The first time I met the iX was in a curious setting. A production model in a deep red hue was positioned next to an art installation of disused car headlights at Frieze London in a makeshift space nestled within the giant tent that is the temporary home to the annual art fair. Here, the iX looked — dare I say — like an average SUV. I did my best to hide my disappointment, since the iNext concept on which the car is based on is far from conventional. Meanwhile, my subsequent candid conversation with the BMW Group creative director Adrian van Hooydonk had left me with high hopes.
So, I’m glad I got the chance to take the iX for a drive and experience it where it ought to be: on the road. BMW’s pinnacle battery-electric car needs to be explored from the inside — it’s with the drive and experience on-board where you sense the subtle shifts in personal transport.
BMW isn’t new to the electric game. More than other traditional carmakers, the Bavarian marque has long looked at fresh readings for this new age of transport with cars like the i3 and i8 — one offering a serene space for city commutes, while the other a visual expression of the thrill of driving electric. The iX is less of a style statement and more concerned with the experience of driving. Here, the main role of design is to make this hugely advanced and complex technological product a breeze to live with.
BMW says it has taken an all-embracing approach to building a lower carbon car. This means great aerodynamics with a drag coefficient of just 0.25, lightweight design using natural and recycled materials and a high recycling rate for the battery. Powering this car, the new eDrive is made without using scarce raw materials, yet the car is powerful, with 500 horsepower and acceleration to 62 mph in under 5 seconds (which you really do feel driving this car). Meanwhile the battery has a 300-mile range with under 40 minutes charging to 80% at a DC fast charger.
The flowing roof, flush doors, slim light units and the absence of unnecessary embellishments give the iX a clean, modern appearance. The seemingly simple exterior design veils some compelling technologies too. For instance, the closed upright kidney grille is a high-tech interface housing the car’s advanced driver assistance systems. In the future, it can easily be tailored for fully automated drive.
“This is the most complex and intelligent vehicle that BMW has ever built. The technology has enabled us to do a design that is very reduced and clean, especially in the interior,” says van Hooydonk. “The form language may be very modern, reduced and clean, but the sense of precision, strong character and good proportions are all there,” he told me at the reveal last November.
I’m happy sitting inside the iX since the interior’s focus is on providing a positive user experience. The space is lounge-like; the material and surfaces are tactile while the panoramic glass roof floods natural light in. The space is driver-focused to maintain some of the BMW codes but with a new interpretation to offer a lightly curved large screen that stands free of the dashboard and envelopes the driver.
The iX interface is digital with elements surfacing only when summoned through the personal assistant and integrated smart fabrics in what is being dubbed “shy tech”. With AI and machine intelligence such a big part of the upcoming generation of cars, BMW wants to make technology less overwhelming.
There are few mechanical elements inside the iX, with the discreet air vents, hidden speakers and the floating screen adding to the sense of calm inside this car. My only criticism is of the transparent iDrive control unit with touch functionality which, to me, looks too decorative to be in this otherwise polished zone.
The final note worth mentioning is the iX sound, composed specially for this car by the celebrated composer Hans Zimmer, which the driver can modulate through the throttle paddle. When creating the sound, the musician beautifully compared the ideas to framing the silence in the desert.
Driving the iX it occurs to me that the new age of personal transport isn’t going to be quite the a big bold revolution some of us had imagined, but rather a network of subtle evolutions that together make the experience of driving different — in a good way. And this car is a great expression of this.
Read about BMW Group’s approach to reaching circularity here, and see what the illustrious car designer Marcello Gandini feels (not so positively) about the current wave of electric cars and former BMW Group creative director Chris Bangle’s radical proposition for design as a whole.