A decade ago BMW was clearly one of the industry leaders in electrification amongst the legacy automobile brands. They were pouring billions into BMW i, the innovative sub-brand responsible for developing purpose-built electric vehicles on bespoke chassis as well as exploring innovative manufacturing processes and reducing weight through the extensive use of aluminum and advanced materials like carbon fiber reinforced plastic.
Then, sometime in 2015, after Harald Krüger replaced Norbert Reithofer as CEO of BMW, the Munich-based automaker pulled back its ambitious electrification plans and prioritized plug-in hybrids (PHEVs) over purpose-build battery electric vehicles (BEVs). Shortly thereafter, many of the top managers at BMW i parted ways with the company and moved on to work on developing fully electric vehicles at other companies. I’ve personally interviewed a few of them, and they told me they left the BMW because of the company’s new direction on EVs.
|Quick Stats||2022 BMW iX xDrive50|
|Motor:||Dual Electrically Excited Synchronous|
|Output:||516 HP / 564 lb-ft Torque|
|Range:||300+ Mi (Estimated)|
9 hrs (0% to 100%) on 48-amp, 240V Level 2
31 minutes (10% to 80%) on 200+kW DC Fast Charger
|Base Price:||$83,200 MSRP + $995 Destination|
It’s now 2021 and BMW hasn’t released a new BEV in eight years, since the i3 launched in late 2013. Having been involved in BMW’s EV beta test program for 5 years (2009 – 2014) it’s been discouraging to see the automaker, once leading in electrification, assume the role of laggard.
However, BMW has tremendous resources and great engineers, and I always believed that if they wanted to, they could quickly catch back up. Therefore, I was excited to find out that I was one of the very few journalists they invited to the first wave of the iX xDrive50 media drive event.
The controversial front grille on the BMW iX has been widely discussed
It’s been said that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I’ve owned two BMW i3s and not too many BMWs have had a more controversial exterior styling than the i3. That said, the front end of the iX does give the i3 a run for its money as far as unconventional styling.
I’m talking about BMW’s latest interpretation of its kidney grille. It’s so large, it inevitably becomes the focal point. Like Mike Meyer’s character, Austin Powers, in the movie Goldmember when he meets “the mole”, the oversized kidney grills command your attention, even if you try to look away.
One very interesting aspect of the grille is that BMW tells us that it has a “self-healing” polyethylene coating that both help to prevent scratches and also fix them if they do occur. If the surface gets scratched, the plastic will fill in the scratch once it’s been adequately heated, either by direct sunlight in a warm climate or by using a heating element, like a hairdryer.
The rest of the exterior is kind of uneventful, if not a bit chunky, but as I say in the video, it’s actually not as bad as I believed it would be from looking at pictures and video. In person, the proportions actually work, and while I’m definitely not selecting it for the design of the year, I wouldn’t allow its exterior styling to prevent me from buying one – if I were in the market for a luxury, all-electric SUV.
On the inside, it’s an entirely different story. The interior is part minimalistic, part futuristic and it all works. From the quilted leather seats to the crystal knobs and ceramic-coated buttons, the iX feels open and spacious as well as comfortable, quiet, and premium. While the iX xDrive50 we drove had the quilted leather seats, BMW will offer two other seating options; quilted microfiber with a fabric combo and Sensatec faux leather.
Unlike the much-maligned exterior focal point, the center of attention of the interior has been pretty much universally praised. I’m talking about the large, curved display screen that stretches across more than half of the dashboard.
While it appears to be one long display, it’s actually two distinct displays; a 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster and a 14.9-inch central touchscreen, side by side and covered by a single piece of glass. The display is bright and crystal clear and BMW’s new iDrive 8 (the iX is the first BMW to get iDrive 8) is a dramatic improvement over previous versions. I found the system easy to navigate, responsive, and full of menus that allow the driver to set the vehicle up to perform to their preference.
On the road
The iX doesn’t drive like a 5,659 lbs SUV. Even though it’s roughly 600 to 800-lbs heavier than an X5, depending on the configuration, the iX actually feels like it’s lighter. Toss it around on the switchbacks and the iX will behave exemplarily. The iX benefits from having all the weight of the 111 kWh battery pack down below the passenger compartment, as well as a bespoke chassis.
The iX we drove had BMW’s optional Dynamic Handling Package which delivers limited body roll when cornering, yet a comfortable, soft ride over road irregularities and a direct, slightly heavy steering feel.
BMW quotes the iX as going 0-60mph in a scant 4.4 seconds and that felt about right. But the performance doesn’t stop there. Punch the accelerator at highway speeds and you still get pushed back into your seat. The dual-motor powertrain pushes out 516 hp and 564 lb-ft of torque and is more than enough to put a smile on the face of just about any potential iX buyer.
BMW incorporated an adjustable regenerative braking system for the iX, which allows the driver to select the level of lift-off brake regeneration that they like best. One of the settings is adaptive regeneration and in that mode, the vehicle uses its drivers’ assist system and data from the navigation system to adjust the intensity of the regen braking force.
