Electric cars

The new BMW iX is a bold design statement, inside and out

The new BMW iX is a bold design statement, inside and out

The new BMW iX has a certain carefree swagger about it. BMW has been in the electrification game for far longer than other premium automakers, and while its strategy has been confusing at times, the company has always played the long game. The iX is a classic example. As the new flagship electric vehicle in BMW’s electric portfolio, it straddles the categories, defies easy description and offers a stimulating aesthetic proposition. It’s also a hugely accomplished car, electric or otherwise, with bold design decisions that could only come from long-time experience.

How did BMW get here? The BMW i3 and i8 were two of the very first fully electric, self-driving cars. Unveiled in 2011 and introduced to the market in 2013 and 2014 respectively, they were loudly acclaimed but commercially unspectacular, failing to give the company a foothold in the booming electric vehicle market despite numerous billion spent on R&D.

The little i3 is a fantastic car and can still hold its own against much more contemporary rivals. Production is expected to end this summer, with around 250,000 units built. The i8, which was a plug-in hybrid sports car, as opposed to a pure EV, was also acclaimed for its style, usability and performance. There was even a BMW i8 Roadster. The last of just over 20,000 production cars rolled off the Leipzig production line in June 2020. If you spot one today, you’ll see that the futuristic shape is unlike anything else on the road, now or then.

Perhaps due to the relative failure of the i3 and i8 in the market, BMW pivoted its strategy and decided to integrate i-drive electrification into its mainstream models, rather than build self-driving electric vehicles. . So far there’s an iX3 electric SUV and the i4 sedan, with electrified versions of other key cars in the works, led by the new BMW i7, designed to tackle the Mercedes EQS.

It can’t quite beat the EQS on range (various versions of the iX offer between 341 miles and 392 miles), nor in sheer opulence of the interior. Instead, there’s a much more low-key take on automotive technology, one that feels much less in your face.

For many people, the iX argument will be won or lost in seconds. It’s a visually striking car, and not everyone will say so positively. The iX looks better in the metal than it does in the photos, but it won’t win any beauty contests. For starters, that colossal grille dominates the front end. BMW (and to a lesser extent Audi and Mercedes) is apparently on a quest to oversize its most identifiable feature. The so-called “double kidney” has been an integral part of BMW’s corporate identity since 1933. Since then, its application has evolved from strict functionalism to elaborate over-emphasis.

The iX is clearly the latter, even though the ‘mesh’ itself is now an abstract geometric panel. In functional terms, this is where the car’s multitude of sensors are located, so it makes sense to make this such an important feature. Counterintuitively, BMW calls this approach “Shy Tech,” the art of hiding technology until it’s actually needed.

The rest of the body doesn’t so much flow from that bold face as it slides and slides in a chiseled, faceted fashion. The tapering beltline that rises above the rear wheel to form a characteristic thick D-pillar was first seen in the i3 and has since been widely imitated. In the iX, that seems to imply the end of the car, but there’s still a relatively large rear overhang.

The decision to narrow the front and rear lights into long horizontal strips also contradicts the verticality of the grille.

And yet it somehow works. Overall, the iX’s visual contradictions balance each other out, aided by adventurous detailing and elements rendered in the optional Titan Bronze exterior trim. Visually, the iX has a lot more in common with the compact i3 than any of its SUV siblings; both EVs share the idiosyncratic divisiveness that comes from pushing boundaries.

For now, it’s still an outlier in the lineup, as it doesn’t have a direct ICE equivalent. Superficially, the iX sits in the same class as BMW’s other X-model SUVs, with the big X7 its closest relative (although it’s closer in length to the X5 — it just looks bigger ). But as we said, the i3 (and i8) still look fresh today as they broke free from the incremental evolutionary approach taken by the company’s other models.

The interior is one of the best premium spaces around. This makes other competitors’ screen-heavy appearance too complex and busy. BMW has done a lot to reduce surface areas without compromising function. As Head of Design at BMW Domagoj Dukec told us last year, the iX’ is a pivotal product for a whole new way of thinking about car design… we’ve reduced the amount of interior elements. We deliver more by doing less. This ‘mono-material’ approach shows more exclusivity than a traditional patchwork interior design.’

There’s also more evidence of the Shy Tech approach, like the touchpad on the center armrest, lovingly formed from a sliver of grainy wood, with the buttons for media and navigation printed on its surface. , as well as the crystal glass iDrive controller. Crystal is also used for the door-mounted adjustable seat knobs, and the overall vibe is more akin to a concept car than a production model (the iX originated as of BMW Vision iNext presented at the Frankfurt Motor Show 2019).

This less is more approach means the little details delight. There are knobs instead of door handles. Ambient lighting does not go all the way superyacht-style but is reduced to graceful slashes of color at the top of the doors. There is electrochromatic glass in the optional panoramic roof (standard on the xDrive50 M Sport), which becomes opaque with a click.

The hexagonal steering wheel looks fancy but works well in practice, and the optional Bowers & Wilkins Diamond Surround Sound audio system shares the Shy Tech ethos by subtly concealing its speakers throughout the cabin. The large television-like horizontal touchscreen’s processing speed is good and never feels like it’s trying to catch up. The interface is clean and intuitive, although some of the graphic wallpaper choices might date faster than the rest of the car.

Right now, luxury EVs need to be big in order to fit the range/battery size equation that buyers associate with spending big bucks.

To use a cellphone analogy, if the i3 is an original iPhone, then the iX is an iPhone 13 Pro Max: it takes a bit of getting used to but it’s hard to let go of a once we have adapted to the change of scale.

There are also the obvious performance benefits of electrification. 2022 marks the 50th anniversary of BMW’s “M” division. Petrol models bearing the legendary M prefix continue to be held in high esteem by traditional enthusiasts. The BMW i4 M50 is already on sale and an iX M60 flagship is in the works. For now, the top dog is the iX xDrive50 M Sport, which has 523bhp and can do the obligatory 0-62mph sprint in 4.6 seconds. Power goes to all four wheels and the familiar crispness of instant electric torque hasn’t been dulled by the iX’s considerable weight.

The xDrive50 also boasts an impressive range of 380 miles, with an intelligent efficient drive mode that never makes you feel held back like other EVs. Sport mode also adds a ghostly sci-fi inspired “motor” drone. Also worth mentioning are the car soundscapes, which are triggered by turning the car on and off. These were composed by none other than Hans Zimmer, king of the disturbing cinematic crescendo.

If you’re a regular SUV driver, then the iX’s hulking (or challenging) looks and powerful stance won’t do anything to deter you, but for those who prefer to give off a less confrontational vibe, it might be a step too far. far . As a canvas for innovation, it’s second to none (we particularly liked the recent iX-based Flow concept car with its e-ink surfaces). The BMW iX is hugely impressive on every level, with the interior alone putting it at the top of its class.

When BMW focuses solely on electrification, good things happen. §