It's BMW's 'flagship for innovation'
BMW gives its purebred i cars permission to be a lot further out there than the adapted ones such as the electric Mini and electric iX3. The i3 and i8 still seem pretty brave today.
According to the product-development chief of BMW’s luxury cars (and Rolls Royce’s), Frank van Meel, that means the iX pushes the envelope in design, driving pleasure, sustainability, versatility and connectivity. Also in a new kind of luxury - a “lounge” he says, with a “preactive and proactive user interface”.
The sustainability part is expressed among other things in the manufacturing. Recyclable aluminium in the body, recyclable batteries made entirely with renewable electricity, from minerals that are fully audited. The motors use no rare-earth metals.
Even so it won't be tragically expensive
TopGear.com asks whether this technology is a flagship for price. Apparently not. The answer, from project head Johann Kistler, is that it’ll cost about the same as an X5 of the same power, which is 500hp. The iX is lining up against competition like the Audi e-Tron, but its electric range is greater at 603km WLTP.
But no BMW comes as just one model. Will there be other iXs? I mention the X5 M. “Maybe at the end we will come to more power, and a higher price as you say.” That means yes.
It would also be possible to do cheaper RWD versions. The iX uses exactly the same type of battery, electronics and motor as the newly launched iX3. The iX3 has just one motor and an 80kWh battery. The iX is a bigger vehicle, with two motors for 4WD, and 100kWh of energy storage.
It ought to be good to drive
A year ahead of its going on sale, BMW doesn’t want to talk too much about the driving. But since it’s being positioned as a ‘lounge’ for ‘mobility’ you can see why we got a bit antsy that BMW is moving away from some of its old principles. Not so, says Frank van Meel. Now, he used to be boss of BMW M, and before that of Audi’s quattro division.
“I’m a crazy guy for vehicle dynamics. Trust me, it’s gonna be really good.” Well, trust him is all we can do for now, but clearly this can’t be a duffer to drive.
Yet it's also about self-driving
Well, it is and it isn’t. You’ll have read in our main story that it has colossal computing power and very many sensors including lidar, and 5G connectivity. Enough of each, says van Meel, that it could drive autonomously at level 3. In other words the driver can take his or her eyes off the road for extended periods. That’s more than Tesla’s Autopilot has allowed up to now.
OK, I ask, but will it be able to do that when it launches? The Audi A8, when new in 2017 was claimed to be able to go at level 3, but it still can’t. When will the iX?
“I can’t give a promise of a date. We are preparing, we are collecting data [from a large test fleet of modified 7 Series cars], and we will improve the iX by software over the air. We will take an evolutionary path, not jumping forward and having to pull back.” Which is what Tesla did.
Besides, even if BMW felt confident putting its system in the hands (or hands-off) of customers, in most places it would still be illegal.
It'll influence other BMWs
Oh really? The i3, seven years on, hasn’t produced a follow-up. Van Meel concedes that no, it hasn’t. “But the i3 is made of carbonfibre and aluminium, which influenced the 7 Series and iX. And the knowhow in electric drive is used.”
As to the iX, “this user interface isn’t just standalone for the iX. Other BMWs will have it”.
Like it or not the design, too, will spread its influence across other BMWs. Remember the iNEXT was the first concept car to feature the enormo-grille. Likely those simple, chiselled flanks will be echoed in other parts of the range.
It weighs a bit
The likely final weight, says Kistler, is two and a half tonnes. Which actually isn’t bad for a vehicle with a 100kWh battery. You can thank the aluminium and carbonfibre for some savings. A BMW X5 M50d is 2.4 tonnes anyway.
They say people like the design
Well, they would say that wouldn’t they. It’s been shown at clinics in Europe, the US and China. Kistler says: “It’s the pinnacle, and stands alone from our other cars. The feedback said it’s modern. Especially the interior, the shy-tech, which hasn’t been addressed by BMW before. They were surprised.”
The sunroof has an electrochromic shade
It’s a giant panel, consisting of two glass layers and a liquid crystal film between. When a current is applied across that film, the crystals align and it’s transparent. When the current is cut, they fall back into a chaotic arrangement that blocks the light.
This means the car is always in the shaded mode when it’s parked. It also improves headroom because there’s no need for a normal sunroof blind. It’s been done before on a few minority-interest cars, but never at this size or scale.
You'll see a fair number of them
BMW will never predict how many of a new car it’s going to sell. But “it’s not a niche car”, says Kistler. It’s made at BMW’s big-car plant at Dingolfing, near Munich, down the same line as the 7 Series and M8 and M5. So they can balance the demand among different cars. “We can produce a lot.”
Everyone says demand for electric cars will fly up in the next couple of years, so there will be more rivals. In fact the iX already has rivals from Tesla, Jaguar, Audi and Mercedes. But BMW is driving down the cost of its electric-car parts by sharing among several cars.
The new ‘generation 5’ battery, motor and power electronics are modular and come in different sizes and power outputs. They’re under the iX3, the iX and the coming i4 as well.
STORY Paul Horrell