There are plenty of reasons to get the first-ever BMW iX. The one reason not to… well, it’s not their fault.
Many might know that BMW earned its street cred as a performance brand, namely through its M models such as the iconic M1, M3 and M5. Since then, the M fairy dust has been sprinkled across the other models in varying amounts. So depending on the customer’s budget or inclination, they can dial in just the right amount of performance from the M sub-brand into their Beemer.
Much of the same can be said about BMW i. This sub-brand arguably sits at the opposite end of the Bavarian carmaker’s portfolio with its EV models at the leading end followed by Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicles (PHEVs) and mild hybrids carrying the i sub-brand to lesser degrees.
Although there have been a flurry of electrified models such as the BMW iX3, up-coming BMW i4, and its corporate cousin, the MINI Electric, these cars are adaptations of Internal Combustion Engine (ICE) models fitted with EV drivetrains.
So from a brand snob purist standpoint, true-blue BMW i cars are an extremely rare occurrence.
These are models that are built as EVs from the outset and do not exist in any other version. So far, the only models have been the i3 in 2013 and this car, the BMW iX. Okay, I’d allow the i8 supercar as well, though it technically is a PHEV. But at least it was a model unto itself.
what makes the BMW iX special?
Any way you slice it, the BMW iX is a very special car and looks it, inside and out. To appreciate this car’s design is to look at it within its context.
Positioned at the leading edge of the i sub-brand, the BMW iX needs to push the envelope and make a statement in the same way the couture collection house defines its style.
If this is too much for you to take, wait a while and your eyes will either come around to it or perhaps prefer the iX3 or upcoming iX5 if you prefer a ‘prêt-à-porter’ BMW EV that’s more conventional looking.
That said, slim headlights with a large oversized ‘grille’ make for an unfortunate combination that makes its design hard to like. Interestingly, that faux grille (because an EV doesn’t need an air intake) is self-healing. Scratches from flying stones or debris magically disappear after a few minutes under the hair dryer.
Depending on your disposition, colour selection becomes critical to either play up or tone down the accents of this car.
Luckily, there’s eight colors to choose from, and Storm Bay, a cloudy shade of grey would be my choice. Anything darker seems like an apology for the car’s design accents by trying to conceal them, and going lighter feels like forcing it onto on-lookers – like rowdy tourists dressed head-to-toe in Louis Vuitton large-monogrammed tracksuits and hats…
There’s actually plenty else to like about the BMW iX. Its size for starters, seems about right for a car meant for city living. It sits noticeably closer to the ground than a BMW X5 and so appears to be more compact. However, it is more spacious inside. This Tardis-like effect adds to its appeal.
Personally, the other highlight is the frameless windows. These look classy, but are increasingly rare in four-door cars. Also hard to come by are rear wipers that are hinged from the top to be neatly concealed by the roof spoiler. Sadly, the BMW iX doesn’t have this and instead has its rear wiper stuck on the bottom like the majority of SUVs and hatchbacks.
Perhaps the most refreshing exterior detail about the BMW iX are its door handles which are flush with the sheetmetal. Instead of pop-up levers or something that could break a long nail, you insert your fingers into a void and lightly press a rubberised button as your hand pulls the door open. Although this is effectively found in the hatchbacks and tailgates of many cars, applying it to the doors makes total sense for a simple, yet elegant solution.
Another trick BMW has missed on the iX is not including a ‘frunk’. This feature essentially utilises the space beneath the bonnet for additional luggage space. Its effectively a trunk (American for boot) in the front, hence the portmanteau ‘frunk’.
Besides adding to practicality, the frunk is existentially important for an EV to emphasise that it doesn’t have or need an engine. This is something that Tesla has understood perhaps better than any other carmaker, with every model in its lineup having one. Other EVs with frunks include the Audi e-tron GT, the Porsche Taycan, and the just-landed-in-Singapore Polestar 2.
Instead, the bonnet of the iX is sealed and the BMW badge on its nose pops up when pressed to reveal a filling point for the windscreen washer fluid.
