From weird and wacky, to plainly plugly, Iain Robertson has been seriously concerned about the design direction being adopted by the Munich-based carmaker, although the latest news about iX seems to suggest that his concerns were unfounded.
Lots of major brands make strategic changes to their corporate messages. They may be wrapping, or packaging, or a significant direction-change in advertising tone. Yet, altering iconography can be immensely disruptive. While the plasticised sleeve wrapping used currently on the best-selling Mars Bar gives an impression that the contents are generous, we all know that the archetypal Mars count-line is but a fraction of the size it used to be in the glued paper period. However, the brand’s gold and red script and the core ingredients are virtually unaltered, because Mars Group knows what happened when Coca-Cola altered its recipe (its business was severely dented).
The motorcar industry relies very heavily on iconography. Vauxhall continues to reshape its ‘Griffin’ logo ever-so-gently; Volkswagen recently slimmed down its ‘VW’ but you have to look closely to judge by how much; Renault has modernised its ‘Lozenge’ significantly over the years but the message remains the same. However, while BMW has slimmed down its ‘Double-Kidney’ radiator grilles, to suit sportier variants and its more recent trip into electrification, you may recall the shock and horror that I outlined in my recent report on the new M3 and M4 models, both of which carry very jagged versions of the former smooth ‘kidney’ outlines, and this after complaining about the sorely enlarged ‘schnozzles’ used on most of the firm’s SUV ranges.
Of course, it could be that my early ‘double-takes’ are now slowly transmogrifying into revised brand acceptance (time can be a great healer…) but, when I first saw the new ‘Double Kidney’ frontage for the latest iX model, rather than recoiling in shock, I found that it seemed well-matched to the conservatively attractive shape of this future model. It still looks odd but it is also, somehow, right.
BMW states that the exterior of the BMW iX represents a distinctive re-imagining of the proportions of its large SUVs. In fact, iX is comparable with the BMW X5, in both length and width, and is almost the same height as the X6 due to its coupe-like roofline. The sizes of its wheels reflect those of the huge X7. However, the minimal use of character lines, allied to generously shaped contours, conjures up a sense of BMW assurance. Crisp, clear and structural, with more rectangular contours around the wheel arches, it possesses design features that contribute to a surprisingly imposing overall appearance. The iX is unmistakably BMW.
Of course, at the front end, the relative flexibility of the signature radiator grilles has been altered to a more vertical surface that is now blanked-off (as an EV, while its battery pack still needs cooling, it does not require the same scale of temperature management as the fossil-fuelled alternatives). In fact, its functionality has been repurposed to that of an ‘intelligence panel’. I know. It sounds like marketing twaddle but stick with it for a moment, or two. What sits behind that radically altered grille are cameras, radar and other sensors that are just about visible through its translucent cover. It means that there is no need for ugly oblongs, odd circles and slots for technology that have led countless buyers to question what they are. Personally, I believe it to be both sensible and an elegant solution and, no, BMW has not paid me to say so!
Other design aspects of the new iX include the slimmest headlamp units ever to grace a series-produced BMW; flush-fitted door openers that operate at the light depression of a button; frameless side windows; a tailgate that has no separation joints and extends across the car’s beam-end; and extremely slim taillights. Try not to say it too quickly but this radical shift is known as ‘shy tech’, which I think is ‘shy-tot’. The windscreen washer fluid cap is located beneath the BMW roundel on the bonnet, while the similar roundel at the rear integrates the rear-view camera. The object of the exercise is to keep the technology in the background, as discreetly as possible, to only become apparent as and when relevant functions are called into action. I believe it to be highly intelligent.
The intelligence continues with the body structure, which features an aluminium spaceframe substructure, complete with an innovative carbon-fibre roll-cage. Completely flat-floored, the amount of cabin space is substantial for up to five occupants. However, the construction possesses an extremely high torsional rigidity that benefits BMW’s poster-boy agility, while maximising occupant protection and minimising overall weight, for higher mileage expectations and reduced wear and tear.
It needs to be highlighted that the iX represents the fifth generation of BMW eDrive technology (two electric motors, the power electronics, the charging technology and the high-voltage battery). Sustainability figures predominantly, without the use of critical rare earth materials. It develops a maximum output of more than 500bhp, which is enough to blitz the 0-60mph sprint in around 4.5s. Yet, a development aim was for the BMW iX to post an exceptionally low combined electric power consumption figure for its segment, of less than 21kWh per 100kms (WLTP test cycle).
Its gross energy (100kWh) should enable the high-voltage battery to provide a range of over 375 miles. With DC fast charging (at up to 200kW), over 75 miles of extra range can be accessed in around ten minutes. Conventional services will provide the usual 10% to 80% recharge of full capacity in around 40 minutes (11 hours via a domestic wallbox). BMW’s aspiration is that the electricity will come from renewable sources.
Unsurprisingly, a new technology toolkit makes its debut in the BMW iX and provides a platform for greater progress in both automated driving and digital services. The level of computing power has been developed to process 20 times the data volume of previous models, which doubles the amount of data from vehicle sensors that can be processed than was previously possible.
Conclusion: It will not be a surprise that pricing for the BMW iX is unavailable at this stage. Yet, it is amazing that we have so much information on a new model that is still a full year away from launch.