Outstanding comfort and refinement, chockful of tech that works pretty well, added glitz and glam
The looks, not that engaging to drive, 'as sustainable as a huge SUV can be' isn't a great claim
What is it?
Controversy never seems to stray far from BMW’s door these days, but the unveiling of the iX as the iNext concept in 2018 was probably the start of the latest WTAF? phase. It says much that a few years on from that point we’re looking at the iX as acceptable. Not good, mind you. Never good. But we’ve come to terms with it. The bandwidth of online hate that was fusing entire server farms is now reserved for the M2, the i7, the XM...
We need to move on. The iX is hyped as the company's technology flagship. It sits outside the usual X5, X6, X7 hierarchy, attempts to dodge the other two-and-a-half tonne SUV opposition by being more jewel-like and precious inside, more lounge-like, less car-like. Tech is to the fore here. You’ve been warned.
How does it look in real life?
Well, it’s not pretending to be that impossible thing, a sports-SUV, so that’s a tick in the plus column. The ugliest part is doubtless the nose, but an iX specced without the M-Sport package (only the entry-level version…) avoids those hideous black trapezoids below the headlamps. They're part of a specious 'aerodynamic pack' that doesn't reduce the drag at all. Meanwhile that huge not-a-grille is covered in plastic that self-heals after scratching. Maybe BMW expects physical attacks. Might we suggest Sinex Nasal Spray?
And what about the cabin?
Almost none of the hardware is recognisable from any other BMW. It's as distinctive as the i3's cabin and aims for the same sort of atmosphere: to invoke a lounge not a car. Unusual materials include matte wood with lit graphics showing through, an optional denim-like recycled fabric, a glass iDrive knob. Straight lines and diagonals dominate. OK, your sitting room might not actually be much like this. But your sitting room is surely not at all like the cabin of an X5. Overall it’s not as successful as the i3, but then the i3 didn’t sell well enough, which is why the iX is SUV-shaped in the first place.
What goes on underneath?
The flat floor, long wheelbase and width all boost the space. Which makes it bulky on the outside too. Like the i3 and i8, this is a wholly bespoke structure. The cabin sits in a three-dimensional box-frame of carbonfibre. There's a lot of aluminium too. None of this is shared with the X5. But the motors, battery design, and the high-voltage electronics are modular versions of what's used in the iX3 and i4. Those electric-drive parts are unglamorous, hidden and most of us don't know how they work. But they're critical to how efficiently an EV runs, how smoothly it drives and how fast it recharges.
So it’s electric. Stats please.
There are currently three versions. All are twin-motor AWD, so get the xDrive prefix in their full names. The xDrive 40 has 71kWh usable capacity, for a range of 257 miles WLTP. The xDrive 50 has a 105.2kWh, for a range of 380 miles on the standard 21-inch wheels. Then there’s the flagship xDrive M60 (the first time the three worlds of M, X and i have collided) which uses the 50s battery, but adds another 100bhp for 619bhp and 0-62mph in 3.8 seconds. Because that’s how fast your lounge accelerates.
For comparison, the iX 40 has 326bhp and a 6.1s to 62mph sprint and the 523bhp iX 50 takes 4.6s.
BMWs are supposed to be uncontroversially excellent to drive…
It's pretty good. It just doesn't involve you much in the process. But the calibration of all the controls is intuitive, so it's quite satisfying. The steering is accurate, the acceleration smooth and prompt, and it manages its weight neatly enough.
It has a Sport mode but it doesn't make much difference and anyway why would you? This car is about comfort, silence and relaxation. Which sort of begs the question of why BMW didn’t just focus on that – because we’ll let you in on a secret. The slower iXs make a much better case for themselves than the fast one.
All versions ride well enough, but it’s the 40 with its less hurried and harried powertrain that makes the most sense and behaves itself best. The M60 simply has too much power to dispose of fluently. It can trip itself up.
What’s the sustainability story?
Well… the motors are the electrically excited synchronous type (Remember when we used to talk about camshafts and so on?). One of the main advantages is they can keep kicking out big torque all the way to high revs, and they're efficient doing so.
Because they have no magnets, they don't use rare-earth metals, one of the earth's resources that EVs threaten to put into short supply. BMW is also careful to use little cobalt, and to source it traceably. Renewable energy is used to make the body's substantial carbonfibre frame, and to run the battery cell plants, and the iX assembly plant. There's also a lot of aluminium in the car, half of which is recycled.
The leather is sustainably tanned using olive leaves instead of some of the usual noxious chemicals. The carpet is partially recycled ocean plastic. One upholstery option is wool (so, non-vegan then) with recycled polyester. An independent audit by TUV shows its lifetime carbon footprint is 45 per cent less than an X5's. Hmm, maybe another enormo-SUV isn't the best point of comparison, guys.
What's the verdict?
BMW will do battery versions of all its mainstream models – as it already has with the Mini Electric, iX3 and i4 – but it also wanted to build this all-in electric car as a showcase for its best work on materials, aerodynamics and driver assist.
BMW isn't selling this as a driver's champion. If you want a traditional BMW sports saloon that happens to be electric, the i4 is your car (although don’t expect that to handle as engagingly as a 330e. And don’t expect that to drive as engagingly as an M3). The iX is a big comfy home-on-wheels, and a vast amount of technology has been poured into making sure the driver is soothed while the passengers kick back. It's efficient for a full-size e-SUV. The range is impressive, and it can recharge pretty rapidly too.
Choose carefully from among the visual option packs, wheels and paint. Then you might find an iX you can like the look of. There's a lot else to like – provided you realise it’s a machine built for comfy cruising.