► We drive BMW's all-electric X3
► Costs just under £62k
► An XC40, EQC rival
At a base price of 58,850 pounds, the first BMW ever to be imported from China does hurt the wallet. Max power is an okay 286bhp, max torque is a feisty 295lb ft, and the redline of the sporty e-motor beckons at a lofty 17,000rpm. But these specs cannot conceal the fact that the zero-emission BMW ranks one performance league below the 400bhp Jaguar i-Pace, the 408bhp Mercedes EQC, the 313bhp Audi e-tron 50 quattro and the 408bhp Volvo XC40, all of which compete in the same price range or even slightly below.
Best electric SUV
There’s also a deficit in acceleration (0-62mph in 6.8sec) and top speed (limited to 112.5mph). But are these disadvantages on paper something the iX3 can overcome in practice? Hop in, fasten the seat belt and let us put this musical crrossove to the real test by driving it the way a BMW deserves to be driven.
It looks like an EV
Ever since the i3, the brand´s electric world was colour-coded blue. In case of the iX3, you can now choose between metallic blue accents, classic chrome brightwork and matte grey distinguishing marks. Also unique to this model are 19 or 20in aero wheels, the bespoke lower-drag (down from 0.3 to 0.29) front-end design and the more slippery rear apron.
Inside blue dominates; from the starter button over the instrumentation to the ambient lighting. Silly hectagonal graphics prevail, but we find a choice of different e-related data displayed in place of the rev counter. Additional volt & watt information along with energy flow pictograms, consumption graphs and the status of recuperation can be summoned on the larger in-dash monitor.
Starting the glide show triggers a soundtrack composed by the Hollywood film music tsar Hans Zimmer, responsible for the fake firing-up hymn, the 0-112.5mph in-cab hum and the EU regulatory commission which implemented the standardized 0-20mph approach noise relayed to the environment via two external speakers. Rather than spending big on Herr Zimmer, BMW might as well have supported the Munich Zoo bear enclosure where similar noise patterns can be picked up free of charge.
What’s the tech?
For a makeshift project, the iX3 does a remarkably complete job. Why makeshift? Because the marque´s first EV in seven years is essentially a stopgap effort aimed primarily at the Chinese market which is starved for premium EVs, not to mention certain European countries where the i3 and the Mini Cooper SE are merely drops in the bucket. Untypical for BMW, the engineless X3 is a relatively low-tech, low-risk design derived from an existing platform which has been stuffed with bullet-proof clean-air componentry.
Although the bodystyle shouts SUV, AWD is conspicuous by its absence, as are prominent standalone design features and a truly sophisticated drivetrain. The big step from evolution to revolution is clearly reserved for the iNext out in the third quarter of 2021 and, to a lesser extent, the i4 and i7 due to follow suit.
And the battery?
Assembled in-house, the 74kWh net battery weighs 518 kilos and is, together with motor, performance electronics and transmission, packaged in a way which ensures an absolutely flat loading bay capable of accommodating an unchanged 510 and 1560litres of cargo. AC charging is capped at 11kW, the maximum DC charge power of 150kW also matches the key rivals. For every additional 100km/62miles of range within the fifteen to 80% SOC framework, the iX3 needs to keep its umbilical cord plugged in for ten minutes, which is again about on par with the rest of the e-gang.
What’s it like to drive?
At 2260kgs, this is the heaviest X3 by some margin, but it also boasts the most tenacious roadholding since the massive battery stack lowers the centre of gravity by a substantial 75mm. At the same time, the deletion of the combustion engine and eight-speed transmission reverses the weight distribution from a somewhat nose-heavy to a 43:57 percent rear bias, thereby amending traction and playfulness.
The lighter front end and the absence of any front axle propulsion duties transforms the steering which can be putty in your hands or scalpel sharp, depending on speed, driving style, surface topography, radii and ambition. A prolonged stab at the DSC button is all it takes to further boost the entertainment experience.
When pushing on, the iX3 can be all the fun, and then some - on one condition. The recuperation mode must be in the lowest setting; if not, the brief de-throttle opening gambit is invariably followed by a counter-productive slow-down response. Get it right second time round, and the sole RWD variation of the X3 theme is open to drifting.
Hard braking is a hair-raising anti-climax affair in many EVs, but not in this BMW. While other systems are first and foremost interested in maximum recuperation, the iX3 makes deceleration its top priority. The stopping power is fully adequate, the pedal gives early and positive feedback, and repeat action won´t be punished with premature fading. This transparent no-compromise attitude extends to the drive mode calibrations.
There are many facets to the brand´s recuperation philosophy. The handbook recommends the adaptive setting which uses cameras, sensors and the navigation system to read the road ahead, monitor traffic and automatically respond to changing conditions like a speed limit zone. In this setting, BMW says the iX3’s AI can allegedly handle 90% of all driving situations without the driver touching the brakes – and it’ll slip into coasting mode whenever safely possible.
Fans of the one-pedal feel pioneered by the i3 may want to flick the transmission leaver to the left into position B which is a little more energy efficient but very much an acquired taste. Option number three is to select one of three recuperation levels marked high, medium and low. A fourth alternative would be to trigger on-demand coasting by simultaneously pulling both shift paddles, but since there are no paddles, this higher level of driver involvement is for the time being a missed opportunity.
Eco Pro is a tranquilizer designed to quell range anxiety, Comfort is a neatly balanced relaxant for body and soul, and Sport is exactly that, ensuring extra-brisk throttle response, free distribution of the power and torque hormones, unchained acceleration all the way to the limiter.
Driven enthusiastically, our test car recorded an average consumption of 30.8kWh/62miles. The official real-world number is of course an ethically more compliant 17.8kWh/62miles which corresponds to a WLTP range of 287.5 miles, plus a small safety bolster. Fact or fiction? Only a longer test can tell.
Too expensive and not exactly a street-cred front-runner, the iX3 is remarkably efficient and dynamically up to scratch. So what exactly it is that enables the German car with the Chinese birth certificate to challenge - or perhaps even eclipse - its premium rivals?
At the end of a long day, three assets stood out proud: superb handling aka plenty of old-school emotions, long range aka enhanced peace of mind and low cost of ownership at 0.33 Euro per kWh aka no hefty penalty for saving the world.