We usually don't associate BMW with hydrogen cars, but the Bavarian brand has been experimenting with fuel cell tech for a long time. Remember the H2R concept from 2004? It used a V12 6.0-liter engine derived from the 760Li, but modified to run on hydrogen rather than gasoline. The low-slung, single-seater machine went on to set no fewer than nine speed records.
The H2R was never sold, but the Hydrogen 7 based on the company's flagship model was offered as a production model, albeit in small numbers. These were made available in the mid-2000s only to celebrities, politicians, businessmen, and other VIPs.
The defunct 5 Series Gran Turismo was modified to run on hydrogen in 2015 with help from Toyota. There was also an i8 hydrogen fuel cell research vehicle the same year, along with a mysterious concept that was never officially revealed. Fast forward to 2019, the i Hydrogen NEXT was unveiled at the Frankfurt Motor Show before becoming the iX5 last year at the IAA in Munich.
Gallery: BMW iX5 Hydrogen testing near the Arctic Circle
The CO2-free iX5 is currently near the Arctic Circle undergoing testing in harsh conditions. Specifically, it's being evaluated in Arjeplog, Sweden where the BMW Group has a winter testing center. While the vast majority of EVs have batteries, the SUV boasts two hydrogen tanks made from carbon fiber reinforced plastic (CFRP), much like the first-generation Toyota Mirai.
The BMW iX5 Hydrogen is more than just a one-off as the German luxury brand aims to produce a small batch of vehicles. In addition, it has pledged to support the network expansion of hydrogen fueling stations. In the meantime, the zero-emissions SUV has to endure temperatures of -20°C (-4°F) and still offer maximum performance. Consequently, BMW claims a hydrogen-fueled setup represents a "viable alternative to a vehicle powered by a battery-electric drive system."
With 369 horsepower (275 kilowatts) on tap and only water coming out of its exhaust, the iX5 Hydrogen aims to offer performance in an eco-friendly package. Although BMW appears to be committed to fuel cell research, there is no word about a series production model coming anytime soon. It's unlikely to happen in the foreseeable future since the recharging infrastructure needs to be vastly improved.
Until that happens, BMW is pressing ahead with its battery-powered EVs by introducing the i7 in the coming months and the iX1 towards the end of the year. Come 2023, an i5 will follow as an electric derivative of the next-generation 5 Series Sedan. Outside of the core brand, MINI will launch a Countryman EV while Rolls-Royce is working on the Spectre coupe sans the ICE.
Over in China, the "i3" badge will be repurposed for a 3 Series Sedan EV based on the locally assembled long-wheelbase model.