First Drive: 2021 BMW iX Review
Simultaneously both bold and yet also oddly unadventurous, the iX is BMW’s latest step into electrification, and a significant one at that. Taking all the brand learned from the i3 and i8 in terms of space efficiency, productionising lightweight materials and bold design… and then ignoring all that in favour of building a large, powerful SUV the iX defers to what buyers seemingly want while, under the formulaic shape, quietly moving BMW’s technical game on. For the time being it complements the X5, X6 and X7 in the brand’s premium SUV line-up but the direction of travel is clear and as drivers, manufacturers and regulators flock to electrification, the iX will have a bigger role to play. Crucially it also gives BMW a major boost compared against Mercedes and Audi, whose competitor products are still essentially adapted ICE models and somewhat humbled in terms of performance and range against the 523PS (385kW) and 380 miles of the xDrive50 version we’ve driven here.
- Performance and range
- Stylish and spacious interior
- Engineering and tech
We don't like
- Challenging looks
- Unadventurous packaging
- Intrusive driver ‘aids’
Well, it’s no shrinking violet, that’s for sure. BMW’s buck-toothed grille has already garnered enough outrage but as a visual graphic it plays to German ideals of überholprestige and that all-important fast lane hierarchy so embedded in the nation’s driving psyche. But visual graphic is, literally, all it is, given the ‘grille’ itself is little more than a two-dimensional trim piece.
Proportionally there is more than a hint of Rolls-Royce Cullinan (a hint at a likely future application of the EV powertrain beneath) while, in the right colour, the surface detailing is actually more interesting once you’ve had time to digest it. And, at least, a clear enough departure from the ICE-derived X models that it stands as something different in its own right.
Where the i3 and i8 were bold in engineering, styling, concept and packaging the iX is rather more conventional, though. That may be a pragmatic response but it also seems compromised in some areas, most evidently in the huge, blanked off rear wings revealed when the tailgate lifts up. The voids that presumably lurk behind the fancy carbon suggest wasted space within the body, while the narrow load area seems small for a car of such a sizeable footprint.
Performance and Handling
The iX’s many innovations include BMW’s fifth-gen eDrive power units, these combining motor, transmission and control unit into a single casing. The motor itself also scores green points by swapping the rare earth materials used in conventional magnets for a rotor using an ‘electrically excited’ combination of copper and iron. According to BMW benefits also include increased power, control and efficiency. With a power unit on each axle the iX is, effectively, all-wheel-drive, the xDrive40 deploying a combined 326PS (240kW) and 630Nm (466lb ft) while the 523PS (385kW) xDrive50 we drove has a total of 765Nm (566lb ft). A 619PS (455kW) M60 version will follow in due course.
The 0-62mph time of 4.6 seconds puts the xDrive50 version on a par with the Audi E-Tron S and leaves the Mercedes-Benz EQC trailing, while the 380-mile range beats both by well over 100 miles. It’s taken a while but with the arrival of the iX (and cars like the Porsche Taycan, Audi E-Tron GT and Mercedes EQS) Elon finally has something to worry about, given the German premium brands can now match Tesla-rivalling range and performance with proven ability to bolt panels on straight.
On the road the iX makes the most of its 2.5-tonne mass by pounding any bumps or undulations into submission by sheer brute force alone. Our test models had the optional air suspension, which can alternate between wafting and more sportlich settings according to your mood and even the optional variable rack steering feels predictable and precise, suggesting BMW hasn’t entirely forgotten its Ultimate Driving Machine roots. The iX is simply too big and heavy to fling around, though, and the fleetness of foot that characterised the i3 and i8 is notable by its absence. Subtlety is therefore replaced by brute force, characterised by fierce acceleration in the sportier modes, be that from a standstill or in the childish, TDI-blasting squirts from 80mph to the 120mph limiter we enjoyed on the Autobahn. Having indulged such childish impulses the impressively low drag did wonders for the efficiency as well, the iX happy to coast without draining any power and no doubt contributing to the 500 miles or so it reckoned we’d have covered on our full charge driving as we did.
Arguably the most successful expression of BMW’s new design language is to be found on the inside, though again it’s worth bearing in mind our test cars were dressed to impress and from the £91,905 starting price you’ll quickly close on six figures to get anything this nice. The materials feel funky, though, and the combination of tactile fabrics, slivers of metal, crystal switchgear and matt-finish wood have all been thoughtfully and tastefully combined. Front and rear passengers have plenty of space, the seats are comfortable and the silence of the propulsion and suppression of external noise provided a perfect soundstage for the banging Bowers and Wilkins stereo on our top spec xDrive50. Make no mistake, the iX is a luxury product and will be entirely comfortable alongside Range Rovers, Bentaygas and the rest in the upper reaches of the premium sector.
Technology and Features
Where Mercedes led rivals have followed, combined screens now de rigueur on everything from Golf-sized hatchbacks and up. The giant set-up in the iX rivals that of many widescreen TVs, and sweeps across in front of the driver offering up more functionality than you can shake a stick at. Whether doing so would help your interactions via gesture control would be an interesting experiment but if that sounds about as appealing as ‘Hey BMW!’ voice activation there is, thankfully, still a physical turn-and-push controller within arm’s reach. Although this is a whole new generation of operating system enough will be familiar to existing BMW owners, even if there’s more to take in and some of the app-like interactions can be fiddly to stab away at while on the move.
No worries there, though, because the assisted driving can take charge of annoying chores like having to steer, accelerate or brake… Well, when it feels like it at least. To be fair the Adaptive Recuperation feature is super clever, and accurately predicts via cameras and navigation when to slow the car by regen rather than brakes. You can choose to surrender steering to the black boxes as well, so long as you maintain a light touch on the wheel to convince it you haven’t relocated to the back seat for a snooze. You’d best not, either, because on our test route we had several instances where the system simply ‘let go’ mid-way through a corner or on approach to a junction. Obviously a responsible driver will have been on the ball enough to pick up where the computers leave off without it being an issue. But that puts a lot of faith in human nature not letting this veneer of automation nurture a sense of complacency…
On the plus side we did enjoy the Hans Zimmer composed ‘engine’ sound effects, which very cleverly adapt to speed, driving mode and throttle inputs.
The generous appraisal of the iX is that it is a pragmatic and skilfully executed answer to what EV-curious luxury SUV buyers want. Which is to say road presence and a sense of status, lots of toys, suitably opulent surroundings and the sense of effortless performance even a big V8 couldn’t deliver. A viable, real-world range of well over 300 miles on the xDrive50 should be more than enough to convince EV sceptics now may be the time to make the switch, given it reduces dependence on the public charging infrastructure to the point you’ll very rarely have need of it. And on longer journeys a 10-minute comfort/coffee break will be enough for another 90-odd miles or so ‘in the tank’, on the assumption you can find a suitable 200kW charger of course. Suffice to say, if your measure of a luxury SUV is ‘will it waft me to the Alps for a winter ski trip’ then the iX is possibly the first of its breed you would confidently use for that purpose. Some of the tech – the assisted driving and ‘phone app as your key’ – wasn’t entirely convincing in execution and we’d not depend on either. But as a package, and important step on the road to electrification, this is a very significant product for BMW. And, overall, a convincing one.
|Engine||Dual electric motors, 111.5kWh battery|
|Torque||765Nm (566lb ft)|
|Range, efficiency||380 miles, 3.4 miles/kWh|
11 hours to 100 per cent with an 11kW charger, 35 minutes from 10-80 per cent with a 200kW fast charger
£69,905 (£91,905 for the xDrive50)
Reviewed by Dan Trent