► BMW's all-electric flagship driven
► Prototype version of new EV SUV
► Could it be a new icon for the brand?
Hollywood comes to BMW's new iX electric SUV every time you start it up. An exclusive soundtrack composed for over 30 speakers, woofers and amplifiers by Hans Zimmer, technicolour MGM-style special effects, and widescreen in-dash animation inspired by Disney all come to life as you get within a three-metre geofenced zone around the car and when you pop open the door.
BMW's really put effort into the new iX from the off, then.
Any other glitz and glamour once you're inside?
While the exterior breaks many design rules – the platinum rat-toothed 'grille', the bloated side view yet surprisingly elegant rear – the cabin is equally rebellious, lavishly equipped with plenty of high-tech accents. The iX runs on the very latest OS 8 infotainment, which combines the familiar iDrive controller with new features like remote software upgrades, a choice of apps and various functions on demand.
More than a gimmick is the Remote Theft Recorder which can relay interior and exterior images taken by five different cameras straight to the user's smartphone. Other chip-induced highlights are the augmented reality video which fades in additional information like graphic direction assistance on the approach to a roundabout, 5G connectivity, extensive personalization via BMW ID, learning navigation, automatic guidance to available parking spaces, and Apple Maps with adaptive en-route charge planning.
The chairs trimmed in supple cross-stitched hide peeled from cows presumably grown on organic fodder look super comfortable, but they are much too short in the cushion and the massage function does not even come close to the degree of pampering found in the new S-class. Although space is available in abundance, the available glass roof compromises the rear headroom, shoulder support is only average, the integrated head restraints are non-adjustable, and I was expecting a bit more legroom up front, too.
The driving programme selector was replaced by the My Modes button which lets you choose from three settings named Personal, Sport and Efficient, and the different displays – main, head-up and in-dash – can be accessed via toggles on the steering-wheel, through the controller or by touch, zoom and swipe commands. While the number of switches was indeed halved, the number of functions has virtually doubled. Distraction is thus an issue, and if you don't want to be bothered by the chimes, vibrations and warning lights emitted by over-eager assistance systems, there is no option but to deactivate most of them after every restart. Despite these reservations, OS8 is – also thanks to the improved voice control and the easily accessible multifunctional displays - one of the less enigmatic MMI systems. It certainly tries to blight range and charge anxiety with reassuringly accurate range calculations.
Speaking of range, I need specs
There are two versions of the iX in the UK from launch, the xDrive40 and xDrive50. As you may have guessed, both versions have all-wheel drive.
The 40 has 322bhp and 467lb ft, good for a 6.1sec 0-62mph sprint and a limited top speed of 124mph, with the 50 benefitting from 519bhp, 564bhp and a punchier sprint time of 4.6 seconds with the same top speed. BMW claims the 40 can achieve 257 miles from its net 71kWh battery, with the 50 netting a potential 380 miles from its 102.5kWh battery.
The iX is about as big as an X5, but at 2585kg, it weighs roughly 300kg more – despite a generous dose of die-cast and sheet aluminium, carbon fibre-reinforced plastics and high-strength steel. Unlike the i4 which shares its underpinnings with the 3 and 4series, this is a proper single-purpose vehicle engineered from scratch which may well be discontinued without replacement at the end of its seven-year life cycle.
Even so, everything about the iX is properly advanced: the ultra-low drag coefficient of 0.25, the active four-corner air suspension with adaptive dampers but without mechanical AWD and motorized sway bars, the multi-method from honeycomb-to-extrusion panels body structure, and the lounge character of the spacious cabin which looks like a modern reincarnation of the Eden Roc Bar. Almost everything you see, smell and touch is emphatically environment-conscious, CO2-neutral, recycled or at least produced with 100 per cent local hydro power. We cannot think of an eco-friendlier SUV.
BMW's electric plans explained
Come on, let's drive it already!
The iX spells grunt with a capital G and three r's. No matter where you are in the 0-124mph spectrum, hit the accelerator, and the tailwind promptly turns into a tornado - even above 100mph, even on slippery ground, even when the battery is almost depleted.
Those who have sampled M versions of the BMW X-cars won't be surprised that the iX, too, is worthy of the Ultimate Driving Machine moniker. It ticks all the important boxes: the steering is a precise 3D scanner which transmits the road surface to your palms; the handling is up to the limit neutral enough to deserve Austrian or Swiss citizenship; Velcro-strap traction is another inherent element of the car's DNA; the brakes are strong no matter how often you try them, the remarkable performance makes the greenest conscience blush with shame, and again. Sounds faultless. But not quite.
Hard acceleration prompts the bow to rise, Titanic-style. When the neutral phase expires, mild to determined understeer sets in, although it is never pronounced enough to unsettle the car. Circus stunts require a slippery turf and run-off areas the size of a minor principality.
While the absolute deceleration numbers are spot-on, the usually confidence-inspiring initial brake bite is relatively toothless, the pedal effort is on the high side, the response is strangely passive until you push a hole through the platform, and the on-board energy regeneration rep keeps dunning his share of action.
The active regen system has two settings: B for one-pedal feel braking, D for drive and mild self-deceleration. Coasting is part of the latter algorithm, but as soon as the satnav starts the route guidance, the black box - not the driver - takes charge of the lift-off sequence and duration. Shift paddles would be an intuitive means to trigger an enhanced or reduced effect, and to deactivate the artificial e-brake altogether. Together with more aggressive brakes, stricter body control and a higher top speed, the paddles could be part of a desirable sports pack...
BMW iX: first impressions
We have yet to even see the larger SUV editions of the Mercedes EQS. But despite certain inconsistencies, we are impressed with iX after this first taste. It presents itself as totally fresh innovation cake sugar-coated with brand values we have learned to love.
Specs are for a BMW iX xDrive50 M Sport
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