BMW was fast out of the gate in the electric car race 10 years ago. Its i3 and i8 were light years ahead of the competition but suffered from high prices and (in the case of the i3) mediocre range. When I was invited to participate in the Global EV Road Trip in Dubai a few years ago, the whole parade was held up on several occasions while we waited for the i3 to charge. Executive editor Zachary Shahan owned one and praised its handling but its limited range (a somewhat funky styling) put a lot of potential buyers off. Is the Chevy Bolt a better car than the i3? Of course not. Don’t be silly. But with nearly double the range, many considered it a better choice.
Since those two cars were introduced, BMW has been in a bit of a corporate funk when it comes to moving the EV revolution forward. It has been stung by the success of the Tesla Model 3. That car’s name may have been a bit of poke in the eye to BMW and its iconic 3 Series sedan but for whatever reason, the sales of the Model 3 have soared while sales of the 3 Series have slipped.
This week, BMW officially unveiled the iX, which closely resembles the much ballyhooed iNext that has been bruited by the company for a few years now. Roughly the size of the X5, it is said to have a range of at least 300 miles and a recharge time of 40 minutes using a 200 kW fast charger. 10 minutes on a charger can add 75 miles of “get me home” range if you are in a hurry.
Oddly enough, the reveal mentioned almost nothing about the specs for the vehicle other that to say it will use the company’s fifth generation electric powertrain. Nothing about battery size, torque, horsepower, or top speed although 0-60 should happen in a touch under 5 seconds. The iX is set to go into production at BMW’s Dingolfing factory in Bavaria about this time next year with the first cars arriving in US showrooms in early 2022. Pricing has yet to be announced but TechCrunch says there are rumors it will cost more than $100,000 while The Verge suggests the iX will start at around $70,000.
The performance figures are pretty mainstream stuff today. What BMW would prefer to focus on is the technology packed into the car, which it refers to as “shy tech.” The company says, “Shy tech refers to technology that remains largely in the background and only reveals its functions when they are being used. On entry into the car, the function in question is the electrically powered door locks. The interior welcomes the occupants of all five seats with a luxurious lounge-style ambiance, and provides the space required to explore new ways of using time spent inside the car.”
There is one curved touchscreen oriented toward the driver that contains two displays — a 12.3-inch instrument cluster and a 14.9-inch control/navigation display. Many daily driving functions are controlled via voice commands, which is a nice touch. And while there is no central tunnel, which promotes an “airy and specious feel” that “accentuates the lounge-style ambiance and long distance comfort provided by the interior,” there is a center console between the front seats that contains lots of cool features.
The central computer for the iX is a significant improvement over past models. It will be able to “process 20 times the data volume of previous models,” BMW says. As a result, “around double the amount of data from vehicle sensors can be processed than was previously possible, allowing for more advanced future assist systems.” What iX drivers won’t get, however, is the Level 3 autonomous driving system BMW has a been talking about for a while now. It seems regulatory hurdles have slowed the introduction of such systems, especially in Europe. Perhaps Level 3 autonomy will be available later via an over the air software upgrade once those hurdles have been cleared. 5G connectivity is built in, however, and may allow communicating with other vehicles and nearby smartphones even if no wifi network is available.
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, of course, but the styling of the iX looks derivative. Maybe there is only so much you can do with an SUV type vehicle — it is after all just a simple two box design — but the iX looks a lot like a lot of other SUVs on the market, especially with that “pinch” in the C pillar that is supposed to suggests a low, tapering roof line at the rear. A curved roof is great for aerodynamic efficiency but limits a vehicle’s ability to swallow large items, which in theory is the whole idea of owning an SUV in the first place.
Then there is that enormous, honking, huge, ugly excrescence at the front that is a caricature of the traditional BMW double kidney grille. In the first place, an electric car doesn’t need a grille at all, as Tesla has proven. Second of all, this eyesore is so out of proportion to the rest of the car it can only be there for one purpose — to scream I’M A BMW to everyone who sees it. If the rear of the car looks like dozens of other SUVs on the road, at least everyone will know the owner dropped a boatload of cash to buy a Beemer — or Bimmer, if you prefer. Branding is powerful and the company apparently plans to leverage its brand identity for all it’s worth.
Adrian van Hooydonk, BMW’s design director, says the look of the car is “clean and robust, monolithic almost, like a well rounded stone with some facets sheared off.” He describes the luxuriously appointed interior as a “loft on wheels.” Hmmm……
If it seems BMW lost its way after the launch of the i3 and the i8, the company is looking to make up ground quickly. It is developing a battery electric version of its 5 Series and 7 Series sedans as well as an electric X1 SUV. Earlier this year, the company revealed the production iX3, the all electric version of its top selling X3 SUV. That car won’t be available in the US, however. It is destined for European and Chinese customers only. A fully electric version of the 3 Series, BMW’s most popular car in the US, has already been spotted in testing camouflage, and the forthcoming BMW i4 is expected to join the 4 Series lineup soon.
The company says there will be one million electrified BMWs on the road by the end of next year, but “electrified” is a term that includes hybrid and plug-in hybrid models. Can BMW remain relevant as the EV revolution moves forward? “We’ll see,” said the Zen master.