This battery-powered SUV is not just a new model from BMW, it’s a turning point – a step towards the future. And, yes, it packs an insane amount of power!
With ‘engine’ as its middle name, headquarters that are reminiscent of a four-cylinder engine, and the ‘inline six’ as the cornerstone of its motoring history, Bayerische Motoren Werke (BMW) is all set to step into the future. After 105 years of its inception, the Bavarian carmaker has come up with an electric car that has a huge task ahead of it – that of leaving the past behind and heralding a new future for the brand, without compromising on attributes that make a car a BMW.
Now, the iX can’t claim to be the first mass-produced BMW electric car – that honour goes to the i3, which was launched eight years ago – but that doesn’t diminish its significance at all. Why? Because the iX is a technological showpiece that marks a turning point in the evolution of the Bavarian brand.
Unsurprisingly, it was foreshadowed by the iNext concept in 2018. The name was telling, and its intentions were quite clear, which have only been realised now – three years after the iNext concept, we now have an SUV that’s as long as an X5, as tall as an X6, as spacious as an X7, enjoys being driven like a 5 Series, and has the allure of a 7 Series. And what’s more interesting is that it has a profoundly different presence than all the above-mentioned cars.
If Chris Bangle-designed BMWs seemed strange to you twenty years ago, wait till you see this one. The iX is even more peculiar and unconventional, which doesn’t mean that it’s ugly to look at. There is something brutal about its cuts and proportions – it’s a break of sorts from decades-old traditional designs. In fact, the break from the past is so strong and pronounced that some might even call it heretical.
Nevertheless, the fact remains that it’s radically different from everything else you’ve seen on the streets so far, which does raise the psychological threshold of its acceptability. And the hypertrophic double-kidney grille – accompanied by two side air intakes, worthy of a mothership – does very little to help its cause.
Between Luxury & Technology
To those with a keen eye for details, the iX exudes a subtle feeling of déjà vu, but not in a negative way – for certain exterior details may remind you of the i3. Inside the cabin, it’s a similar story. If you’ve been in the i3, you will feel right at home in the iX, especially in the rear. But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t differences between the two.
The iX’s interior is full of taut and diagonal lines (even the steering wheel is not round) and is marked by tech minimalism – something that was pioneered by Tesla and is so in vogue today. All this is combined with classic materials, such as leather and wood, which offer a brilliant contrast.
The cabin is impressively spacious – a long wheelbase, a flat floor, and the boxy shape of the body easily translate into insane levels of practicality inside. At the back, three people can sit in utmost comfort.
The rest is, well, all technology – the cabin is full of technological innovations, but they are subdued and understated. Everything that the car does happens between the two large screens, suspended on the dashboard, and the controls on the central tunnel, which is also home to the sparkling iDrive wheel.
The crystal details here are a bit less kitschy than what we’ve been seeing on other models from the company, but let’s talk about iDrive to start with. First, it’s a matter of celebration that it’s still in place twenty years after it made its debut on the 7 Series at the Frankfurt Motor Show in 2001. Second, the new iDrive 8.0 operating system is a powerhouse. According to BMW, its computing power is twenty times greater than any previous version. When you first get acquainted with it, you feel that everything is simultaneously both easy and difficult, just like when you buy a new smartphone. But soon you get the hang of it and realise its brilliance. The only problem, if any, is the absence of physical buttons for climate controls, which can now be accessed through a central display screen. Also, the buttons around the iDrive knob have gone from physical to touch. But they’re still there, which is good news.
Stop ‘n’ Charge
When you turn off the sounds developed by Hans Zimmer – which are as pleasant and impeccable as you’d expect from someone accustomed to composing Oscar-winning soundtracks – the iX reveals all its extraordinary abilities. The rigidity of the carbon fibre, the softness of the air springs, and everything else blend together in amazing silence. And, frankly, the reason is not so much its electric heart – for, at a constant speed, it’s not pistons and connecting rods that make the most noise – as it is the meticulous attention paid to all other aspects of the car – from making sure that the air caresses its body instead of whipping it to the tyres that do not emit the kind of sounds that you would expect from their large 22-inch size.
It’s a marvellous machine indeed, which makes you enjoy every second that you spend in it, and the ADAS plays a big role here. In terms of real-life driving, ADAS has become a lot more interesting than what we’ve seen so far. Cameras, radars, and increasingly refined software make various actions – like accelerating, braking, and maintaining direction – better, more precise, and more human.
Now, as with all-electric cars, there is the problem of charging the battery. But here is an interesting bit. The iX was crowned as the queen of electric range in our Vairano track after it snatched the ID.4’s record of offering a range of 421kms – it’s yet another demonstration that the range is a matter of infrastructure rather than the technological achievements of the car. With 461kms of range and a recharge time of 33 minutes for going from 20 to 80% (thanks to the fact that it can accept charging power of up to 200kW) should be enough to curb all kinds of range anxiety. But, of course, the infrastructure has to support the technology in this case.
The iX Experience
This magnificent machine stands somewhere between the practicality of the Tesla Model X and the dynamism of the Jaguar I-Pace, and, at the same time, it’s different from ICE-derivatives, like the Audi e-tron and Mercedes-Benz EQC.
Now, the iX’s battery has been placed lower and well in the centre, which helps it mask, to an extent, the problems of direction changes, which are fast, thanks to the presence of four-wheel steering.
The front wheels don’t do much to offer you feedback, but the body roll is quite limited. And, while it’s too heavy to be extremely agile around corners, there’s no doubt that it’s an incisive car. Even in Sport mode, it doesn’t get too aggressive – despite the fact that the suspension is on the firmer side.
While the iX may not be as intriguing as the BMWs of yesteryear, it is effective and satisfying – mostly because of its ability to combine all that it has to offer with five-star levels of comfort. The electric mechanicals will not be very appealing to look at, but the two big motors have their own appeal when you use them – because the power is immediate, and the motors are silky smooth and relaxed, even more than, dare I say it, the best that the world of internal combustion has to offer: the V12.
The brilliant performance of the iX is as effortless as that of a Bentley, and this makes you realise that the world of electric cars has its own charms. All you have to do is push your foot to the floor and go, without any delay whatsoever, and you don’t have to worry about the string of events that are typical of thermal-engine cars – spooling of the turbo, ratios of the gearbox, and the rising of revs.
Now, its two-and-a-half tonnes of weight might prevent you from considering it a driver’s car, but its 516 horses are more than capable of an instant and surprising push of force, which can, at times, even be violent – especially when you quickly go from very low to very high speeds.