There’s every reason not to like it. BMW’s first long-range EV is uncomfortable to look at, nonsensically named, and expensive on top of it all. It’s made by a manufacturer who took an early lead in electrification and then pissed away its advantage, all the while continuing to stray from the heyday that made us love it in the first place. Hating the iX xDrive50 would be so painfully easy, if only it wasn’t so good.
There’s a natural advantage to EVs. They are, of course, quieter and smoother than the best gasoline engines humanity has produced, more effortless and relaxed in operation than the silkiest V-12. They’re easy to package, as the batteries put the weight down low, and they make it possible for designers to use all sorts of clever drivetrain tricks. Tesla has made good use of these considerable advantages in its meteoric rise. Traditional automakers, meanwhile, have been building normal, boring cars that happen to be electric.
But the iX joins the Taycan and Mustang Mach-E as one of the few EVs from a conventional automaker that really sells itself as a cohesive package. In a day’s drive from Munich to the Dingolfing plant where the iX is built and on up through the Alps, the iX proved a more compelling daily driver than just about anything made to date with a roundel on its nose.
That starts with the interior, perhaps the most meaningful leap BMW has made in that department in two decades. It takes the clever and ultra-modern design language of the i3 and blends it with better technology, more polished details, and a fantastic array of upholstery and trim choices. From wool seats to walnut-trimmed infotainment buttons and glass seat controls, the iX interior feels both more expensive than, and a decade ahead of, the 7 Series.
It’s quieter, too. It seems BMW didn’t take the low motor noise for granted and put extra care into quieting down the minor annoyances that prove so hard to ignore in many EVs. Even at 130 mph on the Autobahn, wind noise is a distant concern. Tire roar is a non-issue as well, although perfectly paved German roads mean that observation may not translate to our shores. A similar caveat must be applied to observations of ride comfort; a shame, because the iX proved positively lush over a hundred miles of every type of road.
That softer setup does force you to confront its purpose. The iX is the SUV of the electric lineup, the family hauler and plush flagship to the i4’s sporty “Ultimate Electric Driving Machine” schtick. To expect anything adjacent to an M5 would be absurd. Its dual electric motors provide 516 hp and tug you to 60 in just 4.6 seconds, but the iX is Autobahn fast, not back-road fast. There’s too much weight here for any real cornering heroics; the iX is willing to negotiate bends quickly but it’s never eager for it. Instead, go for that straight line flat-floor thrill and enjoy a space-ship soundscape designed by Hans Zimmer himself.
Its unflappable straight-line speed and competent but disinterested dynamics put the iX in line with the rest of the BMW SUV lineup. Good company to keep, as I’ve long argued that the SUVs across-the-board proficiencies make them almost all better buys than the sedans, which still sacrifice in the name of driving magic the brand can’t quite seem to recapture. Rather than trying to chase its own history, BMW feels here—and in its other SUVs—like it is committing to a comfortable, user-friendly, spacious, tech-forward image for itself.
The iX is the flagship of that mission. The battery and powertrain are by far BMW’s most advanced yet, offering 300 miles of driving range and serious speed. The platform is unique to the iX, with a spacious cabin and a battery pack integrated into the floor. There’s a new version of iDrive here, an improvement on what is generally agreed to be the best infotainment system out there. On-board connectivity has been upgraded to 5G. And the iX offers every semi-autonomous safety feature, every driving assistant, every camera angle, and every parking assist that BMW and its suppliers can tie together. The heads-up display is bigger with more information, the gauge cluster replaced by a screen that’s even more variable and sleek. The roof is electrochromic, dimming with a button rather than with a physical shade. A voice assistant stands at the ready. There’s even a selfie camera on board.
There’s the general sense here of a real effort to push the boundaries. In that mission, though, BMW may be too clever by a half-step. Yes, an interior camera can take selfies and show you remotely whether you’ve left a coat in the back seat, but if the privacy concerns of a remotely accessible camera are considered, those features may not seem worth the cost. Yes, dimming glass is more modern than a shade, but it’s also worse at blocking the sun. The adaptive suspension really is lovely, as is the new-generation electrically excited synchronous motor, but all of this drivetrain tech takes up so much room that there’s no front trunk.
There’s also the contextual regen feature, which decides whether the car should coast or regen-brake based on whether there is a car, turn, or open road ahead of you. Fantastic in theory, but in reality it’s quite important to know exactly what will happen when you take your foot off the throttle. Trusting a computer to guess right is great right up until the moment it isn’t.
And of course no better example of going too big than the grille itself. The most egregious in a long line of increasingly cartoony grille treatments, the iX’s carries the added insult inherent to its application to an electric car. It’s not a grille, just a flat plastic panel, and one subjected to rocks and debris often enough that BMW’s engineers have had to coat it with a self-healing layer that repairs minor scratches in the presence of heat. For some unfathomable reason, at no point during the discussion of how to make the grille less bad did anyone argue for it to be smaller, or indeed nonexistent.
The result is an ugly car. This is not really open for debate. What must be generally accepted is that, for all its ugliness, it’s also cool. Because if nothing else, the iX is weird; it’s not like the M4 or 7 Series, where you have a weird ornament crowning a normal design. Properly strange, the sort of thing you design when you’re not iterating but genuinely experimenting. The BMW designers went bold, perhaps too bold, and wound up overshooting. What can be learned from the iX, though, is that it’s much better to be something that tries too hard than something that doesn’t try at all. Which ultimately means that this silly, ugly, stupid, late, expensive vehicle is all too easy to love.
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