Is BMW’s desperate push to reinvent itself as a forward-looking car brand coming at the expense of its glorious past?
If you do not know where you come from, then you don’t know where you are, and if you don’t know where you are, then you don’t know where you’re going. And if you don’t know where you’re going, you’re probably going wrong. – Terry Pratchett
When you see the all-new iX next to something as iconic as the E36 3 Series, you can’t help but wonder if anyone at BMW has ever heard of this famous quote. I mean, look at what Munich is doing. With the possible exception of a handful of BMW cars today, every new product from their stable has a face that only a mother could love. Flared nostrils have become the norm, and being obnoxious has come to mean something unique, something out-of-the-box. To say that BMW’s new design language has car enthusiasts riled up would really be an understatement – people are absolutely livid with them!
There’s a reason why BMW gets so much hate these days. You see, for a generation of petrol-heads, BMW is a brand that has consistently produced legendary cars without fail. Be it the driving appeal or the design, BMWs tug at your heartstrings like no other car brand out there. If you’ve driven BMWs of the past or even the present for that matter, you’d know what I’m talking about. Put simply, BMW cars are more equal than others. They’re a bit too special.
This is precisely why it hurts the heads, hearts, and eyes of BMW aficionados when they see their favourite car company muddying the brand’s ethos with products as controversial as the iX. It’s like seeing Hans Zimmer composing a K-pop song. It just doesn’t sound right.
The other problem that BMW faces is that the world’s now charging towards electric propulsion. Fire-breathing combustion engines are nothing short of the Antichrist to common people these days, for everyone wants to go green. So, while polarising designs like the latest-gen M3 can, at least, redeem themselves with their driving experience, things are very different for EVs. BMW loyalists think that the company’s future looks bleak, and this has created a two-fold problem. The Bavarians aren’t just on the verge of losing their aesthetic appeal but, with no ICE cars on the horizon, they’re at the risk of losing their driving appeal and the very identity that made them popular in the first place.
The iX doesn’t look as detestable in person as it does on the internet. But it’s surely nowhere near as classy as a typical BMW, like the E36.
But has BMW really lost its marbles, or are we missing the big picture? We spent a day with the all-new iX to find that out. And just to spice things up a little, and to remind ourselves of what BMW has always stood for, we also included an impeccable example of one of the finest BMWs of all time – the third-gen 3 Series (E36 325i) from 1992.
Shaking the Foundations
To take on the might of Tesla in the green world, BMW had to shake things up to get noticed. And that’s exactly what it has done. There’s nothing subtle or understated about the iX. It rather screams at you. The design is polarizing and provocative. BMW calls it ‘expressive’, but I feel it’s a little too loud and condescending. Having said that, the iX doesn’t look as detestable in person as it does on the internet. Sure, it’s nowhere near as classy as a typical BMW like the E36 – you can clearly see that in the pictures here – but it looks outlandish and quite impactful. Unlike its rivals – the Mercedes EQC, Audi e-tron, and Jaguar i-Pace – which stick to conventional aesthetics, the iX makes its futuristic attitude quite conspicuously explicit. According to the company, the iX is the ‘first representative of a trailblazing generation of cars,’ and it’s quite apparent. It’s unlike anything we’ve seen from the Bavarians.
In terms of size and appearance, the iX looks BIG. The front, side, and back, all angles are unique, and it hardly bears any resemblance to any of the current BMW SUVs (sorry, ‘SAVs’). But that’s a bit surprising because it’s nearly as wide and long as the X5 / X6. At 3,000mm, its wheelbase is only 28mm longer than the X5. I can’t explain how or why it looks so big, but it just does – perhaps because of that nose!
Elephant in the Grille
Let’s cut directly to the chase – the front-end. It’s the biggest draw, or flaw, of the iX’s design. Now, we’ve already seen oversized kidney grilles on BMW’s regular cars, but the one on the iX is not only challenging to look at but also out-of-place. It makes you wonder if no one in the design or product team protested before it got the seal of approval.
That said, the iX’s grille is like a saucerful of secrets. It’s not really functional in the conventional sense, meaning it’s completely sealed, and there are no cooling vents as such. However, it’s a digital and technical marvel in itself. Behind the grille, you’ve got all the cameras, radars, and other sensors, and it’s also ‘self-healing’ in nature. What that means is that it comes with a polyurethane coating, which repairs minor scratches on its own within 24 hours at room temperature or through five minutes of warm water supply. It even has a heating element that melts the snow from obstructing the radars and cameras in cold weather – nothing short of a magic trick, really.
There are more design highlights to talk about. For instance, the muscular 3D bonnet, flush door handles, slim LED headlamps (the narrowest headlights on a production BMW, apparently), frameless windows, rectangular wheel arches, and beautifully-finished copper accents around the mirrors look spectacular. Even the optional 22-inch Air Performance wheels on this demo car look phenomenal. Not to mention the fact that they help increase the range by as much as 15kms by reducing drag. And, last but not least, did you know that the bonnet can’t be opened? Yes, it’s permanently locked and can only be accessed by BMW technicians. You do, however, have access to the washer fluid filler, as it’s neatly tucked underneath the BMW roundel on the bonnet.
There’s no denying that the iX’s design comes across as more of an oddball than radical. I also feel it looks quite bulky, especially its bottom half. You get the impression that it’s already weighed down by the high expectations of BMW aficionados.
Lounge on Wheels
If there’s one area that BMW has absolutely nailed it with the iX, it’s the interior. BMW has quite literally gone to a different dimension here. The hexagonal steering wheel, XL-size HD curved display, crystal knobs and buttons look stunning, and the wood inlays, plastic components, and even the leather upholstery are claimed to be made from recycled components and sustainable materials. The interior is a tour de force – minimal, extremely luxurious, supremely spacious, and beautifully crafted. In a way, it actually feels like a five-star lounge on wheels. Even the seats are more like armchairs, and there’s nothing remotely familiar about it. There’s not even a central tunnel between the front seats. It truly feels like a concept car, and way more futuristic than any of its current rivals.
The technology it has on offer is simply mind-blowing. Starting with the curved glass screen, it’s made up of two crisp and ultra-high-definition displays – the infotainment screen measures 14.9-inches, while the Live Cockpit driver display is 12.3-inches. It’s hands-down the best touchscreen I’ve used in a car. Whether it’s the resolution, touch response, or user interface, this screen can put an iPad to shame! Powered by BMW’s latest 8th generation iDrive system, it’s quite intuitive too. It can be customised in various ways, but understanding each and every function on the screen will take a week or so.
There are three modes to choose from – Personal, Sport, and Efficient – and alternating between them changes the whole ambience of the cabin. Club that to the in-built soundtracks composed by Hans Zimmer, a high-end Harman Kardon sound system, and headrests with integrated speakers, and you end up with a private live concert of sorts. Last, but not least, the iX is fitted with the largest-ever glass roof in a BMW, albeit it’s far from being conventional as it features something called PDLC (Polymer Dispersed Liquid Crystal) technology, which means it can turn opaque at the press of a button. The roof’s transparency is apparently altered by applying a voltage to the middle layer of the film. Quite trippy stuff, all this.
The iX is offered in different flavours around the globe – the xDrive40, xDrive50, and even M60 xDrive. In India, you only get the 40, albeit all units of the first lot are already spoken for. The difference between the three lies in the size of their battery packs and standard features. The 40 gets a 76.6kWh battery pack, whereas the 50 and M60 get a bigger 105.2kWh battery pack. The power output ranges from 322bhp to 619bhp.
All three models are all-wheel drive, meaning they’re driven by a motor at each axle. BMW says the motors and batteries belong to the company’s fifth-gen eDrive technology. The biggest update here is that the motors now use electromagnets instead of less sustainable rare-earth permanent magnets. Other bits include the adaptive brake regenerative system. The braking system marks the debut of BMW’s Integrated Brake technology, which combines the motors’ friction and conventional hydraulic setup for deceleration and energy recuperation.
BMW claims the India-spec iX will have a driving range of 425kms, which means that the real figure should hover around 360 to 380kms. The charging time with the 11kW AC home charger is seven hours, while a 50kW DC fast charger (public) can juice up the battery pack to 80% of its capacity in 73 minutes. A 150kW DC charger – something you’re unlikely to find anywhere in the country as of today – will provide a 0 to 80% charge time of just 31 minutes.
While we drove the iX for a fair bit, it was still a very, very short drive around a parking lot. However, even though we didn’t get to drive the iX to our heart’s content, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out what’s on offer in terms of the driving experience.
Being an EV, the acceleration is brutal but muted. Despite tipping the scales at nearly 2.5 tonnes, the iX covers ground briskly. Since it’s based on an EV-specific platform, which incorporates a heavy dose of carbon fibre, aluminium, and ultra-high-strength steel, it feels eager and responsive from behind the wheel. However, it’s not necessarily as communicative as a classic BMW though – or nowhere near as telepathic as the E36 you see here – but there’s a certain BMW-ness in the way the iX goes around corners. That said, under heavy braking or full-bore acceleration, you can feel its mass shift from back to front and vice-versa quite vigorously.
As you’d expect, the iX is impeccably smooth and quiet on the move. It’s so silent that you sometimes feel completely zoned-out. There’s absolutely no noise that you can hear inside, not even the mild drone of the motors. Weirdly enough, however, you can hear the steering linkages and joints creaking at parking speeds, but, then, that’s a by-product of over-engineering a super-refined EV, I guess.
That the iX heralds a new future for BMW, of that there’s no doubt. However, let’s not pretend that it’s all sunshine and rainbows as yet. Warming to the face of new Bimmers is a challenge in itself, and electric cars, in general, can’t yet reach those parts of your veins where petrol, or even diesel for that matter, flows.
Having said that, we’re in a transition phase, so it’s normal for us to resist change. But, soon, EVs will become the norm, and classic cars like the E36, or even the latest-gen M3, will be reduced to being poster heroes. The iX is an early hint of where BMW is headed in the future. Whether it’s a step in the right direction, or if it’s a betrayal of the brand’s lineage, only time will tell. For now, you must know that BMW, or any other carmaker for that matter, is developing cars for the next generation – a generation marked by Greta Thunberg’s brand of social awareness and Kylie Jenner’s sense of fashion. So, can you really blame BMW for what they’re doing? I don’t think so...
- Class is Permanent – 1992 BMW 3 Series (E36)
The E36 325i that you see on these pages belongs to our editor, Dhruv Behl. It’s a left-hand-drive import from the US and has been meticulously maintained to date. The E36 made its debut in 1991 and became an instant hit. The model you see here packs a naturally-aspirated short-stroke 2.5-litre DOHC straight-six petrol engine, which develops 189bhp at 6,000rpm. Clubbed with a Getrag 5-speed manual gearbox, it’s nothing short of sensational. And while this example is far from being stock (Bilstein B6 dampers, H&R springs, Supersprint headers, Borla end can, BMW M-Technik steering wheel, Borbet alloys, etc.), its essence is not lost. The acceleration, induction noise, and exhaust note can make even Greta Thunberg’s hair stand on end. The steering is so telepathic that, forget the iX, it even puts the current-gen 3 Series to shame! In a few decades’ time, when the whole world will go deaf with EVs, the glorious noise of cars like this E36 will come back to haunt us.