BMW iX3 2021 First Drive Review : Blue i Boy
Singapore - How can something be different and yet the same? The all-electric iX3 is the first BMW i model to wear a ‘normal’ shape that is clearly more appealing to a bigger buying pool.
After all, there's a certain comfort to the familiar, even if it happens to be conformist, conventional and… a ‘crossover’.
It probably also helps that at time of writing, the S$256,888 pre-facelift iX3 is the cheapest of the X3 range in Singapore (thanks to the government’s early adoption incentive for electric vehicles)!
As far as electric vehicles are concerned, we’re still at a watershed in terms of aesthetics. Early adopters aside (and we’re talking about those who can accept the new normal of revolutionary, ground-up EV designs), the current (no pun intended) buyer still looks towards familiar shapes, which in this day and age... points towards crossovers.
And this seems to be the exact buyer that car manufacturers are targeting, if the Audi e-tron, Mercedes EQA/EQC and this latest iX3 are any indication.
It’s a bit of a dichotomy considering the design of an EV is no longer inhibited by the demands of having to accommodate an ICE power-plant and its ancillary components.
Given that this is something the world has lived with since the first automobile appeared over a century ago, it’s understandable many are not quite ready to give up on it yet…
Make no mistake, EVs currently wear familiar body-styles, but that’s just to make it all-the-easier to ease into your consciousness: it’s to get you used to the workflow of running an electric vehicle – the fancy, futuristic designs can come later.
Remember the days when Nokias used to last a week and more? Well, just look at how quickly we’ve now adapted to the latest smartphones, which can require charging in less than a day!
EVs represent a paradigm shift to one’s lifestyle and shouldn’t be treated as just another engine derivative.
As with most things, the ‘inconveniences’ are relative: it’s all good if you have personal charging at home/the-office, probably less so if you have to avail yourself of public charging facilities.
At this stage of EV adoption, you still need to pay-to-play. Technology only makes sense if it segues seamlessly into your lifestyle and these also tend to be the buyers who don’t see any need for furious virtue-signalling.
Thankfully, the iX3’s utility and 460km WLTP range are good for those looking for family transport – to put this in perspective, it’ll make it up to KL on a single charge.
The iX3 itself doesn’t even wave a big green flag to draw attention to its all-electric credentials.
If you haven’t already noticed, BMW i’s colour of choice is blue and there are plenty of discreet blue accents around the car to differentiate it from the regular X3.
The side-skirts, kidney grille and rear diffuser feature the blue highlights – even the familiar propeller-roundel is encircled in blue both inside and out.
Completing the package is the smart-looking set of aerodynamic rims, which manages to look sporty yet serves to reduce the iX3’s drag coefficient by around five per cent in the process.
At time of writing, the LCI iX3 has already been launched globally and we’re told it will come with the M Sport package as standard when it arrives either at the end of 2021 or start of 2022.
The cabin is familiar BMW territory in terms of ergonomics and build quality, but the blue accents, as well as the EV-specific displays and drive controls differentiate the iX3 from its ICE siblings.
On the LCI iX3, the centre-display grows to 12.3-inch (from the existing 10.25-inch) to complement the instrument display, thus giving the impression of a seamless digital display.
In true X3 Sport Activity Vehicle fashion, there’s ample space and storage for the whole family and barang-barang for a weekend out. With the 40/20/40 split-fold rear-seats, load-lugging capacity can be expanded from 510-litres to 1560-litres in a pinch.
The driver’s touch-points such as the gear-shifter, start/stop button and steering wheel are anointed blue as a constant reminder you’re in something different – keeping a smug look on one’s face while driving is strictly optional, of course, as is the righteous virtue signalling!
EV tech is a little past its infancy, so each iteration is a huge leap forward over the last.
The China-built iX3 is the first model to feature the brand’s fifth-generation eDrive technology, which brings improvements to performance, power consumption and range.
The drive system technology is a highly-integrated one that sees the electric motor, transmission and power electronics packed into a single housing.
Additionally, the batteries are positioned low-down in the iX3’s underbody, which lowers the car’s centre of gravity by around 7.5cm compared to its ICE siblings.
We like the immediacy of response offered by all-electric vehicles and the instant hit of torque from a prod of the throttle can be addictive.
Our eyes were opened to the i range’s signature one-pedal driving with the i3 many years ago and it’s cool to see it offered on the iX3, which lets you vary the intensity of brake regeneration depending on the driver’s level of familiarity.
However, we should qualify that one-pedal driving in an electric car with under 200hp (like the i3 and Cooper SE) is different from doing so in the 286hp iX3 (incidentally the same power output as the E39 540i from almost 20 years ago!).
(Click HERE to read about a trio of electric city-cars out and about in the Singapore CBD: the Honda e, the BMW i3s and the MINI Cooper SE)
For starters, you’re likely to be travelling faster in the iX3 and will take a shorter amount of time (and distance) to be hitting the same speed as on the less powerful electric city-cars.
This means heavy-footed drivers will need to use the brake pedal for safe stops instead of relying solely on brake regen.
With the iX3, it’s startling to see how far EV tech has come today in reining-in and optimising grip so you can pretty much exploit its electric punch all the time with little in the way of theatrics. There’s a clinical precision in the way it conducts itself, even down to the manner it dispatches the winding roads.
I still recall working the V8 in the 540i hard ‘back in the day’ to make full use of the 286hp/440Nm, because there was a fine-line between traction and gratuitous, smoke-spewing wheel-spin!
Thankfully, the iX3 retains enough of the BMW soul to make such dynamic driving feelsome and enjoyable.
The iX3 also sees the debut of the BMW IconicSounds Electric, an electric soundtrack developed in partnership with acclaimed award-winning composer, Hans Zimmer.
The ditty at Start-up and Shut-down is composed by him, but he also worked with the BMW acoustic and sound engineers for the rest of the iX3’s soundtrack – no small feat considering how the iX3’s every driving state is accompanied by a matching sound pattern.
As Porsche showed us with the Porsche Electric Sport Sound in the Taycan (Click HERE to have a listen to it), an EV’s soundtrack adds as much to the driving experience as its performance does. It isn’t just about going fast, because having the right aural accompaniment adds to the emotional enjoyment.
It’s easy to see why the iX3 represents an appealing (and painless) package to those looking to dip their toes into the EV world.
It’s not just down to the conventional crossover looks, because the iX3’s agreeable and seamless drive experience allows even EV newbies to get in and drive with only a short period of acclimatisation.
All in, the range, utility, drive, (current) price and looks prove palatable enough for those teetering between ICE and EV, so it’s little surprise it is the current Blue ‘i’-ed Boy of the BMW electrified range.
PHOTOS BMW Asia
Battery 80kWh, Li-Ion, 400V
Electric Motor 286hp, 400Nm
Electric Range up to 460km (WLTP)
Top Speed 180km/h (electronically limited)
LxBxH 4734 x 1891 x 1668mm
Kerbweight (DIN) 2185kg