The flamboyant exterior styling of the BMW iX continues into its cabin. In addition to the 12.3-inch curved infotainment touch-sensitive display that takes centre stage, there is a conspicuous absence of buttons and switches on the dashboard – 50 per cent less to be exact.
This is the result of a technological principal that BMW is embracing, called “shy tech”. This is a term which we will hear more often. In a nutshell, shy tech is all about presenting information or a function at the right time and receding into the background when it is not needed.
Warning lights that are visible only when they come on, is an example of shy tech. Moving forward, it will be more common for controls, switches and touch panels to be disguised as plain wood, stone or metal panels until their hidden functions light up for the user to activate.
In the BMW iX, an example of this can be seen in the redesigned iDrive panel on the front armrest. Instead of the usual myriad of buttons clustered around the rotary controller, all the touch-sensitive controls are hidden in the seamless open pore wood panel.
Continental Automotive, the major player in supplying Human-Machine Interface (HMI) tech in cars, is spearheading shy tech, erm, technology. One of its goals is designing even larger panels for cars to be launched over the next few years that could even feature hidden touchscreen displays, so that hopefully, we can once again look forward to car interiors with clean lines that aren’t dominated by screens and tablets.
The interior of the iX looks more like that of a concept car rather than that of a standard BMW. That is precisely what we should expect of an EV, especially when at this stage, this would be the first foray into electrified motoring for many owners.
If I were to make the switch to EVs I expect my car to look and feel futuristic. The i3 is another case in point. Although it has been in production for nearly a decade, and may be feeling its age in terms of range and charging performance, it still felt wonderfully futuristic in a refreshing and otherworldly way.
Even so, there were touch points in the i3 that anyone familiar with BMW interiors could point out parts that were shared with the ICE models of its time. The iX on the other hand, does a much more convincing job of looking bespoke.
The Crafted Clarity option package is a strong proponent of that, and is definitely one to go for. Many of the touch points, such as the iDrive controller, gear selector, and seat adjustment controls, are fashioned from crystal that feel like you’re touching bits of jewelry when operating them.
The seats are also all-new, looking more like lounge chairs than something that belongs in a car. They’re super comfy, yet supportive for long drives. Apparently, you can also opt for speakers hidden in the headrests in the name of shy tech…
If you’re shopping for an EV, there’s a good chance that you’re also motivated by environmental reasons to make the switch. To this end, BMW has gone to great lengths to ensure their EVs are built to the most ethical standards.
For example, the iX’s motors does away with rare earth metals, and the company stresses that any mineral intensive materials such as cobalt and lithium are purchased directly from controlled, trustworthy sources.
The cabin meanwhile, contains recycled materials such as old fishing nets, plastics, and polyester, while the leather in the cabin is tanned with olive extracts instead of traditional chemicals. Something the occupants are reminded of by the olive leaves logo embossed on the dashboard.
The relaxing cabin ambience is topped-off with an electro-chromatic glass roof that goes from clear to frosted at a touch of a button. Although this ceiling impressively kept out the heat from the Sun, I still couldn’t help but wish for a fabric roller to block out the glare entirely.
The only other gripe is the hexagonal steering wheel. Although BMW claims that it is shaped to ease access and give the driver a better view of the curved display, it feels disruptive when you let the steering self-centre, after a U-turn for example. However, since it adds to a futuristic sense of occasion, I’d be willing to suffer in silence for style in the same way ladies put up with stilettos to look good…
the xDrive40 variant.
Although BMW makes two versions of the BMW iX, the entry-level xDrive40 version is currently the only one on sale in Singapore at the moment. Powered by two electric motors – 190kW (258hp) for the front axle and 200kw (272hp) for the rear, it is apparently good for a claimed range of 372 to 425km.
The more powerful and longer range xDrive50 version is apparently under consideration to be imported as well. That variant packs 190kW (258hp) for the front axle and 230kW (313hp) for the rear. Not only will it do the 0-100km/h sprint in 4.1 seconds (1.5 seconds faster than the xDrive40 tested here), the ’50 has a larger Lithium-ion battery (303Ah v 232Ah) that allows it a longer operational range of 550 to 631km.
