With the arrival of the iX3, this is the first ever BMW to be available with a full choice of electric, plug-in hybrid and traditional petrol or diesel engines. Following the lasting popularity of the electric i3 hatchback, can this iX3 live up to its hefty price tag?
The new BMW iX3 gives the Bavarian firm its first ever model to be offered with a choice of fully electric, plug-in hybrid, petrol or diesel power. If the i3 and i8 showed a promising start to BMW’s electrified future, this iX3 shows the direction for its next generation.
Blink and you’ll miss the differences between this new iX3 and the conventionally-engined X3. A ‘filled-in’ front grille with electric blue highlighting that is repeated in the surround to the external BMW badges, on the side sills and on the under-bumper trim and that’s pretty much it, apart from the chrome ‘i’ badge just behind the front wheel on the wing.
Compared to the i3 and i8 of course, the styling of the iX3 looks very traditional, but that’s BMW’s aim. This model scheme of offering multiple power/engine choices, whether electric or ICE within the same body, is one that that will continue in the future BMW range too.
With an 80kWh battery located in the iX3’s floor, it has the equivalent of 289PS going to the rear wheels (there’s no four-wheel drive iX3) giving it a 285 mile range when fully charged at an average consumption of 19.5-18.5kWh/100km. Performance is good with a 0 to 62mph time of 6.8 seconds and a 112mph top speed.
Will that lack of four-wheel drive deter some buyers? Aside from the entry-level petrol 20i, all other models in the X3 range have four-wheel drive (including the plug-in hybrid), so it’s ironic that this iX3 doesn’t have it, despite a price tag north of £60,000. BMW claims it didn’t want to add the extra weight to do so, which is fair enough given that the iX3 already tips the scales at 2,260kg. Expect the next generation of iX3 to have it though.
The biggest surprise of the iX3 however is its excellent packaging, especially when it comes to boot space. At 510 litres with the rear seats up and 1,560 litres with them folded down, it’s only 40 litres less than the standard X3 and is actually a noticeable improvement on the plug-in hybrid version also in the range (at 450 and 1,500 litres).
Thanks to the battery location in the floor, the iX3 has a lower centre of gravity than the standard 30i petrol version which is noticeable once out on the road.
The same goes for the physical weight of the car too. You’re never not aware of the extra weight from behind the wheel, but it’s not as detrimental as you might imagine. The steering is sharp and there’s minimal body roll inspiring plenty of confidence on twisty roads. We wouldn’t mind the driver’s seat going slightly lower though as it still feels marginally too high.
Some more feel through the steering wheel wouldn’t go amiss, but this is unlikely to be a car that many owners are going to be driving with the enthusiasm of a hot hatch. That said, it can be hustled through corners with a good degree of speed and handles surprisingly well. In Comfort mode the ride quality is good too, although you couldn’t say the same for Sport mode which requires the road to be billiard table-smooth.
As you’d expect, the iX3 features three different settings for the regenerative braking – low, medium and high – although perhaps unusually, there is also an adaptive mode where the iX3 decides for the driver which level of braking to use depending on the road and traffic conditions using Artificial Intelligence, the sat nav and the forward radar.
While seasoned EV drivers might prefer to adapt it themselves, the reality is that the adaptive mode works very efficiently either braking the car heavily or coasting when the road ahead is clear. It would certainly be our preferred choice, something that’s underlined by BMW claiming that it means that 90 per cent of ‘reducing speed situations’ can be handled without using the brake pedal.
One deterrent against drivers switching modes themselves is that changing the settings has to be done via the menu on the central infotainment screen which isn’t easy to do on the move. You can however push the gearlever across to B mode which acts as a shortcut to the highest regen mode.
With that 285 mile range when fully charged from its 80kWh battery, BMW is seeking to achieve extra range from its future electric models from improved efficiency rather than from a larger battery.
With its latest generation eDrive system achieving 30 per cent better power density than the i3 and using an impressive 62 per cent less cobalt per kWh against the i3, it’s certainly heading in the right direction. The same system in the iX3 will also be fitted to the i4 and iNext models due in 2021. Even the iX3’s alloy wheels have less weight and reduced drag, giving around six miles of extra range.
BMW will also offer a standard wallbox for home charging or a smart wallbox for company car drivers, enabling them to be reimbursed for any domestic electricity that has been consumed for corporate use.
Provided with a Type 2 cable and household 3-pin cables as standard, BMW claims a fully charged time of 7.5 hours on a domestic wallbox, with a 0 to 80 per cent charge on a 150kW rapid charger in just 34 minutes. On the same rapid charger, it also claims that drivers can add an extra 62 miles of range in just 10 minutes.
Although available to order now, when the first customer deliveries of the iX3 are made in summer 2021, it will come in either Premier Edition or Premier Edition Pro at £58,850 and £61,850 respectively. Obviously given that price tag, it doesn’t qualify for the Government grant, and it’s a substantial financial step up from the X3 plug-in hybrid.
BMW expects the majority of sales to be the Premier Edition version which gets 20in alloy wheels, electric tailgate, wireless phone charging, adaptive suspension and a panoramic sunroof all as standard. The Premier Edition Pro adds a head-up display, Harman Kardon surround sound stereo, gesture control and automatic high beam amongst other extras.
On paper, the BMW iX3 is a very expensive step up from its plug-in hybrid stablemate elsewhere in the showroom.
However, in reality, it’s simply about offering more choice to X3 customers – and with a decent range that makes it very usable on a day-to-day basis, particularly for company car drivers. While BMW won’t be pinned down to official numbers, it’s expecting to see corporate sales of the X3 rise significantly with the addition of the iX3 to the line-up.
And that rise will be more than justified. No, the iX3 isn’t cheap, but it’s a very impressive car with some very impressive technology. If the next steps in BMW’s electrified future are as good as this, then for us that future can’t arrive soon enough.