BMW’s all-new electric SUV is a bold step forward into the future. Shapur Kotwal gets a taste of what it’s like from behind the wheel.
This is nothing less than the dawn of a new age for BMW. A new platform, new propulsion system, new battery pack and an all-new style sheet. The one thing BMW won’t change, however, is its unflinching focus on driver appeal and driving pleasure. A BMW will remain a BMW, it says, and that’s exactly what we are here to find out.
What is it?
First impressions as I walk up to the new iX are of approaching something from the future. It doesn’t quite feel like I’m walking up to a UFO, but the form, detailing and stylistic elements are fresh and clearly herald a new age. The self-healing ‘grille’ does look oversized initially and the rear looks a bit weighty at the bottom, but I like the sculpted bonnet. And don’t those new headlights hit the spot? Love those 22-inch wheels too.
The design is striking, and after some time, you don’t quite mind the oversized grille.
While the platform is an evolution of BMW’s CLAR architecture with its Carbon Core technology, there’s enough new stuff here to call it all new. As earlier, the passenger compartment is surrounded by panels of carbon fibre, which you can see when you open the doors and hatch, and supporting this are structural elements made from high-strength steel and recycled aluminium. This platform also gets a compact nose, a flat floor (with no transmission tunnel), and since it is fully modular and variable, it will be the platform on which all future electric BMWs are built.
The iX also gets a high-spec suspension. At the front, it uses a double wishbone suspension system that isolates the dampers from steering influences. Also aiding handling and precision is a subframe for the steering system that’s rigidly located onto the battery casing. The five-link rear axle has also been tuned to reduce bounce, and iX gets BMW’s lift-related dampers, first used on the 3 Series: they adjust the amount of damping force to match the spring rate. The iX 40 in India, however, gets only conventional coil springs; air springs are not included for now.
The three-metre-long wheelbase means there’s plenty of space inside.
When it comes to motive power, the iX uses a pair of motors, one on each axle. Combined power stands at 326hp for this iX40. While combined output of the motors is limited to 240kW (or 326hp), the front motor can put out a max of 190kW and the rear 200kW. Also, for the most part and in most conditions, the iX is rear-wheel drive.
BMW also uses electric motors that are different from the norm. Its motors don’t use permanent magnets, which avoid the use of rare earth materials. These synchronous motors, however, differ from Tesla-type induction motors (that don’t use permanent magnets either). Advantages here include sporty performance at higher speeds – the iX has a top speed of 200kph, higher than rivals.
Carbon fibre surrounds brake light, looks cool.
The iX’s 76.6kWh battery, placed between the wheels, is designed to be a stressed member of the chassis. The cells used here are prismatic, they are supplied by Samsung and CATL, and give the iX a WLTP range of 425km and an ARAI-certified range of 446km. Expect somewhere between 350km to 370km in the real world. The battery can be charged from 0-100 percent in 7 hours using a 11kW AC wall box from BMW. A 0-80 percent charge can also be accomplished in 1 hour 20 minutes using a 50kW DC charger, giving it an advantage over some competitors. The iX can also be charged by a faster 150kW charger... if you can find one.
What’s it like to drive?
So, does it drive like a BMW? And does it feel any different from other electric cars? While we only got to drive it in a limited space, and could only do a maximum speed of 130kph, the simple answer is yes.
First up, the new hexagonal steering feels great to hold. Then, incredibly, when I move it, it seems to have zero latency or delay. Move it even a little and the iX responds faithfully, without over reacting. It’s so direct and so well calibrated, it’s positively refreshing.
Adding to the feeling of effortless agility is the manner in which the iX covers ground. There’s a lightness of foot here that makes you feel you are piloting only a light chassis, no heavy body attached to it. The iX incidentally weighs 2.4 tonnes. While the steering is lightly weighted by BMW standards, and that connected feel you get in a 3 Series isn’t quite there, what it still has is an engaging sense of precision, and that’s especially noticeable on turn-in.
The iX, however, rolls early due to the heavy battery pack. This isn’t terribly disconcerting as anti-roll bars soon come into play and limit weight transfer. What helps is that the iX has a good amount of poise, it always feels in control of its weight and then what gives me loads of confidence is that it has plenty of grip.
The ride is supple and the cabin is superbly insulated as well.
Sport mode tightens up things a bit, and more weight is added to the steering, which is nice. And for an SUV this heavy, the iX encourages you to drive harder and faster. BMW’s rear bias even makes its presence felt once I show more commitment.
Where the iX doesn’t quite feel like a BMW is when it comes to ride quality. Ride is fantastic for an SUV and body movements are so well controlled and damped, the iX almost glides limo-like over small ridges and medium-sized bumps. It does thump through deeper ruts in the road and big potholes may pose a challenge too – we didn’t encounter any on our route – but ride quality in general is so good, it could be a highlight, even on our roads.
iX feels stable at speed, brakes offer good pedal feel.
