Early this morning in Munich, BMW Chairman Oliver Zipse presented an update on the BMW iX3 full electric SUV due out later this year. The promised driving range is now a useful 460 km (286 miles) according to the WLTP testing cycle, exceeding that of what may be its most prominent rival, the Audi e-tron 55 (436 km / 271 miles). But we don’t yet have clear information on the pricing and available volumes of the iX3 to know how it will compete in practice. Let’s dive in.
BMW has been talking about an all-electric version of its popular X3 SUV since at least September 2016. Talk is cheap, though, and more solid plans were teased a month prior to the April 2018 Beijing motor show, and more at the show itself, which we covered at the time.
Why hold that initial reveal in China? 2018 was a stunning year for EV growth in China, and China will likely be the iX3’s highest volume market, though Europe’s recent EV growth will make it a potentially large iX3 market also (no plans for US release at the moment). The iX3 will initially be made at the Dadong plant in China under the joint venture company BMW Brilliance Automotive.
The key iX3 specifications are summarized in the above BMW infographic. Arguably, the most important new information is the 460 km WLTP range, in combination with the 150 kW peak charging speed (and a related promise of recovering 80% charge in around 30 minutes). The previously estimated range had been 440 km (WLTP).
The iX3’s WLTP cycle efficiency is presented as 185 to 195 Wh/km (averaging 306 Wh/mile), not too bad for a non-dedicated SUV platform from a legacy automaker, and a significant advantage over the Audi e-tron 55’s 264 to 224 Wh/km (~393 Wh/mile) WLTP efficiency rating.
Is it fair to compare these two EVs? The e-tron is 17 cm longer than the iX3, but more or less the same width and slightly less tall. The iX3 is in fact very similar in size to the Jaguar I-Pace and Mercedes EQC, which are regularly cross-shopped with the Audi e-tron.
The e-tron 55 does have a larger usable battery capacity than the iX3 — 86.5 kWh versus 74 kWh — but not enough to make up for its lower energy efficiency. The result is that the combined cycle rating of the iX3 is greater than that of the e-tron; 460 km (286 miles) versus 436 km (271 miles). This could be a symbolic coup for BMW since the Audi e-tron is currently selling very well in Europe, with 11,366 sales from January to May, despite the lockdown.
To give some perspective, this volume puts the Audi e-tron as the #4 best selling EV in Europe overall, at a little under half the volume of leaders Renault Zoe and Tesla Model 3. Not a bad result at all considering the price tag is typically €60,000 to €70,000 (depending on the battery size variant).
So that’s point one to the iX3 over the e-tron in rated range. Then, almost equally important, another point should be won in the mid-trip charging speed. Using ~22% less energy per mile than the e-tron but able to charge at the same 150 kW peak power, the iX3 will experience faster range recovery in short-duration DC charging sessions.
We don’t have the full details on charging yet (curve shape and the influence of temperature, etc.), but BMW has said 80% state of charge (presumably starting from 5% or 10%) can be reached in around 30 minutes. Audi makes the same claim despite not having any higher peak charging power and having a larger battery. This tells us that the BMW will not have as flat a charging curve as the Audi, but will recover significantly more miles in the first 10 to 15 minutes of charging.
For now, the only concrete information we have is that both reach 80% of their respective battery capacity with 30 minutes of charging. Given the larger battery, this means the Audi does take more energy on board than the BMW in those 30 minutes, but not quite enough to outweigh the iX3’s better energy efficiency.
Below is a chart illustrating these range and 30 minute charging performances in relative terms. Note the stress is on relative, since the WLTP test gives no guidance on realistic range at typical highway speeds, just a combined (city/rural/highway) cycle rating. You won’t achieve these absolute ranges unless you cruise at around ~86 km/h (53 mph) in very ideal conditions, but for our purposes, the comparative performance of each vehicle should be accurate (imperial version of chart at end of article):
(click on image to zoom)
So, effectively, the BMW iX3 can travel almost 40 kilometers further than the e-tron on a road trip with a single 30 minute rest break. Not a very significant difference, but a symbolic win nevertheless at a stage when range and charging are still a focus for many folks converting over from combustion vehicles. We’d see the BMW give a relatively stronger performance in 15 or 20 minute rest break, but we just don’t have enough solid data to pencil that out yet.
On the flip side of greater efficiency, the iX3 is rear-wheel drive only for now, and at 286 hp, it is significantly down on power from premium electric SUV competitors. The e-tron 55 has 402 hp (short boost mode), the Mercedes EQC also has 402 hp, and the Jaguar I-Pace has 395 hp. All of these existing rivals are also all-wheel-drive models. I should make clear that calling all of them rivals is shorthand — in reality, the Jaguar and Mercedes do not feature in the European EV top sellers list, and it’s a similar picture in other regions.
Whether these power and performance differences are a deciding factor of course depends on what price BMW finally pitches the iX3 at — we can guess that a lot of folks will quickly feel that 286 hp in a BMW designed chassis will give a satisfying enough performance if the price is a decent chunk under the others, but the rumored price mentioned at the top is probably not low enough. And we don’t yet know the weight of the iX3. If lighter than the others, this would nullify some of the headline power gap.
For orientation, in Europe’s largest EV market, Germany, the Audi e-tron 55 starts from almost €82,000, the Mercedes EQC from €70,000, and the Jaguar I-Pace from €75,000.
I believe that the iX3 will be cross-shopped with these other three, because it is a similar size and because there are still not very many choices of premium full-electric SUVs. I thought the iX3 was likely to be pitched from around €55,000 to €60,000 (or higher) in Germany — and similar elsewhere. The actual price largely depends on what strategy BMW wants to play, a catch-up or drag-heels strategy. You can also check Zach’s recent thoughts on the iX3’s competitiveness.
Besides the price, the iX3’s ultimate success will depend on the speed of production and deliveries, especially in the short window of opportunity prior to the Tesla Model Y arriving in Europe and China. Once Tesla has local manufacturing in Berlin (likely by mid to late 2021 at the outside), it’s
game over very unlikely the BMW iX3 will be able to compete overall with the Tesla Model Y on either price or volume (or range-and-charging fundamentals, or performance, or technology…).
However, the iX3 will still be able to compete for brand loyalists and some of those folks who may want a more traditional interior layout, and who value BMW’s established levels of trim, fit, and finish (one of the few areas Tesla still isn’t yet at the level of legacy premium/luxury brands).
Even if the price point is competitive, the BMW certainly won’t be able compete on available volume with the Tesla Model Y (and perhaps even the more modest volume Audi e-tron). We have no solid news yet on what BMW’s planned production and available volumes are for the iX3, though Zach recently looked at some possible hints. I think it will be quite slow in the short term, and only fairly symbolic volumes will be available (in Europe at least) in 2020. Though, it’s possible December will see a step up.
But let’s be optimistic. If the iX3 is a decent hit with reviewers and consumers (which — in value comparison to the Audi e-tron — it could well be), there is always a chance that BMW will work hard to increase production volumes. What a turnaround that would be from BMW’s stance on BEVs over the past year or two!
What do you think of the BMW iX3? Please jump into the comments.
Article images courtesy of BMW except where noted.
Range and charging chart in imperial units: