Review: BMW’s iX electric SUV is more clever than you and worthy competition for Tesla

2022 BMW iX xDrive50. The iX can be thought of as the all-electric replacement for the X5 and X6 SUVs.Mark Richardson/The Globe and Mail

The new all-electric BMW iX is so much more clever than you that it will not allow you to raise its hood. “The hood must only be opened by a dealer’s service center or another qualified service center or repair shop,” reads the owner’s manual.

I mentioned this to my wife. “Oh, how precious,” she said of the car that starts at about $90,000. “How do you fill up the washer fluid?”

That’s a party trick. You push on the BMW badge at the front of the hood and it flips up to become a filler cap for the washer fluid. Other than that, there’s no lever to let you raise the hood. Only the service technician knows the secret to doing so, though Google’s already figured it out. There’s nothing you can do under there and you clearly can’t be trusted.

To fill up washer fluid in the 2022 BMW iX xDrive50, push on the BMW badge at the front of the hood and it flips up to become a filler cap.Mark Richardson/The Globe and Mail

What you can do is sit in the vehicle and enjoy the drive, or spend a few hours figuring out the seemingly infinite possibilities of adjusting absolutely everything. This is a BMW, after all.

The iX can be thought of as the all-electric replacement for the X5 and X6 SUVs, although it’s built on an entirely new platform and actually has more interior space than the full-size X7. This is partly because it has no driveshaft hump in the floor, and like all electric vehicles, its batteries are stored beneath your feet, where they keep the weight down low.

BMW claims the 111.5-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery is good for a range of up to 521 kilometers, which puts it into Tesla territory. Of course, this is on a summer day at 23 degrees. When I collected the iX in March and the temperature was right around freezing, my maximum indicated range was 375 kilometers, and that was with a battery filled to 95 per cent of its charge. Consistent charging to 100 per cent could eventually degrade any EV battery more quickly, acknowledged the BMW guy.

The charging port on the 2022 BMW iX xDrive50.Mark Richardson/The Globe and Mail

This battery pack is supposed to charge from zero to 80 per cent in just 39 minutes when it’s plugged into a Level 3 fast charger, but I’ve not yet found a charger in Toronto that will fill at that speed. Every one of the eight Level 3s I plugged into recently would fill at only a fraction of that rate, maxing out at 70 kilowatts, and that includes chargers rated for 350 kilowatts. It’s not a problem with the vehicle, but with the public chargers themselves. Tesla Superchargers, as their owners will be quick to tell you, rarely have such a problem.

There will be two other versions of the iX, both coming to Canada in late summer. The xDrive40 will cost $10,000 less and will have a smaller battery, while the M60 will be the performance version, good for 610 horsepower and costing more than $120,000.

Tech specs

2022 BMW iX electric SUV

Base price/as tested: $89,990/$113,285, plus $2,480 freight and predelivery inspection

Motor/battery: Twin motor, 516 horsepower/111 kilowatt-hour (gross), 195 kilowatts

Transmission/drive: Single-speed all-wheel drive

power consumption: 21.4 kilowatt-hours (claimed), 29.5 kilowatt-hours (observed)

Alternatives: Tesla Model Y, Tesla Model X, Jaguar i-Pace, Audi e-tron

Looks

Many online commenters don’t seem to like the boxy (but practical) looks of the iX.Mark Richardson/The Globe and Mail

It’s a personal thing, but many online commenters don’t seem to like the boxy (but practical) looks. The beaver-tooth grille at the front is especially contentious.

The solid plastic “grille” on the 2022 BMW iX xDrive50.Mark Richardson/The Globe and Mail

When you get close, you realize the “grille” is actually solid plastic and merely printed with the design of a grille. There’s no reason for air cooling to reach the electric motor, after all.

Interior

The dash of the 2022 BMW iX xDrive50.Mark Richardson/The Globe and Mail

Gorgeous and spacious. Of course, the test car’s cabin was finished in “Interior Design Loft, Stone Grey,” which cost an extra $1,500, and included the “Glass Controls with Walnut Console” for another $850.

The $9,900 Premium Enhanced Package also included heated everything, though the blue seat belts were an additional $300. In other words, it’s gorgeous if you’re prepared to pay extra.

The back seats on the 2022 BMW iX xDrive50, with blue seat belts.Mark Richardson/The Globe and Mail

The instrumentation is one piece of glass that includes the gauges behind the funky six-sided steering wheel, and the central display touch screen. There are buttons only for the front and rear defogging, and on the steering wheel, while some additional touch-sensitive flat buttons can be found on the center console, beside the transmission shifter.

Performance

The iX was really quick, with a permanently available surge from the motor that gas cars have to gear down to achieve. There are actually two motors, one for each axle: the front produces 268 horsepower while the rear produces 335. The two combine for acceleration from zero to 100 kilometers an hour in a claimed 4.6 seconds. Rear-wheel steering keeps the handling responsive and creates a tight turning circle.

There are three driving modes: “Sport” keeps the two motors humming for all-wheel drive and drops the ride height by 10 millimetres; “Personal” switches around between rear-wheel and all-wheel drive as needed; “Efficient” stays in rear-wheel drive unless you push hard on the throttle. The relationship between the front and rear motors is adjusted constantly and instantly, depending on road conditions and driver inputs.

There’s also a regenerative braking switch for effectively driving the iX with only the throttle, slowing right to a stop when you take pressure off the pedal. In normal braking, you can set the sensor to be adaptive, in which it slows the vehicle more rapidly when it senses traffic in front or a curve in the road, but coasts with minimal intervention when the road is clear. As I stated at the beginning, this vehicle is much cleverer than you.

Technology

The touch screen on the 2022 BMW iX xDrive50. When the weather’s bad, the cameras and sensors have a hard time seeing through the snow and crud and will shut down.Mark Richardson/The Globe and Mail

You want it, you can have it. I never did get used to the vehicle not turning off until it was locked: Come to a stop, push the central shifter button to Park, push the Start/Stop button, and everything just keeps going as if the engine is running. The only sign that it’s not ready to drive is because there’s no indicator to show Drive or Reverse or Park. Open the door and it’s still all on. It won’t shut down until it’s locked from outside.

I didn’t like the steering assistance, which didn’t seem to keep the vehicle in the center of the lane but instead allowed it to drift to the very edge before turning it back in. Perhaps I could have adjusted the sensitivity, but I only had the vehicle for a week and barely made it through the War and Peace manual in that time – BMW dealers employ “geniuses,” like Apple geniuses, to explain the endless features of new cars to their owners. If this is something that concerns you, ask a genius.

Don’t get too used to all the technology, though. When the weather’s bad, the cameras and sensors have a hard time seeing through the snow and crud and will shut down.

Cargo

There’s 500 liters of cargo capacity behind the rear seats of the 2022 BMW iX xDrive50.Mark Richardson/The Globe and Mail

A hidden cargo space under the trunk floor.Mark Richardson/The Globe and Mail

There’s 500 liters of cargo capacity behind the rear seats, and that includes a fairly deep and useful well hidden beneath the trunk floor. The rear seats fold almost flat, increasing the space when needed, but it’s not overly generous back there.

The verdict

The iX is truly a premium vehicle, and it’s worthy competition for Tesla – though long-distance drivers will still appreciate the superior Tesla Supercharger network when they have to charge on the go.

The iX is expensive and the cost increases quickly with options, but most buyers aren’t going to be deterred by that. If you can afford one, you can also afford the high price of premium gas these days, so you won’t be buying it to save on fuel; instead, you’ll be getting the full electric experience, with all its smooth power and cosseting comfort.

But if anything breaks, don’t even think about trying to fix it yourself.

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