With a host of new tech, the iX looks like BMW's slickest SUV yet.
BMW isn't the first to bring an all-electric SUV to market. The new BMW iX has only just entered production and won't be on sale until around March of next year. However, the brand has thrown all of its efforts into making the iX the most technically sophisticated EV SUV. Not just in driver assistance, connected technology, and luxury features, though.
The iX has sophisticated wizardry that BMW believes will not just make it a great premium market electric crossover, but a great BMW. That means the iX has to drive like a next-generation BMW in terms of comfort, power, and performance while also making electric car life convenient and connected. We were at BMW's iX and i4 US launch in LA and got the lowdown on what makes the iX special.
BMW is not as new to the electric vehicle game as you might think. Its first electric car was the 43-hp BMW 1602 Elektro-Antrieb, used during the 1972 Olympics to act as a support car in events like the marathon. The newly announced BMW iX xDrive50 generates 516 hp via electric motors developed in-house by BMW, which don't use fixed permanent magnets. That also means the iX doesn't use any rare-earth materials and is a step towards BMWs ecological commitments. The 5th Generation of BMW's eDrive tech sees the motor, power electronics, and single-speed transmission housed in a single unit. According to BMW, that design has a power density around 30% greater than its previous electric drive systems.
With 516 hp available at a press of the right foot, power is taken care of. That's just one ingredient of overall performance, and BMW has sought to get the balance of sport and comfort by using a form of progressive damping it describes as a lift-related damping system. Essentially, by using extra hydraulic damping, the level of damping from the shock absorbers changes as the unit is compressed. Over large bumps, the suspension firms up to stop the body from moving excessively, while over more minor road bumps and around the middle damping position, the dampers react more softly to even out the ride.
Once the suspension is compressed enough, a second piston in the shock comes into effect to provide extra damping. At the front, it affects the rebound, while at the back, it affects the suspension's compression.
The iX features an intelligent electric all-wheel-drive system that can split the torque generated by the motors as needed, whether it's all the power going to the rear wheels for efficiency or to all four wheels when maximum traction is required. The clever part of the system comes when control is needed over individual wheels side-to-side. Traditionally, that is taken care of by the Dynamic Stability Control (DSC) module.
In the iX, a traction control system BMW describes as a "wheel slip limitation function" is built into the motor management system, allowing a shorter path for signals to travel through. That means the system reacts quicker to create faster corrective inputs for both front and rear wheels and a smoother and quicker takeoff in slippery conditions. That leaves the DSC system to concentrate on directional stability and safety by controlling the anti-lock braking system, traction control, and electronic stability control.
BMW is touting around 300 miles of range, and for an SUV, that means it needs more than just slick drivetrain technology. To combat excessive weight, the iX is built using an aluminum spaceframe chassis. It also features carbon fiber reinforced plastic (CFRP) for areas such as the side frame, roof frame, rain channels, cowl panel, and rear window frame and to form what BMW is calling a "Carbon Cage" within the body. The body itself also uses CFRP as well as lightweight aluminum and steel. Even after all that, it still comes in at 5,500 pounds.
Aerodynamics are also important for optimizing the range, and the iX boasts a drag coefficient of just 0.25. Typically, an SUV has a drag coefficient of between 0.35-0.45, and to hammer home how impressive the iX's aerodynamics are, the BMW i8 has a 0.1 higher coefficient of 0.26.
Standard, the iX comes with 20-inch aerodynamically optimized wheels. However, BMW expects most buyers to upgrade to either the 21-inch or 22-inch Air Performance wheels. The aluminum wheels feature customized inserts that create a flat surface for smoother airflow while taking advantage of about a 15% reduction in weight over standard alloy wheels. As a tire is filled with pressurized air, it also acts as a resonator for vibrations from the road.
The iX's optional wheels come with tires developed with "integral noise reduction," which is, in essence, a layer of foam inside and on the tire's inner surface to reduce vibrations that would otherwise be transmitted through the chassis and into the cabin.
The ornate kidney grille doesn't allow air into an engine bay, but instead, it houses an array of sensors and the front camera. The sensors contribute to systems including Parking Assistant, collision warning, cross-traffic alert, and BMW's Evasion Assistant designed to help avoid suddenly appearing pedestrians, cyclists, or vehicles. None of this is a new technology, but BMW has cut to the heart of the problem sensors and cameras face when it comes to ice and snow by making the grille heated. It also has a polyurethane coating that's self-healing when it comes to minor scratches. It can take just five minutes to heal with the application of warm air or 24 hours at room temperature. As you can't lift the hood on the iX, the badge can be popped out to access the filler for the windscreen washer tank.
When we climbed in the iX at BMW's US launch event, we realized that calling the interior a "warm and minimalist interior design with a very spacious feel," wasn't just marketing talk. However, it's the detail of thought that intrigued us most. For example, the hexagonal steering wheel is designed to see the curved gauge cluster display easily through it, and the center console has haptic feedback built into the controls. There's also a Radiant Heat package that adds heating to the rear seats and radiant heating to surfaces such as the instrument panel, glove compartment, and door panels, as well as contact surfaces like the center armrest and steering wheel. According to BMW, the system warms up passengers faster than pumping in warm air, and it feels good on cold mornings.
A panoramic roof is standard on the iX, and rather than using an interior liner to give shade on hot days, the glass uses a Polymer Dispersed Liquid Crystal layer to control light. The layer of film sandwiched between the two layers of glass is altered using electrical energy. The voltage is applied, light is allowed into the cabin through the polymer matrix. When no charge is applied, the matrix closes up and creates shade.
Also as standard, the iX comes with a Harmon Kardon audio system that would usually be an upgrade in a car with its 18 speakers and 655 watts of audio power. However, there is also an optional Bowers & Wilkins Diamond Surround Sound System available with 30 speakers and a total output of 1,615 watts. The system uses two central bass speakers and two subwoofers under the rear seats but takes things to the next level by adding bass shakers in the front seats and eight speakers integrated into the front and rear headrests.
Pictures don't do the iX's curved display justice. It has a lightweight magnesium housing, and the single piece of glass stretching across the cockpit is frameless. The iX is the first BMW model to get the curved display, which is made possible by using anti-reflective glass, and is bigger and sharper than any display in current BMW models. Running on the screen is the new BMW iDrive 8 infotainment system controlled by a redesigned control panel in the center console to select the different menus.
The iX xDrive50 is the first BMW to be fitted with an overhead interior camera. It can be operated by gesture, touch, or voice control. It can also be set to take photos on a self-timer or when at least one person is smiling, but the interior camera isn't just about the 'Gram. A Remote Theft Recorder is coming to the iX, and the camera will be integrated for when the anti-theft alarm system is triggered. That will, in turn, send a message to the owner's phone where they can access the image or images from the interior front, rear, and wing mirror cameras.
In terms of privacy, the images taken are stored locally in the vehicle, and they have to be requested to be transmitted via the My BMW App. BMW says no images are stored on its servers.