first context-based multi-sensory experience, she says. Part of the development includes securing patents on the technology, which BMW has done, she added.

Atmosphere made for a really relaxing and enjoyable car ride. I felt completely refreshed and relaxed when I got out of the car after a 15-minute car ride — I really didn’t want it to end. And what a delight to have a new car smell that never ends, either.

Disclosure: I was a guest of BMW for this event. Travel and accommodations were provided but all opinions are my own. Additionally, A Girls Guide to Cars may earn a commission from affiliate links in this story.

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Tanya Gazdik covers automotive, financial services, travel, sports, and pets for MediaPost's "Marketing Daily." She is the chief programmer... More about Tanya Gazdik