BMW’s newest SUV previews our and its electric future.
BMW is serious about going green. Forget about concept cars; starting in 2025 all BMWs will ride on what's for now called the Neue Klasse platform, a single electric vehicle architecture to rule them all. Board member and development CTO Frank Weber called the Neue Klasse "new new" and went on to describe it as "the most radical departure BMW has ever done." Until that time, the Bavarian automotive giant is launching all sorts of EVs on various other platforms, including the i4, an electric 5 Series presumably named i5, an i7, as well as a small SUV that will most likely be called the iX1. BMW already sells an electric X3 named—you guessed it—iX3, but not here in the U.S. However, the brand's most ambitious EV to date is the new iX. I just spent a day in the X5-sized electric SUV, specifically the U.S.-bound AWD 2022 iX xDrive50. How is it? Keep reading.
From a platform point of view, the iX rides on a highly modified version of BMW's CLAR platform. CLAR underpins the majority of BMW's lineup, including the 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 Series, as well as the X3, X4, X5, X6, and X7 SUVs. The Z4 and Toyota Supra, too. Perhaps a better way of explaining the iX's architecture is to say that it rides on a new high-strength steel, carbon-fiber-reinforced plastic, and aluminum spaceframe platform, but one that relies heavily on CLAR componentry. Like suspension pieces, for instance. This allows the iX to be built alongside its gasoline-powered siblings at BMW's massive Dingolfing factory. As for the competition, there hardly is any. Both archrivals Audi and Mercedes-Benz have yet to build electric midsize SUVs. Jaguar does have the slow selling I-Pace, though its short range knocks it from most people's short lists. The Cadillac Lyriq will be a worthy opponent once it shows up in a year or so. That leaves the nearly $100K Tesla Model X, which makes the $84,195 iX seem like a solid deal.
What Makes The IX?
Powering the xDrive50 are two motors, one per axle, that combined spin out 516 horsepower and 564 lb-ft of torque. Stout numbers, no doubt, though come January, the even more powerful iX M60 bows with over 600 horsepower. Those 516 ponies puts the iX just below the output the current X5 M50i gets from its twin-turbo 4.4-liter V-8, though the gas-powered X5 makes slightly less torque (553 lb-ft). BMW wants to show consumers there's no performance hit for choosing an EV, at least on paper. We haven't tested or weighed the iX yet, though the EV is much heavier. BMW is quoting an EU-specified curb weight of nearly 5,700 pounds.
How about that grille? That's the new face of BMW. Hate it? Well, every human on Instagram seems to agree with you. That said—and yes, I'm obviously old, soft, blind, and on BMW's payroll—in person I thought the iX's face looked, dare I say it, good? There was something about the massive kidney grilles and the narrow, robot-like eyes that just worked. Almost like a second-generation Cylon from the Battlestar Galactica reboot. It's miles better than the grille on the new M3/M4, at any rate. Back to Instagram, the big question seemed to be, if there's no engine, why is there a grille at all? Aside from branding, the twin grilles (which are covered in self-healing skin) are cleverly stuffed with sensors, including two types of radar. As for the rest of the exterior, the hard side is nearly generic save for the floating roof. From the rear, the taillights look too skinny, and the body-colored bumper makes the iX's butt look fat.
Inside The IX
The iX's interior is an exercise in minimalism, at least for BMW. A massive, curved touchscreen dominates the cabin. In days past, BMW has angled the controls toward the driver. In an homage to days of yore, the screen (that contains the controls) bends toward the driver. The number of buttons has been reduced by 50 percent, what BMW considers the bare minimum. That said, if you look down at the lovely piece of wood that surrounds the iDrive knob, you'll see 12 buttons, not counting the controller itself (which does click down and in the X and Y axis) but including the volume wheel. The buttons that remain are logical, and there's a calmness and spaciousness to the interior that's new for the brand. However, there's also a sparseness that just doesn't scream premium luxury to me. And at nearly $85K to start, it ought to.
Technically speaking, the iX is stacked. The latest and eighth iteration of iDrive is more powerful than ever. I know this because I sat through at least three iDrive workshops while I was in Munich. Three! Just know that if you say, "Hey BMW, take a selfie," the iX takes a picture of you. No, really. However, the selfie camera is there as a security feature. Did you leave your wallet or purse on the front seat? Just open your phone and have a look. Speaking of wild tech, meet Maneuver Assistant. Long story short, Maneuver Assistant records how you park the iX—say, in a tricky spot in your garage—like a macro. The iX will then repeat the maneuver whenever you tell it to. Said maneuver can be up to 200 meters long. The iX can store up to 10 such maneuvers. Here's the coolest part: The maneuvers can then be transferred from profile to profile. Meaning you could record the move and then transfer it to your spouse/your kid's profile. That's dang nifty, no?
But How's It Drive?
