When BMW formed its i division a decade ago, the prevailing thinking at most of the world’s automakers was to build electric based on inexpensive models. Instead, BMW birthed the i3. Not only did it look unlike any other BMW before it (okay, maybe the Isetta), but it also featured a carbon-fiber-intensive structure, hemp-based fabrics inside, narrow tires, and a two-cylinder scooter engine as a range extender. How’s that for not following the herd?
BMW wants half its global sales to be electrics by 2030, and that means taking EVs mainstream. Yet it has kept some i-subbrand funkiness in the new iX mid-size SUV. The design is a departure from the like-sized X5. Wide hips give the iX curvy rear bodywork, and you can’t miss the exterior handles sunk into the doors. BMW’s new grille is present, but it looks a little better on an SUV than on a 4-series. And should it anger someone, the oversize kidneys have a polyurethane layer that allows light scratches to melt away under the heat of the sun or a hair dryer.
While the exterior looks odd from certain angles, the interior is modern and attractive. A large, curved panel houses two screens measuring 12.3 and 14.9 inches. The number of buttons and switches has been cut in half, and there are several new features, including 5G connectivity, augmented-reality navigation, and the capability to use a phone as the key. That works without having to hold it up to the door handle; just walk up and the car unlocks like it does with the fob. Other tricks include the ability to record a parking maneuver up to 650 feet long—say, driving up a long driveway and backing into a garage—that the car will mimic at the push of a button. (However, it won’t do so remotely with the driver out of the vehicle.)
There’s no center console abutting the dash, which imparts a feeling of roominess. Fabric wraps the dash and door panels, although leather is also available. There’s lots of legroom in the back seat, but the seating height is a little low, probably to accommodate the roofline, which is a couple of inches lower than in the X5. But that does make enough headroom for tall adults.
To avoid using rare-earth elements, BMW employs electrically excited motors rather than the permanent-magnet type. And although the latter are more efficient, BMW claims 93 percent efficiency for its powertrain. The 516-hp iX xDrive50 combines a 255-hp front motor and a 308-hp one in back. EVs don’t typically have tachometers, but the iX and i4 do; we saw 12,100 rpm at the iX’s 124-mph top speed. But the front and rear have different trans ratios, so it’s unclear which motor it’s tracking.
Although the iX is about 450 pounds heavier than a V-8-powered X5, its acceleration won’t be far behind. It should hit 60 mph in just over four seconds. There’s so much instant thrust available that the passing-maneuver-calculation part of your brain needs reprogramming.
Low tire noise makes it seem like the iX glides on its optional 22-inch wheels. The rate of energy use on our daylong drive through the Bavarian countryside aligns with the 300-plus miles of EPA range that BMW expects the iX to achieve. It steers and handles well for a nearly three-ton SUV optimized for efficiency, and the optional rear-wheel steering goes unnoticed until you realize how tidy it makes the iX feel on the road and in parking lots. Among the regen settings is another new feature, Adaptive mode, which takes map data and information on upcoming turns or stops, surrounding traffic, and speed limits to match regen levels to predicted deceleration needs. It sounds gimmicky, but it did a great job of keeping our foot off the brake pedal.
The iX arrives in March, with pricing starting at $84,195, roughly equal to that of a V-8-powered X5. A less powerful xDrive40 variant with a smaller battery pack won’t be sold in the U.S. An M60 model with roughly 600 horses is coming soon.
BMW has set up an interesting market experiment here. Will electric-car buyers like the iX’s oddness, or will they want the more conventional experience the i4 offers?
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