BMW’s iX doubles down on the brand’s early experience with electrification and brings an added dose of luxury technology. Despite getting a head start with the impressive BMW i3 and BMW i8, the company floundered a bit in the wake of the extreme start-up energy (and massive infrastructure investment) from the likes of Tesla.
The German giants have since regrouped, and BMW ‘i' is most definitely back in contention, along with Mercedes’s EQ range, Audi’s e-tron, and Porsche’s equally impressive Taycan. The original plan for BMWi was to forge a new path, distinct from the company’s line-up of conventionally powered cars. In the end, the Munich HQ hedged its bets and decided to splice electrification into its regular range. Except for this car.
The iX is part SUV, part crossover, but all battery. Unlike anything else in the company’s current line-up, it makes a bold design statement as well as taking a step towards a new kind of luxury, less concerned with flashing lights than with what’s going on under the skin. From the entry-level iX xDrive40 to the flagship iX M60, shown here, the company has found the sweet spot between range and revolution.
Let’s get this one out of the way first. Is this an attractive car? Not really, by any established metrics (proportion, shape, size, etc.). Is it a striking car? Undeniably. Live with the iX for a few days and you’ll come to appreciate certain aspects of the exterior design – the rear three-quarters view is especially well resolved. That massive grille, however, might be a step too far for some.
The good news is that inside the iX it is uniformly excellent, one of the best contemporary interiors and light years ahead of the old school cockpit-like dash set-up of a traditional car. It’s helped by the panoramic roof option, an expanse of electrochromic glass that goes opaque at the touch of a button to keep the sun out.
Satisfyingly quirky design touches abound, like the hexagonal steering wheel and the long curved display slab, which sits on architectural-style mounts. The materials palette isn’t busy, and the overall feel is calming and subdued.
The iX makes much of sound’s new-found role in electric car design. Switch into sport mode and you’ll experience a whooshing sound effect to accompany the (expectedly rapid) acceleration. If that’s not cinematic enough for you, then BMW has enlisted the Oscar-winning composer Hans Zimmer to create bespoke start up and shut down sounds for the car.
Gesture control isn’t a new thing in car interiors, but the iX’s application make it child’s play to change volume control. Straight out of the box, you can waggle your finger in a circle to turn the music up or down, a gesture so intuitive that you’ll find yourself doing it in every car from now on, regardless of whether it works.
Bowers & Wilkins designed the iX’s substantial sound system, complete with a suite of digital processing and the Zimmer-esque in-seat 4D bass booster that gives you a physical kick along with the bass drum.
This is one of the best bits of the iX’s interior design; a grainy wood panel imprinted with switches for the most important controls. The seat adjustors, gear selector and iDrive rotary dial are all made from crystal – the latter also incorporates a touch screen for character input into its transparent surface.
Material matters on the exterior too. The BMW iX’s metal detailing can be picked out in on-trend Titan Bronze, which makes a welcome change from matt black or traditional chrome.
The upholstery might bear a little leaf mark, but it’s not quite vegetarian friendly. The olive branch signifies the Castanea and Amido trim that uses real leather that has been tanned with extracts from waste olive leaves and is certified by the leather industry’s Leather Working Group for sustainable practices.
Rear-wheel steering isn’t new either – it was a standard feature on the humdrum 1987 Honda Prelude – but the iX’s system is an indication that BMW wants more from this technology. The Integral Active Steering helps you park the sizeable iX at low speeds; future systems should allow up to 10 degrees of rear-wheel movement, twice as much as currently available.
BMW iX M60, from £111,905.
This article is part of The T3 Edit, a collaboration between T3 and Wallpaper* which explores the very best blends of design, craft, and technology. Wallpaper* magazine is the world’s leading authority on contemporary design and The T3 Edit is your essential guide to what’s new and what’s next.