First impression: Driving around Bavaria's gorgeous Berchtesgaden region that puts the verdant in verde, one is reminded why going green is so monumentally important. I want your kids to see what I just saw. Ahem. Pointed down the mountain with the iX xDrive50 in efficient mode, simply lifting off the throttle allows the iX to coast. The sensation is wonderful, as if the machine is suddenly free. I guess there's enough brake regen to hold the speed, but it feels like you're sailing. I know some EV enthusiasts (they exist, trust me) love huge levels of regen and one-pedal driving and all that, but I prefer to freefall. The iX is remarkably quiet, bordering on perhaps a bit too quiet. The BMW Group's other spaceframe products, Rolls-Royces, are in fact too quiet. What does too quiet mean? You can hear your own heart beating. The iX comes close.
One area where the bmw ix struggles is that it doesn't sound or feel particularly premium. I know I'm sitting on leather, but the interior has been simplified so much that I feel like I'm in a device, as opposed to a luxury vehicle. I would love to see the (eventual, I hope) Alpina version of the iX, one that's generously slathered in leather. The xDrive50 is slick and high-tech, but there's a Tesla-like sparseness that doesn't connect with me. Plus, the spot that's normally a drivetrain tunnel is simply empty space. Like in a cargo van. Now, maybe that was the design team's intention? Maybe they said, "Look, Tesla is dominating the EV space, and we need to be more like it." If that's the case, then BMW really has succeeded in going minimum. Some customers might even dig it. Call it the Tesla Syndrome. But for my large hunk of cash, I'd like some more wood, metal, and leather. To me, the Tesla aesthetic doesn't work here.
As for driving on curvy, fun Bavarian roads, it's fine. The iX drives at least as well as the Tesla Model X, and now that I'm thinking about it, quite similarly. That impression makes sense as both weigh about the same, have said weight located in the same spots, and make about the same power. To be clear, I'm talking about the last Model X I drove back in 2016 when the 90D version of the electric three-row SUV produced 518 horsepower from its two motors. For 2022 you now choose between 670 Long Range or 1,020 ponies in the Plaid. Like the equally heavy Tesla, the iX is betrayed by physics. This might be part of why this EV SUV doesn't necessarily feel premium. There's a minivan quality that's hard to get past. I'm not feeling the ultimate driving machine. I'm not feeling BMW as a brand in the way it tackles a road. It's quite like how I felt about the i3. Interesting car, interesting concept, but doesn't feel the way a BMW should feel when I close my eyes. The iX just feels like… an electric thing. That said, the noise the motors make (or is that coming from the speakers?) is quite cool.
Let's Talk Range
As far as range goes, I left the hotel at 96 percent charge, and 20 kilometers later the battery was still at 96 percent. I had been in Eco Pro mode most of the time and was pointing downhill. But still, that's impressive. Six km later, the battery was still reading 96 percent. Wanting to burn a little juice, I switched out of the efficient mode and into Comfort. In 4 km, it was still showing 96 percent. I was starting to think the computer was broken. Also, the range was telling me I didn't have to charge for 565 km (351 miles) and that I would arrive at my first destination in 28 km with 89 percent of the battery left. When I started, the computer said I'd make it with 88 percent remaining. The computer therefore doesn't account for downhill driving or elevation changes in the range estimates, so keep that in mind as I'm sure the opposite would be true going uphill. I made it to the first stop having consumed just 1 percent of the battery's juice. Not bad. As mentioned, the iX will probably be rated right around 300 miles of range in the U.S. Based on my driving experience, I predict BMW is going to have a Porsche Taycan situation on its hands, where the EPA rated the Turbo S version at 192 miles of range, but it's actually capable of over 250.
After my first stop, it was time for some freeway. Let me be the first to say that the bmw ix whips ass on the autobahn. This is a seriously quick EV, especially accelerating from about 75 mph to 105 mph. Let me be the billionth person to say, God bless unrestricted sections of autobahn. I took the iX up to its top speed of 124 mph (200 kph) just to check things out, and you can feel the computer shutting down the fun right when you nudge past 120 mph. However, I set the cruise at 170 kph (about 106 mph) and had a couple of realizations. The first is that moving this quickly in absolute silence (I had it in Eco Pro mode) is quite cool. There's hardly any wind noise—it's like being in a private jet. Second, the iX is aerodynamic enough (0.25 claimed Cd) that even well into the triple digits the range isn't affected too negatively. I travelled 30 km (about 19 miles) at 170 kph and used only 4 percent of the battery. Moreover, the adaptive cruise control and lane keeping assist work as well as anything, save for Cadillac's impossibly good Supercruise. Once you're moving in a high-speed, straight line, the iX drives great.
The 2022 bmw ix previews many things coming down the automotive pike. Not only is it a glimpse into BMW's sustainable, electric, carbon-neutral future, but this type of machine—an electric carlike SUV-sized people mover—will become the dominant mode of first-world personal transportation within the decade. As a signpost pointing toward the future, I feel confident concluding that we're in good shape vis-à-vis the driving world to come. But as a BMW? I'm struggling here. For whatever reason, I want and expect all BMWs to drive better than other machines, or at least most other machines. This is probably an unreasonable expectation, but dammit, all BMWs used to have an X factor. I can still remember driving an ex's E39 540i two decades ago. The relationship went nowhere, but I got a memory that will last a lifetime. As for the all-new bmw ix when it arrives in Q1 of 2022, we Americans will have a fast, powerful, efficient, tech-laden yet minimalist SUV in a segment with few serious competitors. I just wish the iX were a bit more memorable.