We drive BMW’s flagship electric SUV ahead of Australian deliveries to see where it stands.
The iX is one of BMW’s most important new cars in years. Featuring the brand’s fifth-generation eDrive electric motors and a new, EV-centric architecture that will underpin upcoming BMW models, the iX serves as a preview of what’s to come from the Bavarian marque. It’s also a technical showcase, with BMW’s latest infotainment and driver-assistance systems wrapped in a radical SUV body shape.
The styling is certainly distinctive, with brutal surfacing, a low shoulder line and enlarged kidney grilles setting the iX apart from just about anything on the road. The footprint is about the same as a BMW X5’s, but with a significantly lower roofline; in the metal the design isn’t quite as jarring as it might appear in pictures, but we’d stop short of calling it handsome.
Step inside the iX and the cabin is much more cohesive. The dashboard slopes down from a low scuttle, which coupled with the lack of a transmission tunnel and a panoramic glass roof, gives a pleasingly airy ambience. Material quality is extremely high, with soft quilted leather and metal trim, and BMW was intent on minimising clutter, so the dashboard is almost entirely clear of buttons.
Instead, the main controls can be found on a floating centre console, which features a crystal-glass volume dial, gear selector and iDrive controller, with buttons integrated into a smooth wood-veneer panel. It provides an appealing incongruity in what is BMW’s most technologically advanced interior to date.
The iX offers 20 times more computing power than any previous BMW, and introduces the marque’s new iDrive 8 infotainment system. It brings new features such as 5G connectivity, mixed-reality satellite navigation and Digital Key Plus, which uses your smartphone in place of a conventional key.
The seamless, curved display takes centre stage inside, and houses a 14.9-inch infotainment screen alongside a 12.3-inch digital instrument panel. Graphics are extremely crisp, and the interface is responsive to operate, whether that be through touch or the rotary dial. With so many functions, however, it can occasionally be difficult to navigate the myriad of icons and sub-menus while on the move, and the hexagonal gauges are less readable than a conventional layout.
Thanks to the iX’s large dimensions, there’s a generous amount of rear legroom, and the car’s boxy shape means that headroom is in abundance, even for those over 6ft tall. The rear seats share the same soft cushioning as those in the front, with a slight recline providing added comfort. The car’s battery packs are housed within the floor, which usually results in shallower footwells for rear-seat passengers. But the iX’s rear seats are set quite high relative to the floor, which minimises this effect.
However, the rear-mounted electric motor does bring some packaging issues. The relatively large integrated drive unit on the rear axle forces a higher boot floor, with a high load lip. Carrying capacity is still a respectable 500 litres, but the iX trails the similarly sized X5 by 150 litres as a result.
The BMW iX is set to launch in Australia Q4 2021 and will be available in three trim grades: xDrive40, xDrive40 Sport, and xDrive 50 Sport. Pricing starts at $135,900 for the 40 before on-road costs, $141,900 for the 40 Sport and up to $169,900 for the 50 Sport.
All models use an electric motor on the front and rear axles, with the xDrive40 producing 240kW and providing 425km of range from a 71kWh (net) battery. The xDrive50 is fitted with a larger 105.2kWh (net) battery, which increases range to 630km; that’s 50km further than a Tesla Model X Long Range. And with 380kW on tap, this iX is more powerful than the latest BMW M3.
The true litmus test of the iX is out on the road, however. A 2.5-tonne, electric SUV is unlikely to satisfy the ‘Ultimate Driving Machine’ tagline, but the iX has a fair stab at it. We drove the xDrive50, and in pure performance terms, it’s genuinely startling. Bury the throttle and thrust is instant and borderline violent, with the hexagonal steering wheel tugging at your hands as the front wheels struggle to deal with maximum torque.
Thanks to a mammoth 765Nm total output, the xDrive50 feels quicker than its 4.6-second 0-100km/h suggests and it continues to pull hard at motorway speeds, if not quite with the same explosiveness. Refinement is excellent, too, and the iX feels very well isolated from road roar (particularly important when there’s no combustion engine to mask unwanted sounds). Since it is a tall, bluff SUV, a fair amount of wind noise does creep in at speed, although a drag coefficient of 0.25cd makes the iX slipperier through the air than an X5.
But it’s the new underpinnings that impress most. Made from a blend of aluminium and carbon-fibre construction, the structure of the iX feels very rigid, and provides a strong platform for the adjustable air suspension system (standard on xDrive50 models). The set-up is beautifully judged, and with the dampers in their Comfort setting, the iX rides with serenity, smothering uneven surfaces. Sudden road imperfections, such as potholes or expansion joints, are also nicely rounded off, with only the harshest of bumps sending a distant thud into the cabin.
Despite the compliant ride, the iX controls its mass well, and vertical body movement is kept at a minimum – especially with the dampers set to Sport. Turn in and the steering is accurate for a car of this type, but almost entirely devoid of feedback from the front axle.
It feels synthetic and remote, but doesn’t stop you hustling the car, at which point the iX shines more brightly than you’d expect. With the 600kg battery pack mounted within the floor, most of the car’s 2.5-tonne mass is concentrated low down, allowing it to mask much of its weight during direction changes.
Roll is well contained, and the iX feels incisive in a way that such a tall, heavy car shouldn’t; this is aided by the xDrive50’s rear-wheel steering system, which in effect shortens the car’s wheelbase and adds agility. The iX can feel wayward when nearing the limit on a tight road, and it can’t hide its mass under braking, but this is certainly a dynamically accomplished SUV.
Despite the impressive claimed efficiency, our car indicated 459km of range from 99 per cent charge, although things improved on the move. The iX offers three levels of energy regeneration and a one-pedal driving mode, which feels natural and well calibrated.
We used the ‘Moderate’ setting for the majority of this test, and after a 248km drive, with a mix of freeway cruising, town driving and B-road blasting, the battery had depleted to 49 per cent, leaving a remaining range of 274km. With the xDrive50’s 195kW rapid charging capability, an extra 145km of range can be added in just 10 minutes.
The iX is, from a technical standpoint, a very promising start for BMW’s mainstream EV push. With prices starting from $135,900, the xDrive40 comes in at around $10k more than the Mercedes EQC, which offers similar range and quicker acceleration. But the BMW excels in areas that can’t be judged on paper, such as its cabin ambience, quality and driving dynamics.
The range-topping xDrive50 version takes aim at the Tesla Model X Long Range, which costs from $170k, compared with the BMW’s $165k asking price. Next year the iX will be given the M-division treatment, with a 447kW M60 variant planned – ready to go head to head with the Tesla Model X Plaid.
With a bespoke EV platform, cutting-edge tech suite and BMW’s new-generation electric motors, the iX promises much, and it delivers. Putting aside the devastating straight-line pace, there’s real depth to the package; the chassis feels expertly judged, cabin quality is high and real-world range is strong. As a calling card for BMW’s next generation of EVs, it’s a convincing effort.