New Car Review: BMW iX xDrive50

BMW iX Starting Price: €85,815

Price as tested: €112,895

GOOD STUFF

Great range, serious performance, very refined, stunning cabin, latest tech, high quality.

BAD STUFF

Not a good-looking car, boot only average in size.

WHAT IS IT?

The BMW iX is the company’s new technology flagship as a standalone large electric SUV. It follows on from the ‘iNext’ concept car and that show vehicle’s name hinted at the next generation of BMWs. The iX is not based on any existing model in the line-up, though its overall dimensions are similar to those of the X5.

Unlike the X5, the iX is a strict five-seater – and it has been designed from the ground up to be fully electric. It will also be the first BMW to come with ‘Level 3’ driver assistance technology, though that’s not quite ready for launch as yet. All versions get all-wheel drive, courtesy of an electric motor on each axle. Direct rivals include the Audi e-tron, Jaguar I-Pace, Mercedes EQC and Tesla Model X.

Here we’re testing the current range-topper, the xDrive50e model, which starts at a smidgen under €113,000. It comes with a massive 105.2kWh (usable) lithium-ion battery pack and an official range between charges of up to 630 kilometres, depending on specification. On rapid chargers, it can be recharged at up to 195kW, while the on-board charger allows AC charging up to 7.4kW on single-phase and 11kW on three-phase connections. 

The iX50 comes with a massive 105.2 kWh lithium-ion battery pack.

HOW ABOUT THE LOOKS?

Well, until we drove the iX, this was the biggest talking point – and not in a good way. Few commentators have had a kind word to say about the appearance of the iX. Most of the abuse is aimed at the upright ‘grille’, a new take on the traditional BMW kidney grille design. It is completely blanked off on the iX, which gives it an unusual appearance, while the slimmest headlights ever fitted to a BMW only serve to accentuate the size of it.

We’d like to be able to say that, away from the front, things get better, but the whole shape is really odd. Sure, it has presence on the road, but the wheelarch sculpting and BMW i3-like side window shape just look strange, as do the flush-fitting door handles. Frameless door glass does make it feel a little special, and the smooth rear end has appeal, but overall, we’re not convinced this is one of those radical BMW designs that will grow on us.

The styling of the iX is controversial.

WHAT IS THE INSIDE LIKE?

Inside, things are much better. The iX gets a whole new interior design that is different to anything else the company sells right now. First thing you’ll notice is the odd-looking steering wheel, with a vaguely hexagonal shape. In spite of the strange appearance, the wheel feels good to hold and allows a splendid view of the information behind. They’re you’ll find the new curved glass dashboard display housing a 12.3-inch screen for the instruments and a massive 14.9-inch touchscreen. Thanks to anti-reflective glass, it looks good even in bright sunshine, and the graphics are crisp.

The steering wheel has a hexagonal shape.

BMW has thankfully retained its iDrive rotary controller between the front seats, allowing more precise use of the menu system when on the move. It looks and feels like a solid piece of glass, while the control surface surrounding it can be finished in open-pore walnut with a lovely woody texture. That’s not just for appearance, either, as it allows haptic selection of core menu items – and it’s illuminated at night.

The seat upholstery is really interesting, regardless of whether you stick with the standard synthetic leather, go for the lovely microfibre material we tested, or splash out on real leather. We found the seats themselves to be really comfortable after a long day at the wheel, but lacking adjustment in the length of the base, which is a shame. Otherwise, there’s plenty of fine-tuning of the driving position available, although there’s a significant blind spot in terms of the ‘over the shoulder’ view. 

There’s good space in the back for three adults – and possibly even three child seats. The rear of the console between the front seats is cleverly shaped to make extra space for feet, while the floor is completely flat all the way across. Boot capacity is an unimpressive 500 litres, but at least the back seats split 40:20:40 and fold forwards. Do that and the maximum volume increases to 1,750 litres.

WHAT IS IT LIKE TO DRIVE?

The iX is a very heavy vehicle – getting on for 2,500kg in most guises. Nonetheless, the chassis design and tuning do an excellent job of hiding that from the driver. The location of the heavy battery pack in the floor also means a low centre of gravity, which works with the wide track and long wheelbase to ensure that the iX feels nothing like the company’s other SUVs from behind the wheel. It’s much smoother, more refined and more car-like than any of them. 

While comfort and refinement are its strong points, it’s also incredibly fast and good to drive. The xDrive50’s electric motors make up to 523hp and 765Nm of torque, which is a lot no matter how much it weighs. The delivery of that performance is smooth by default and a little more urgent in the Sport driving mode. On the derestricted Autobahn in Germany, it accelerated rapidly to its limited top speed of 200km/h. And it was quite happy to cruise along at that speed, too, feeling stable, secure and even relatively quiet with little in the way of road noise.

Away from the motorway, it’s just as impressive, soaking up bumps effortlessly while still being surprisingly fun to drive. The steering is particularly well-judged, and the iX is keen to enter a tight curve. It feels perfectly balanced in a corner unless you provoke it with sudden changes of direction or application of the brakes, which is when the weight makes itself known. Nonetheless, it’s never anything other than composed, with super-quick traction and stability control to keep things tidy if the variable all-wheel-drive system runs out of ideas. 

The only thing to note is that our test car featured an enormous number of options, including air suspension, adaptive damping and rear-wheel steering, all of which undoubtedly enhanced the driving experience. It will be interesting to test it again on Irish roads without some of those extras. 

In terms of range, our test in a warm climate (often travelling much faster than is allowed in Ireland) suggests that 500km should be entirely achievable by most drivers. We saw an average energy consumption figure of about 23kWh/100km.

WHICH ONE SHOULD I BUY?

All versions of the BMW iX are exceptionally well-equipped, but there are loads of tempting options and option packs to make the car even more special. Along with the xDrive50 version we’ve featured here is the entry-level xDrive40 model. That gets a smaller battery and a less powerful rear motor, but maximum figures of 326hp, 630Nm are enough for anyone, while the official range for that version can be as high as 414km. It’s usefully cheaper to buy, too, starting at €85,815. That’s less than any diesel X5, incidentally. 

IS IT SAFE?

The iX hasn’t yet been tested by Euro NCAP, but we’d wager it will perform well. Its structure is particularly stiff and strong, using a mix of materials, including carbon fibre, to balance that requirement with an attempt to keep the weight down. As standard, there’s a wealth of useful active and passive safety systems included in the price and other high-tech driver assistance items available for a little more. 

The iX is a refined and, very fast EV SUV.

VERDICT:

Yes, it’s a bit ugly, but the BMW iX is also the most polished large electric SUV yet launched.

Spec Check:

BMW iX xDrive50
Engine: two electric motors
Power: 523PS
Torque: 765Nm
0-100km/h: 4.6 seconds
Range: 549-630km
Top Speed: 200 km/h
Transmission: 1-speed automatic
Co2: 0 g/km
Annual Motor Tax: €120
Luggage Capacity: 500-litres with the seats up, which can extend out to 1,750-litres with the rear seats folded. 
Price as tested: €112,895
AA Ireland: September 2021 

For more information: www.bmw.ie

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