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October 9, 2022

BMW iX3 and iX: An Electrification Win-Win

In a lot of ways, the presence of the iX and iX3 at the same time is a perfect representation of BMW’s electrification strategy. On the surface, they look nothing alike, save for some familial design cues, but underneath, they’re actually opposite sides of the same coin. They’re both here to prove that the brand’s motto, “Sheer Driving Pleasure” will carry on in the age of electrification.

The flagship iX is, by far, the more futuristic of the two. Sitting atop of BMW’s i or “Innovation” range, it’s meant to shock-and-awe. And if you’re BMW’s intended audience, it works. Since it’s basically a rolling showcase of every technology they could possibly cram into one car, it makes sense to give it a look that matches. Like the i3 and i8 launched eight years ago, it’s basically a concept car that happened to make its way to the production line.

The same can be said about the iX’s interior which is more like a lounge on wheels than a conventional car. This minimalist approach of open spaces, straight lines, and diagonal detailing is almost anti-BMW in a way, and it’s refreshing. The straightforward cockpit approach has given way to wild use of materials from glass buttons, open-pore wood with back-lit switches, and even natural leather treated in olive leaf extract.

While the iX looks like it’ll have a starring role in the next Star Trek movie, the iX3, on the other hand, is the EV for the here and now. Instead of riding on a purpose-built platform like the iX (it’s codenamed i20, if you’re curious), the iX3 shares the same “G01” platform as its conventional and plug-in hybrid powered siblings. There are some exclusive “i” detailing here and there, but overall, it’s not really meant to stand out as much as the iX. It’s meant to look ordinary, to blend in the corporate or country club parking lot.

Inside, the iX3 doesn’t stray far from its combustion-engined counterpart either. Again, with the exception of some blue highlights, it’s pretty much a bog-standard BMW. Using the BMW Operating System 7 (the iX uses the latest System 8), the learning curve is gentler here, especially for current owners. There are also far more physical buttons and switches, too. Despite being made in China, the only global plant assembling the iX3, it’s business-as-usual with build quality, materials, and refinement equal to what you get out of the Munich or Spartanburg factory.

For all of their decision to go opposite on design philosophy, underneath, they share the same BMW DNA, but re-imaged for the electric age. Rather than piecing together components like Lego, BMW understands that engineering a proprietary propulsion system is fundamental in making them standout. This allows the iX and iX3 to feel somewhat similar on the go.

At the heart of BMW’s so-called fifth-generation eDrive system is a compact drivetrain that houses the motor, transmission, and associated electronics in one housing. Moreover, it doesn’t use rare earth metals in its construction; rather, it uses an electrically excited synchronous motor. This offers silent operation as well as a balance of high peak power and stable torque even at high rpms.

Meanwhile, the high-voltage battery pack is modular in design. Depending on the exact requirements of the vehicle, it can be stacked side by side and even on top of each other. And while the module size varies per vehicle, each one has its own pre-installed cooling systems and connectors. This allows BMW, down to the dealer level, to swap or replace individual modules in case of a fault rather than having to replace the entire battery.

On the road, both the iX and iX3 offer effortless performance. At just the tap of the accelerator, you get instant and precise thrust each and every time. It just goes—there’s no need to wait for the turbo to kick in, or for the gearing to find the appropriate ratio. As such, there’s no better tool to tackle corner exits or snappy overtakes than these. There’s an in-cabin sound generator too—developed with Hans Zimmer—that produces an electronic hum that rises and falls in pitch as you speed, and in volume as you press down harder. It’s easily the best sounding EV system out there.

Even smarter, BMW’s found a way to extract more mileage out of the high-voltage batteries. An automatic regeneration system can take signals from the navigation system (if equipped with Connected Drive) and radar sensors to adjust the amount of energy captured during coating and braking. For example, when you lift off at the anticipation of a speed limit change, it will set the regeneration level to slow you smoothly towards the new target speed. When it detects an early lift of the throttle, it will allow the vehicle to coast more efficiently. A fixed-level regeneration might have resulted in you having to get pointlessly back on the power. Of course, this means lifting off the power will result in different effects in different circumstances, which can be a bit odd until you’ve learned to trust it.

Limited to the Singapore’s rather “fine heavy” urban road network, there wasn’t much opportunity to push either of these vehicles around, but nonetheless, they’re superbly easy and relaxing to make progress in. The steering is smooth, and the ride is well balanced with just the right amount of precision and suppleness baked in. Neither of them uses run-flat tires, and that’s a decision, BMW says, done to reduce the rolling resistance to increase efficiency.

In the end, BMW’s decision to take two distinct approaches to making EVs will ultimately pay off. For those who want something more forward-thinking, there’s the iX. It’s a showcase of their best work on materials and technology that happens to be wrapped around a design that’s different. For people who’re much more pragmatic, you’d be happy to know that BMW will be electrifying their entire line-up starting with the iX3 which doesn’t have the same carbon fiber construction or crazy styling. For that, this one’s aimed squarely at the heart of the premium market. Whatever the mindset, BMW’s got you covered and that gives everyone a win-win solution.

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