BMW has come out swinging with the iX xDrive50, part of its electric iX range. This SUV is a big hitter from the Bavarian marque, which has created a car of radical design, luxurious interior and next-level tech through the clever BMW operating system 8.
The iX 50 has serious heft – it nudges 5 metres long and is 2.2 metres wide mirror to mirror. It weighs in at 2.5 tonnes. Arguably it’s the only car in the current BMW range that is ballsy enough to wear the oversized kidney-shaped grille with aplomb. But this is no ordinary grille – its flat, gloss surface houses camera, radar and sensor tech.
The exterior takes some getting used to. The BMW design boffins call it a “monolith” and it’s all hard, clean, angular lines with a dash of carbon fibre in the bodywork. First impressions? It’s a head-turner, for sure, but despite its razor-sharp cheekbones, it somehow doesn’t quite win in the looks department.
Get inside, though, and the interior refinement is a surprising contrast to the hulking bodywork. It’s a six-star hotel suite atop monster 22-inch alloys.
The seats are ergonomic and generously quilted in sustainably sourced olive-oil tanned leather, with massage function and active ventilation. Four-zone air conditioning keeps you feeling just right. There’s leg room galore, both front and rear, and a panoramic glass roof that electrochromatically shades you with the touch of a button should the sun beat too hot upon your head. It’s all rather impressive.
BMW has employed what it calls “shy tech” in the iX – basically, it’s gone minimalist and pared back unnecessary elements, instead introducing hidden speakers, flush buttons and recessed vents. The idea here is the tech “shows” itself when needed, which looks great but can make things like working out how to open the door for the first time an unnecessary trial. BMW’s operating system 8 runs things behind the scenes including over-the-air updates and a 5G hotspot.
A curved dashboard screen houses all the bells and whistles – it’s split into a 12.3-inch digital instrument panel, which tucks in behind the hexagonal steering wheel, and a 14.9-inch infotainment touchscreen.
There’s so much going on, dare I say it feels a little over-teched for the average driver. Happily, the set-up on the steering wheel goes a long way to simplifying the process and there’s a handy i-drive controller on the centre console which can toggle between modes – good for when you need to crank up the (optional) 30-speaker 1615-watt Bowers & Wilkins Diamond surround sound to 11 in a hurry.
The heads-up display gets a big thumbs-up – it’s comprehensive, highly functional and the driver’s friend – but as seems to be the way with many of the voice-control functions on the market, “Hey, BMW” misses the mark a bit. Maybe it didn’t like my Kiwi twang, but it was uncooperative and we fell into a stony silence.
But let’s get to the good stuff. Driving the iX is akin to steering a large, supremely comfortable sofa. The ride is smooth, thanks to its all-wheel drive and adaptive two-axle air suspension. Although this is a tall vehicle, the 650kg, 112kWh lithium-ion battery pack in the floor gives it a low centre of gravity and the car sticks to the road like glue. Not even State Highway 2’s pock-marked surface between Mangatāwhiri heading towards Rotorua could rock this boat.
Electro synchronous twin motors (one front, one rear) generate 385kW of power and 765Nm of torque. The iX does a respectable 0-100km/h in 4.6 seconds. On the open road, this is a fast car, and overtaking is a mere trifle, even in Eco mode.
Range anxiety? No, sir. With 570km to play with and an excellent auto-mode regenerative braking function, you’re home and hosed.
Charging times on the iX are about 8½ hours per 100km on a household socket, or 80% of the range in about 40 minutes at a public high-power charging station.
All the expected safety features – steering and lane-guidance assist, emergency steer assist, lane-keeping assistant with side collision warning – are present and correct. Its parking assist uses a number of cameras to give you a 3D display of objects around you, which is handy given you wouldn’t want to ding a $219,000 car.
The iX xDrive50 sits bang in the middle of the iX range, starting at $197,900; you can shell out an additional $21,250 for the optional extras. The $169,600 iX40 is the base model and the super-fast, super-expensive iX M60 sits at the top end, which will start at $238,900 when it goes on the market later this year.
Love or loathe its appearance, the iX is a fantastic car to drive, and although there’s a confusion of tech, this is the prototype from which BMW will assess what to filter down to its future vehicle ranges.