For everyday driving however, the BMW iX xDrive40 is more than capable in the range and performance departments to get around in the Lion City in effortless comfort and ease.
Although fitted with the larger 22-inch wheel option (standard is 21-inch), the lower profile sidewalls did nothing to sully the iX’s unflappable ride quality, even over uneven bits of tarmac patched over by on-going construction throughout the CBD.
EVs generally don’t give us motoring journalists much to go on when it comes to reporting on how they drive. Their silence, smoothness and linearity feel too homogenous to render any meaningful feedback or sensory stimulus that sets one apart car apart from another.
To this point, the iX was not much different, although BMW engineers are starting to get the hang of EVs, with this car as well as the newly facelifted starting to improve in the steering feel department.
This is augmented by the adaptive energy recuperation system known as Smart Drivetrain. When the gear selector is left in D, the Adaptive Recuperation is automatically selected. This uses a combination of GPS mapping and on-board distance sensors to vary the amount of regenerative braking. When you’re coasting on the expressway for example, the system lets the car roll almost without resistance. Approach a corner, red traffic light or a slower vehicle in front, and the system slows more aggressively which charges the battery more quickly. It feels intuitive and seems to predict your driving habits reliably.
the EV conundrum.
If you’re sold on the EV proposition, then there’s really no reason not to get the BMW iX. The issues of a lack of infrastructure are also less likely to be a real obstacle to ownership as the latest EVs like this have a range that’s comparable to that of a petrol-powered ICE car.
They also don’t take that long to charge if you plug into a DC50 or DC100 charging point. The iX xDrive40 should take around 90 minutes to charge from 0 to 80 percent, about the time it takes to get a meal and do some grocery shopping.
Additionally, local BMW dealer Performance Motors is offering buyers a range of charging options: fitting a BMW Wallbox at your home or office where possible, or a public charging package that includes a 3-year/10,000 kWh subscription to the network of Shell Recharge stations. By BMW’s estimates, that would translate to approximately 60,000km of usage or $6,000 worth of charging over 3 years.
While charging prices are still approximately half that of petrol, you’re still not out of the proverbial woods. That’s because of Singapore’s onerous road tax system: to keep a BMW iX xDrive40 on the road, the LTA will relieve its owner of $5,282 a year in road tax.
What really makes the matter confounding is that the tax is calculated on the individual outputs of the front and rear motors. In this case that works out to a total of 390 kW (530hp). But here’s the rub… It is one thing if you could access this power and actually use it. In reality however, this is impossible.
That’s because, for engineering reasons that are beyond me to properly explain, BMW quotes a combined system output of 240kW (326hp) that is all a driver could ever only access. In other words, the LTA is relieving $1,501 from all BMW iX owners for 150kW (204hp) that will never see the light of day!
As much as I love the BMW iX for what it is and what it represents, the principal of paying for horsepower that I can never utilise would still gnaw at me. But that’s just my opinion and if you disagree or don’t care, then good for you as this clears the way towards a very likeable car.
If you have your heart set on the BMW iX but have been put off by this fly in the ointment, it might be worth persuading your dealer to sell you the all-singing, all-dancing xDrive50 version. When it comes to the road tax, you’d only be paying $470 more per year.
Interestingly, there’s also a smaller output disparity to pay for. Just 35kW between combined output and system output which on principal makes it easier to swallow.
Last of all, if this taxation system still grinds your gears, then a single-motor BMW iX3 will serve you nicely.
BMW iX xDrive40.
Engine: Electric drive, 2 electric motors. Front: 190kW (258hp) Rear: 200kW (272hp)
Power: 240kW (326hp) maximum system output
0-100km/h: 6.1 seconds
Top speed: 200km/h (electronically-limited)
Battery: 232Ah Lithium-ion
Max charge speed: 150kW DC
Range: 372 to 425km
CEVS: A2 ($15,000 rebate inclusive in the price)
Price: $404,888 with COE
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