The BMW iX is – in my opinion – currently the most important vehicle in BMW’s line-up. Everything points to it being the benchmark for the future of the brand. It’s BMW’s first all-electric venture since the i3, and a traditional OEM’s first real response to Tesla’s Model X.
It is well known that the BMW iX is based on the Vision iNext Concept. But this project is in the works well before its debut in 2018. Impressively, it also largely lives up to Klaus Fröhlich’s promises: 60 mph in about four seconds, mostly autonomous driving, and a range of over 500 miles.
Even more surprising is how much of the BMW iX resembles the concept – it comes complete with its array of “shy technology”, illuminated crystal switchgear and exposed carbon fiber door sills. That’s all well and good, but those gimmicks, combined with its otherworldly looks, left me skeptical that it had even the slightest possibility of driving like a BMW.
Luckily I was wrong.
I just described the BM iX as “extraterrestrial”, and I’ll stick to that. It’s not quite ugly, and thankfully it’s not boring like a Tesla. But it’s not majestic like the Lucid Air, nor does it look as nice as a Rivian. It’s almost like a classic BMW designer has watched too many Predator movies. And while it’s jarring at first, making sure you see it every day for a month and a half really isn’t that bad.
The proportions remain a bit odd; because it’s longer than you expect, and not as long as you think it should be. The iX looks like nothing else on the road, and I suppose that’s a selling point for some. Most importantly, that means it’s definitely recognizable as a BMW, just not in the way we’re used to.
Sitting in the BMW iX is luxurious to say the least – and that goes for both the front and rear. In the front you have all the luxury you could wish for. Heated, ventilated and massaging seats are all available and are all controlled via the iDrive 8 screen (read: no hard buttons). This particular model doesn’t have massage seats, but another iX I’ve ridden does — and it’s a lot more configurable than in the past.
iDrive 8 has a similar learning curve as iDrive 7 did when it debuted — a little confusing at first, but veterans of older BMW iDrive systems will figure it all out in a few days.
The rear of the BMW iX is also a great place to spend time. Designed from the ground up as an electric vehicle means no transmission tunnel, and that means the iX is a true five-seater. Another luxurious touch is the “lounge-inspired” (according to a BMW source) rear seat – the upholstery extends along the seat and into the curve of the B-pillar, allowing rear passengers to sit at an angle if desired.
Finally, something I rarely mention about cars: the sound system. According to the numbers, the optional Bowers and Wilkins system offers up to 30 speakers, two subwoofers, four bass shakers and 1615 watts. It all adds up to “4D Audio” offering True Surround with headrest speakers in an audio display that would make the Pimp My Ride guys blush. It’s $3,400 and I think they could charge more. It delivers clear and deep sound quality and I will recommend it to anyone who asks. Harman Kardon’s base unit isn’t necessarily bad, but you’ll be disappointed if you experience the improved Bowers and Wilkins system.
Driving the iX
And if you’re considering the iX, you might as well jump for the aforementioned Bowers and Wilkins, because it’s not like there’s an intoxicating engine nut to compete with. BMW’s “Iconic Sounds Electric” is fun, adding some Jetsons-esque warble to acceleration.
But that’s literally the least interesting part of the driving experience.
Both iX models I’ve ridden come equipped with 22-inch wheels and the Dynamic Handling Package (ZDH). ZHD adds a unique two-axle air suspension and Integral Active Steering (read: four-wheel steering). Fortunately, ZDH seems to live up to its name and the iX drives like a real sporty commercial vehicle. Gone is the artificial heaviness of some recent BMWs, replaced by light yet responsive and communicative steering. The four-wheel steering makes steering the iX around a parking space a breeze and allows for effortless lane changes at speed.
In fact, the iX is one of the best driving BMWs currently available, and I’m not quite sure why or how that is. It is responsive but light, dynamic but not harsh. The low center of gravity combined with the four-wheel steering masks the significant weight of the vehicle, and the air suspension in ZDH is electronically adjustable for each wheel.
The BMW iX will also drop itself 10mm at speeds over 87 miles per hour, making it more aerodynamic. That is doubly smart, since you now theoretically increase both the range and the driving dynamics. The brakes are adequate – I hope the iX M60 gets a little more in that area – but otherwise no complaints. The BMW iX drives better than I had hoped – and much better than I ever expected.
So far I have put almost 700 miles on this iX model. It is fitted with the 22” Style 1020 wheels and performance tires, which contribute to the sharp handling. Its estimated range is 315 miles, which seems about right based on how rarely we’ve charged it. Again – most of these miles are test drive miles, heavy riding on city streets. So I’ll be keeping a close eye on the range over the coming months. The regenerative braking is adjustable, ranging from “aggressive jerking” to “nonexistent”. Like the i4, the “adaptive” setting is best for city driving.
Harbinger of Hope
As good as the BMW iX xDrive50 is, there’s a more esoteric downside to it. It’s so good that I kept thinking in the back of my mind how great the BMW i4 could have been if they’d developed it in five or six (or ten?) years. My impression of the i4 – while competent – is that it sticks strictly to the idea of just being an electric 4-series. Not quite an afterthought, but not purpose built. The iX reminds me of how many BMW M cars feel – an experience that cannot be replicated anywhere else.
The best is of course yet to come. The BMW iX M60 has just started production and promises to outperform the iX xDrive50. And I’m optimistic that future fully electrified offerings from BMW will still be able to live up to BMW’s reputation as a driver’s car – even if it doesn’t look like it used to.