The uptake of electric vehicles has been slow, but BMW’s new wave of electric vehicles aim to be as easy to own and use as the petrol combustion cars once were
When BMW introduced the groundbreaking i3 electric car back in 2013, it represented what to expect of an electric future, but its cherubic styling was not to everyone's taste. BMW was not alone, as the entire industry at that time was draping their electric cars (EV) with a rather controversial styling, making it hard for consumers to embrace EVs wholeheartedly.
Today, manufacturers are styling their EV offerings much like any normal car. Indeed, the latest iX3 from BMW is styled almost exactly like the petrol-driven X3 SUV. Better styling addresses this particular resistance to ownership, signalling that EVs are now mainstream and better poised to eventually take the lion's share of sales.
In the past few years, supercar rivalling models have made headlines and we are now aware that EVs are inherently capable of spectacular performance thanks to the superior power delivery of the electric motor. While such extreme capability creates interesting conversation, it hardly finds use in our crowded city streets, not to mention the price tag that only a slim margin can afford.
BMW's take on the next-generation EV is one of practicality and affordability. Not everyone wants a pricey SUV to challenge supercars. They are far more accepting of what they owned previously, only now with an electric motor instead of the petrol power plant. It is not surprising that the new BMW iX3 could be mistaken as just another BMW X3 SUV because that is exactly what BMW did. Instead of creating a costly, separate platform for the EV models, BMW decided to incorporate EV models into its current range of cars.
The X3 model range is an ideal starting point because the SUV form lends itself well to the EV configuration as size and weight are not the primary concern of the typical SUV buyer. One of the biggest concerns of the EV is its maximum range. Though most owners will never travel over 400 km in a single day, they still want the assurance of such capability and manufacturers have been targeting that figure.
BMW has achieved a 450 to 459 km range for the iX3 not because they have a huge, hefty battery pack but because they have avoided performance overkill and settled for a level considered decent. With a modest 286 hp electric motor and 400 Nm of torque, it will get to 100 km/h in a reasonable 6.8 seconds. Its top speed is an electronically governed 180 km/h. It looks weedy on paper but rest assured it is not.
BMW has chosen not to have two motors but a single 286 hp motor driving just the rear wheels of the iX3. This requires a smaller, lighter power pack that is easier to package within the body, and it helps lower the cost of manufacture. Sharing the body parts of the already established X3 range also significantly reduces the costs of the iX3. This allows BMW to price the iX3 EV close to the equivalent petrol-driven X3 model.
So what's it like to drive? So unlike the almost alien environment of early EVs, this iX3 is just as familiar to drive as the regular X3. The power of the electric motor pours out so smoothly and silently without any jerky gear changes, bolstering refinement. But by far the greatest advantage is the immediate acceleration as power is delivered instantly, without hesitation.
While performance is hardly neck-snapping, the iX3 is not a laggard as it gets the job done without fuss or pause. Eventually, we do come to the next disadvantage of the EV: charging it. Despite all the efforts of the manufacturers, charging a flat battery is a time-consuming event even with the most powerful 150 KWh charging point. On the bright side, the usage of many of these charging points is free of charge.
To circumvent this drawback, charging should be done on a daily basis, topping it up to full or near full charge rather than the old paradigm of waiting for the low-fuel warning light before visiting the petrol station to tank up. Currently, this is possible only if one has a landed property or an apartment that has charging facilities.
The regular BMW X3 has been honed to be one of the best SUVs around, and the iX3 conveniently inherits this capability. In Comfort mode, the iX3 is effortless to drive and has a cushy ride. But BMWs have a reputation for being sporty cars, and one can configure the drive experience to be sportier. In Sport mode, the adaptive suspension is tauter, the steering is weightier and the motor is snappier in its delivery of power. It does not turn the iX3 into a sports car, but it does make it more engaging to drive.
Clever features include the adaptive recuperation program that is activated when the onboard computer senses slow traffic ahead. Instead of using the brakes, the electric motor instantly switches to regeneration and converts excess speed into electricity rather than have it wasted as heat by the brakes. The designers have also turned their attention to the wheels which are of a low drag design and claims to be worth 10 km of range out of every 450km.
BMW has also been working on a feature called the BMW Intelligent Assistant, a voice control system that recognises and reacts appropriately to certain set phrases such as "Wind down my window", "I'm feeling cold" or "Turn on Sports mode". Its aim is to help the driver keep his or her hands on the steering and eyes on the road ahead, reducing distractions. There is even the possibility to do away with the keyless device by installing the My BMW App on your iPhone.
Should you be ready for the full EV lifestyle, the BMW iX3 might be just the car for you. There is no doubt the SUV is the most popular genre of vehicle today and the iX3 like the X3 resides in the sweet spot where it is not so big that parking becomes a challenge and not so small that its cabin is a squeeze for passengers.
In my humble opinion, the iX3 is the EV that comes with, arguably, the least possible resistance to EV ownership available today.