I was really surprised with how well the adaptive regeneration system worked, especially on secondary roads and going through the many roundabouts that we drove on our course. The system would detect traffic lights and stop signs well in advance and slow the vehicle down on its own using only regenerative braking, therefore recapturing as much energy as possible.
The one problem I had with the system was while traveling at highway speeds. When another vehicle cut in front of me, my car would decelerate rapidly, and then not speed up as quickly as I would like. I had to use the accelerator myself to override the braking as I was concerned that vehicles behind me might drive into me. I believe the ADAS automatic braking needs to be tweaked a bit to enable the vehicle to regain speed faster after it slows down to allow room for a vehicle that cuts into your lane. As it is, the iX doesn’t begin to accelerate until the vehicle in front is more than 10-12 car lengths away, and it seems to lag a bit longer than it needs to.
Another thing that BMW really nailed is the cabin quietness. Sitting inside the iX at highway speeds you’ll find a quiet, relaxing experience. It wasn’t until I pushed the iX up to its electronically-governed speed limit of 124-mph (the speedometer actually read 126-mph) did I hear any hint of outside wind or road noise. The iX is one of the quietest EVs that I’ve driven, and may even challenge the Audi eTron for the quietest EV available once it gets properly tested at speed.
However, if quietness isn’t your thing, you can turn on the “Iconic Sounds” which pumps artificial engine sound into the passenger cabin. BMW brought in composer and curator Hans Zimmer to assist in creating the iconic sounds for the iX. Personally, I’ve never been a fan of these artificial cabin sounds, but I have to say the iX’s were the best I’ve heard to date. I probably wouldn’t use them often if I owned an iX, but I did find them interesting and at the very least, not annoying as I usually feel about these sound systems.
The iX also has an available self-parking feature called Automated Valet Parking that we were able to see in action. The system works very much like Xpeng’s Valet Parking Assist that we also recently checked out. The BMW system follows a path that the owner pre-programs, and will repeat the maneuver when called upon to do so. It’s important to note that this system cannot “hunt” for a parking spot and then park itself, it can only repeat a parking maneuver in a specific parking spot that has already been pre-mapped.
Range and efficiency
We drove the iX slightly over 100 miles and used 31% of its battery state of charge. Over that stretch, we averaged 2.9 miles per kWh. That’s not bad considering a good part of my drive was at high autobahn speeds and this is a large, boxy SUV. The iX’s exceptional drag coefficient of .25 is partially responsible for the vehicle’s decent efficiency numbers.
The iX has a 111 kWh battery pack, of which 105 kWH is usable. Averaging 2.9 mi/kWh you should be able to go 305 miles before exhausting the pack, and that would be in line with BMW’s EPA-range estimate of 300 miles per charge. But quite honestly, I think with more normal driving, most owners should be able to achieve more like 3.0 to 3.2 mi/kWh and get 315 to 335 miles per charge. Hopefully, BMW will provide us with an iX to conduct proper range and charging tests soon.
Speaking of charging, the iX comes with an 11 kW onboard charger for level 2 charging, and can fully recharge from 0 to 100% in about 9 hours, when plugged into a 48-amp (11 kW) EVSE. When DC fast charging, the iX can accept up to 200 kW and BMW promises a 10% to 80% DC fast charge time of 35 minutes. However, it’s important to note that you need to find a DC fast charger that can deliver 200 kW first, and it also has to be working. That can sometimes be challenging with the state of public DC fast charging infrastructure we have today.
Worth the wait
Well, it certainly took BMW long enough, but they have finally produced their second fully electric vehicle. After spending a day cruising the autobahn and the many winding roads of Bavaria, I’ve come to the conclusion that it was indeed worth the wait. Sure, I wish the iX (and upcoming i4) came out a few years ago, but there’s no need to look back and wax poetic about what could have been.
The iX is here now and it’s a damn good electric vehicle in just about every way – exterior styling notwithstanding. Its interior is as comfortable, quiet, and as pleasant an atmosphere as any EV I’ve been in. The 516 hp dual-motor powertrain provides all the power you need (but if that isn’t enough the 600+hp iX M60 will be available later in 2022), and the vehicle handles more like a 3,500-lb sedan than it does a 5,659-lb SUV.
With a starting MSRP of $83,200 (plus $995 destination), the iX xDrive50 isn’t cheap. However, when you put it up against its current competition: Tesla Model X $99,990 + $1,200 destination and Audi e-tron Premium Plus $74,800 + $1,095 destination, the iX looks pretty good. In fact, if I were in the market to buy a premium electric SUV today and had a $100,000 budget I would take the iX over both the Model X and e-tron without really thinking twice.
However, I haven’t driven the Rivian R1S yet, and once I do, that could possibly change my thinking a bit. These are exciting times indeed.