Performance isn’t quite slam-you-in-the-back strong on the iX40 though. Programmed to deliver a smooth surge of propulsion once you get going, the iX, on the other hand, manages to sustain thrust better than other electrics after the initial surge. In fact, the high-revving qualities of the motors ensure that the iX continues to pull strongly well past 100kph, the said figure coming up in a claimed 6.1sec.
I do miss having paddles behind the steering wheel though for regeneration, and adjustment for the latter is buried in a menu. What we couldn’t test was ground clearance. With no speed breakers around (imagine that), it was near impossible. BMW, however, says there’s sufficient leeway here. The iX has a clearance of 177mm when loaded and around 190mm when unloaded, depending on the suspension and spec. And that should be sufficient.
What’s it like on the inside?
The iX looks and feels like a concept car on the inside. This is apparent as soon as I open the light, frameless doors via electronic actuators. The minimalist sloping dash sets the tone and the curved 14.9-inch stand-up display just makes the cabin look fresh and new. It’s even angled towards the driver in true BMW form. There’s so much new stuff here you’d never be able to tell this is a BMW without seeing the logo. Only the stalks behind the wheel and a couple of other small bits are carried over.
The flat floor right below the dash is what grabs my attention next: there’s no transmission tunnel and no hump needed for a prop shaft either and this makes it feel open and airy. Then I notice the cliff-like extension to the central armrest; it had a large wooden panel with capacitive touch buttons and numerous buttons made of crystal!
Next up on the list of pleasant surprises are the seats, which look more like lounge sofas than automotive seats. They are comfortable and even support you well when the iX is being driven quickly. And then what helps with the ambience is that the full length and full width glass roof above lets in a lot of light, brightening up the cabin. And, should you want, you can even press a button and turn it opaque, just like that.
Space is huge and the seat back is very comfortable, but you are sat low.
BMW has also included a lot of recycled materials within the interior. The wood is sustainably sourced, the leather is tanned using olive leaves and not strong chemicals, and the floor mats are made from old fishing nets.
The 14.9-inch screen gets a new version of iDrive. This eighth-generation version can be customised and it aligns sub-menus in boxes, making it easy to browse through. There are new gesture commands you can learn, accessing information is easy and while you still have to click through to a climate control menu to control fan speed, a climate control icon is always on the home screen.
Updated iDrive system has plenty of new gestures.
There’s no shortage of space in the rear due to the long wheelbase and the flat floor, and though the front seats are tall, forward visibility is still decent. You are sat a bit low, because the battery below you takes up space, but you do get excellent shoulder support as the backrest goes all the way around to the doors. What gets your attention is that there are speakers inside the rear headrests. Sound quality isn’t great, as you can imagine, but as party tricks go, this is extremely cool.
Wood and crystal combination works superbly.
Boot space, meanwhile, is somewhat disappointing, at 500 litres (160 less than the Audi e-tron and 150 less than in the X5), and this is due to a high floor necessitated by the presence of the rear motor and charging system.
What features does it come with?
BMW has launched the iX in the less powerful xDrive 40 guise, but what it has also done is load it to the gills with equipment. The electrochromic panoramic glass roof is a feature that’s sure to get loads of attention. The front seats get memory and massage function and there’s bespoke leather upholstery on the dash, seats and on the door pads.
The battery has an 8 year/1.6 lakh km warranty.
To brighten up the cabin, there’s ambient lighting, you get a head-up display, wireless charging, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, 4-zone climate control and an 18-speaker Harman Kardon sound system powered by 655W amplifier. Soft-close doors are standard and you get BMW’s reversing assistant. Safety features include eight airbags, brake assist, cruise control with braking function, dynamic stability control (DSC), tyre pressure monitoring system (TPMS), blind spot detection and auto braking. The iX has also scored a 5-star safety rating at Euro NCAP.
That the iX is a bona fide BMW, there’s little doubt. It may not be as engaging to drive as some of its predecessors and it may not be the quickest electric SUV in its class, but BMW’s first all-electric SUV is still extremely agile and has a fun and playful demeanour from behind the wheel. It is also spacious and comfortable on the inside, rides beautifully and has a funky but practical cabin. It is a bit expensive, at Rs 1.16 crore, especially when compared to more powerful rivals, but what BMW has done to make it competitive is load it to the gills with features, some of which are genuinely unique. Yes, we are yet to drive it extensively on public roads, and that could throw up some surprises, but if what we’ve seen in this preview rings true, the BMW iX is as good an all-rounder as there is in this class. One that looks, drives and feels like a genuine born electric.
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