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Latest Chinese-built BMW iX3 reverts to understandable ‘design normality’

IAIN ROBERTSON 

BMW-iX3-5
BMW-iX3

Having complained bitterly about German brand BMW’s shockingly poor styling stance of late, Iain Robertson admits to eyebrow-raising surprise at the new electric iX3, which seems to be only slightly altered over its forebear conventional X3 model.

Mainstream brands and models thereof are forced to walk a razor-edged tightrope in order to satisfy consumer demands. Change the wrapping and the antipathy begins, even though the recipe for what lies within might be radically upgraded, to which timely reaction is often more considered. While this situation arises for almost any consumer item, from chocolate bars to white goods, the emotional links that are developed by items automotive can prove to be highly impactful.

Having delved heavily into BMW’s styling programme with almost every test drive of the past year, I am not going to repeat the process for fear of rearing tedium. However, what I shall posit is that the BMW X3 model has been a stalwart product for the upmarket Teutonic brand virtually since its introduction…although we need to ignore the first generation, in typical BMW style, due to Munich’s reliance on customer feedback that invariably shapes the Mark Two variants and the future direction of that model. The company is renowned for it.

BMW-iX3-6
BMW-iX3

Yet, away from the minutiae of aerodynamic fripperies, technological enhancements and inevitable bling, brand recognition remains key to brand success. While BMW has managed to escape criticism of its traditional blue, white and black propellor roundel, which had been thinned out a la VW roundel for a brief period, all supporting materials for the new iX3 carry the traditional roundel, as though the alteration may have been little more than a printer’s faux pas.

More vital is the ‘double kidney’ radiator grille. Such devices have a practical role to fulfil. Even though BEVs can afford to ditch the air-cooling potential, relying on a combination of both forced air induction and cooling circuits for overheated battery packs, the traditional grille is a positive sign of brand integrity. BMW has already proven that it can use the shell to conceal sensors, cameras and infra-red technology. However, corrupting its profile, by forging a new outline altogether, in the process diminishing a hard-earned reputation, is simply not advisable. While I had anticipated that BMW’s next new model, which would be invariably in its growing family of electric vehicles, would follow the more angular and thoroughly detestable ‘uni-kidney’ shape applied to other recent range newcomers, that of the iX3 is a slightly larger, rather pleasant but more familiar shell. Perhaps BMW has reflected on its perceived error?

In fact, apart from the tiny swig on the electric blue paint bottle, which results in differentiating coloured panels below the bumpers and within the cockpit, there are few clues as to the electrically motivated drivetrain inherent to iX3. I wonder if these minor distractions, which might as well include the lower case ‘i’ designation, will disappear, once BEVs take over totally. They serve some purpose at present but will be utterly worthless otherwise. In truth, I place a high value on the relative ‘ordinariness’ of the iX3, even though I also welcome radical styling departures for models of greater interest.

BMW-iX3-7
BMW-iX3

The new iX3 builds on its profile as a trailblazer for a fast-changing era of electric mobility. It is the first model to feature fifth-generation BMW eDrive technology and its advanced overall coherence enables an unique but essential combination of sporting prowess (it would not be a BMW without it), exceptional efficiency (for the same reasoning) and long-distance capability, with a range of up to 286mls in the WLTP test cycle. Naturally, driven judiciously, the iX3 should top 300mls with relative ease at urban speeds, although you can expect a safe range of around 230mls, if pounding up and down the motorway network.

Developing around 286bhp, accompanied by 295lbs ft of torque, the electric components enable a 0-60mph blast in a modest 6.5s, the iX3 being restricted to a top whack of around 112mph, both as a safety measure for the integrity of its battery pack, as well as complying with a more recent EU directive about wayward top speed claims by carmakers. Unsurprisingly, these figures are competitive with the rest of the market.

The car’s high-voltage battery has a gross energy content of 80kWh and its Combined Charging Unit enables direct current (DC) fast-charging (10-80% in around 40mins) at a rate of up to 150kW. For emergency use, a 10mins fast charge adds around 62mls of range. Typical of BMW’s attention to detail, the electric motor enables the use of rare earth metals to be avoided in its manufacturing process and there is extensive use of secondary, more sustainable raw materials instead. BMW Group, probably through its Chinese connection, oversees a monitored procurement process for cobalt and lithium for its high-voltage batteries.

BMW-iX3-8
BMW-iX3

For the UK market, the M package is now standard, although there is also a pair of equipment lines to choose from: Inspiring includes metallic paintwork, adaptive suspension, automatic tailgate operation, a panoramic glass roof, electrically adjustable seats, a sports leather steering wheel, a storage package and a three-zone automatic climate control system, with pre-heating and pre-conditioning function. On the other hand, Impressive adds 20.0-inch diameter light-alloy wheels, acoustic glazing, Vernasca leather trim, BMW Head-Up Display, Harman Kardon Surround Sound System and BMW IconicSounds Electric.

It will come as no surprise that BMW has loaded its new iX3 with the latest ADAS equipment and connectivity of the highest order. The mildly revised interior centres on multi-functional digi-screens, one atop the centre stack, the other ahead of the driver. There is good space utilisation within the cabin and plenty of storage options, while the boot is of good proportions for load-lugging.

Conclusion:       Whether choosing an iX3 for business, or private use, its price tag is typically BEV loaded to £59,730, with first deliveries taking place around December this year, if you order now. I reckon that it looks good enough to succeed.

BMW-iX3-9
BMW-iX3