As the Bavarian upmarket contender continues to march towards its all-electric future, Iain Robertson fears that he might be getting the defining differentiation that he had hoped would separate fossil from electric fuelled vehicles from the outset.
The creators of the Dan Dare cartoon series in The Eagle comic (published by IPC, from 1950 to 1994) painted a future of jet-propelled and multi-functional flying cars possessing distinct Americana influences. While automotive autonomy might delve into some of that dated futurism, in reality the motor industry has not moved forwards by much more than a few tentative steps over the past seventy years.
Both Honda (Insight) and Toyota (Prius) used the New Millennium to launch their respective oddball petrol/electric hybrids, receiving little more than a few murmurs of muted approval. I expected more clamour but both carmakers reined-in their adventurous offerings on the back of advanced antipathy. As you may already know, I ran a long-term test example of the streamlined and very forward-thinking Insight. The strictly two-seat coupe did attract a lot of attention, often accompanied by non-comprehending sarcasm. While I adored it, simultaneously accepting its relative frailty, the new car scene shunned it, placing trade values of less than 25% on its posted £18k price tag, when only nine months of age…a price that Honda admitted shockingly was underwritten by half of the original per car investment.
Under that blanket of disapprobation, my fascination was fuelled by the car’s near-radical approach to aerodynamic efficacy and the extensive use of sustainable materials. While the Insight was fairly conventional to drive, it still demanded a fresh approach to maximise its intentions. With full as opposed to partial electrification now very much on the cards, in most respects, I have been thoroughly disappointed by the rash of mega-priced EV hypercars from completely unknown producers, most of which look confusingly like each other. Despite a volume manufacturer rush to electrify its line-ups, a duplicitous fear of losing brand identity has led to a genuine lack of adventure and we are having electrified versions of much of the same rolling stock being foisted upon us without apology.
Although I have railed against BMW for the most recent plugliness of its hybrid and EV offerings, the iX is a 5.0m hatchback that warrants redefinition. Park it alongside a fossilised 5-Series and the large saloon looks compact. Yet, like the teensy Insight and, of course, BMW’s own i3 model that emerged in 2013, iX is every bit as radical as it needs to be, to avoid denting a substantial brand image, yet to introduce us to previously unseen and unfelt technology.
It all starts with the ‘waterfall’ profile and polygonally rejigged ‘Double Kidney’ front grille. Like design-led dystopia, BMW is shedding its organic bespokeness in favour of inescapable origami sharpness. That grille does not allow air to pass. A few decades ago, BMW stated that headlight structures were excessive, without reducing their dimensions on its cars. Yet, both front and rear illuminators on the iX are slimmer than ever, as though the oracle is suddenly coming true.
The polygon is repeated inside the iX, with the car’s steering wheel. At least it is easier to wield than BLMC’s ‘Quartic’ offering on the Austin All-agro, even though it possesses an aftermarket appeal and might better suit a hopped-up 1990s Nissan Skyline. As for the ‘floating’ instrument panel, with its anything but floating Forth Bridge support structure, its blend of AI-predictive, user-programmable, touchscreen practicality stretches digitised displays into more desirable territory that is better suited to advanced connectivity and ADAS like never before…even though it does seem to be Apple-reliant.
Projecting a soundscape composed by ‘Miami Vice’ title music producer, Hans Zimmer, does sound intriguing but is intended to add a sonorous quality to an otherwise characterless and silent cabin. Yet, the iX’s interior is more of a capacious, flat-floor, lounge experience, improving on that already extolled by the i3 model, beneath which is the battery pack.
Having learnt extensively from the past eight years of i3 experiences, combining a sturdy aluminium substructure with a blend of polyamide plastics and carbon fibre panels helps to provide a lower centre of gravity and a valiant attempt to cut the overall weight penalty of the BEV aspects. The iX lacks the rougher edges of i3 that are visible in the latter’s door shuts and, while the upholstery (woven, or faux hide) is clearly recycled and intentionally sustainable, it has been educated to be warmer to the touch and less sweaty than before, while being fixed in place more securely.
Range anxiety is also alleviated by a posted 380mls from the punchier iX xDrive50 version, although the xDrive40 model pictured here still musters 257mls. The equivalent and respective bhp ratings are 523 and 326bhp, despatching 0-60mph in 4.3s and 5.8s, both topping out at a restricted 124mph. The xDrive infers 4WD stability and traction. While the customary 10-80% rapid charge still demands 30-35mins, the 50 boasts a 102.5kWh battery, compared with the 40’s 71kWh, which explains partly the performance differential.
Defeating the Laws of Physics is the primary aim of all EV manufacturers and BMW continues to refine its weighty BEV dynamics to those of fossil-fuelled forebears. Aided by the low centre of gravity and a 0.26 drag coefficient, which is impressive for such a chunky machine, the iX’s fairly conventional suspension set-up is damped competently, with both ride comfort and a sporting edge in mind. Rest assured, BMW is getting much better at achieving the commensurate balance and retaining vital driver feedback than many of its rivals.
However, iX is still recognisably and importantly BMW, which ensures that there is a price to be paid, with the iX (40) weighing-in at £69,905 in regular Sport trim, the M Sport alternative costing £3,000 more. Opt for the iX xDrive50 and you will need to find £91,905 for the Sport variant, the M Sport carrying a £3,000 premium. Why there exists a £22k difference between them does seem unjustifiable.
Conclusion: Believe it, or not, an even costlier and punchier xDrive60 model will join the iX ranks in a year’s time. BMW is trying very hard to retain brand character in a bland electrified future and I am starting to perceive the merits.