Review: Polarising BMW iX xDrive40 more a smartphone than an 'ultimate driving machine'

The new BMW iX xDrive40
I'm certain that many of the BMW fanclub of old are going to detest it, but this is a new era and BMW is embracing it. Photo credit: Tarmac Life

By Dave McLeod of Tarmac Life

While picking up the iX3 from BMW's lair in the UK last year, I stumbled upon their new iX in the car park and I was hooked. 

The company describes it as its new 'technology flagship' and a 'pioneer of a new era', which is all well and good; but whatever the marketers want to label it, this all-electric SAV seriously grabbed my attention.

So now I'm back in New Zealand, BMW thought it best I took a closer look.

Words like 'Monolithic' and 'shy tech' are not exactly common phrases right now, however if BMW has anything to do with it, they will be. You see, monolithic - 'formed of a single large block of stone' - is how they are describing the iX's exterior. It's a reduced design language that minimises panel gaps and offers up a kind of moulded appearance, yet is clearly a BMW.

What helps are its large kidney grilles, which (being as they don't have to cool an engine) are virtually sealed off and hide the cameras and radar tech - or cutely named 'shy tech'.

Above the kidneys is the BMW badge, which sits proudly on a bonnet that doesn't open - so don't go spending time looking for the bonnet release like me. It also doubles as a refill cap for the windscreen washer fluid. The headlights and tail lights are the narrowest BMW has ever put on a production vehicle and there are ample aero vents to ensure this new-age Beemer slips easily through the air. In fact, it boasts a 0.25cd, which is a shade over a golf ball.

Review: Polarising BMW iX xDrive40 more a smartphone than an 'ultimate driving machine'
Photo credit: Tarmac Life

If I may get a little technical for a moment, the new iX is built of an aluminium space-frame construction. They have used an abundance of carbon fibre-reinforced plastic (CFRP) in the roof, rear and sides (you can see the weave when you open the door), resulting in both increased rigidity and weight minimisation.

The electric Beemer rides on 22-inch feet, with flush door handles and soft-closing doors. Its iX-embossed badging is located high up on the rear quarter panel with regular badging on the rear electric tailgate, which opens to 500L of luggage space - not bad for a vehicle that's 4.5m long and 1.7m tall.

The exterior may be seen as a statement, but so too is the inside. It's made with recycled and repurposed materials, but it doesn't come across that way, with upscale fabrics and a wood finish that are very tactile.

The seats are well bolstered and comfy with a dual level centre console that features a great place for your phone to sit, with the wireless charger on the second tier. It also boasts a wood veneer with a clear perspex dial for infotainment control, a clear start/stop button, and a stubby gear selector that gives you a choice of reverse, neutral, drive and brake - no park (just switch off). It's a compact set-up, but I didn't like the fact that the coffee holder is hard to get at.

Review: Polarising BMW iX xDrive40 more a smartphone than an 'ultimate driving machine'
Photo credit: Tarmac Life

Aside from the screen, which I'll get to in a moment, here are two standout features of the iX: the doors open from the inside with a push of a button, and the panoramic roof is 'electrochromatic' - so it goes from clear to frosted at the push of another button.

Then there's the 14.9-inch curved display that holds both the 12.3-inch information display and a control cluster. It's angled towards the driver and has every bit of data you need, and then some. Through a series of menus and apps you can get all the EV data, the news, navigation with augmented reality, weather - I could go on. The sound system is a very loud Harman Kardon and the spacious cabin is packed with hidden speakers that give off a chest-beating bass. It has my favourite 'gesture control' too.

The digital personal assistant 'Hey BMW' is quicker and smarter and flashes up with little bubbles when it hears you. It can do the usual temperature and heated seat stuff, but will now tell you a joke and switch the driving mode to Sport if you're bored.

There are three iXs in the works. The M60 (which I can't wait for), the 50 and the 'baby of the bunch', the 40, which I had. The 40 has two electric motors and is powered by a 76.6kWh battery. Total output is 240kW and 630 Nm and it will zoom from 0-100km/h in 6.1 seconds.

In terms of power consumption, 24.5kWh/100km - should you be pushing hard on the accelerator and not in Sport and - so around 390km range, and will recharge/fast-charge to 100km in just eight minutes (21 minutes at 50kW).

Review: Polarising BMW iX xDrive40 more a smartphone than an 'ultimate driving machine'
Photo credit: Tarmac Life

Driving the iX is an experience, and a futuristic one at that. Despite its tuned chassis, electric all-wheel-drive system, double-wishbone front axle, five-link rear axle, lift-related dampers and electric steering system, it's not as dynamic a drive as many Beemer enthusiasts will be accustomed to. It's not that it's not rapid off the mark (especially as it's 2.5-tonnes) or more than happy to take corners at pace - it just lacks that BMW 'driving machine-ness'.

However, it does make up for this in so many other ways. You feel like you're in a vehicle of the future, you can chat to the iX and it goes out of its way to understand you, chastising itself if it can't help. It's spacious for all, front and rear, with a flat cabin floor and connection points all around. The roof is a talking point (how many times has that ever happened?) and it sips energy slowly, so you never feel like you're not going to make it home.

I'm certain that many of the BMW fanclub of old are going to detest its looks, powertrain and, well, everything; but this is a new era and BMW is embracing it. Sure, it's not got a loud V8 or straight-six and its kidneys will continue to polarise. However, fuel prices look like they will continue to rise, rebates and penalties will come to the fore, and we should all have some environmental conscience.

EVs are becoming a regular sight on New Zealand's roads, so why not make it a shy yet monolithic BMW iX?

Why you should: Standout looks, incredible energy usage and up-to-the-minute infotainment.

Why you shouldn't: Polarising design (particularly for BMW fans) and it's more of a smartphone than an 'ultimate driving machine'.

What else to consider: I get the feeling this will soon be a crowded car lot, but in the meantime, take a look at the likes of Mercedes-Benz EQC, Audi e-tron, Tesla X or Jaguar I-Pace.

Tarmac Life