Editor’s Note: COVID-19 travel restrictions prevented us from attending the launch of the BMW iX3. Instead, we assigned our colleagues at Motor1.com Germany to cover the drive. What follows is their account of BMW's new mass-market EV.
It had to be an SUV, everything these days is an SUV. But if you're a brand launching its first "mass-produced" electric car, why wouldn't you position it in the lowest-risk segment? The 2021 BMW iX3 may not be a completely new model (like, say, the Volkswagen ID.4), but it rounds out the range, joining the already available gasoline, diesel, and plug-in hybrid variants.
And visually, the iX3 doesn't look all that different from its gas-powered sibling. Trim-exclusive design elements like new front aprons, a faux dual kidney grille, and electric blue accents – the latter available as an option – are the only elements that give away its identity. The fancy aero wheels come standard, and not only do they save 15 percent in weight versus traditional alloys, but they're also five percent more aerodynamic, adding an extra six miles of range.
While it may not be brand-new, the iX3 does have a few advantages that other manufacturers don't – the key of which being that the iX3 borrows nearly all of its packaging from the base X3. But since there are no major changes to the exterior and cabin versus the standard X3, that also means there are some drawbacks. The iX3 has no extra trunk (or frunk), no noticeable increase in passenger space compared to the gas model, and no additional power.
Unfortunately, there is no brutal dual-motor, all-wheel-drive version of the BMW iX3 that accelerates with supercar quickness (yet). This EV is rear-wheel-drive only with a usable but not huge 74-kilowatt-hour battery pack. That battery pack also sits pretty low in the car, which gives the iX3 a nice center of gravity, but not great ground clearance, as one might expect of an SUV.
But the BMW iX3 doesn't necessarily need to mimic market trends to be successful. This is the EV for people who are looking for a practical crossover that also happens to be electric. And BMW knows how to build practical, comfortable crossovers – the company has been doing it for quite some time now.
The iX3 benefits from BMW's pioneering work in electric mobility. Seven years after the brand's very first electric car, the BMW i3, the company now employs its "fifth-generation eDrive technology." All of the drive and battery development takes place in-house. The motor now has 30 percent more energy density than that of the i3 and, according to BMW, is 93 percent efficient (a combustion engine is around 40 percent).
This is the EV for people who are looking for a practical crossover that also happens to be electric.
The battery may not be the largest, but the WLTP range of 286 miles is a real achievement. The storage system has 20 percent more energy density and uses 66 percent less cobalt than before. In addition, it can be charged super fast at DC stations with up to 150 kilowatts. Charging from 0 to 80 percent takes just 34 minutes, and adding 62 miles of range takes just 10 minutes.
BMW also wants to reassure those skeptics who see the carbon footprint of electric cars over the entire life cycle as a major problem. If you consider raw material procurement, supply chain, production, use phase, and recycling, it is significantly lower here than with an X3 xDrive20d, for example – by more than 30 percent when using electricity from the European electricity mix during the use phase. And that number jumps to around 60 percent if only green electricity is used.
The BMW iX3 feels more normal than pretty much any other electric car we’ve driven so far, and that makes it comfortable from a driver’s standpoint. Depending on how big of an EV nerd you are, this could be a good thing and a bad thing.
With just 282 horsepower and 295 pound-feet, the iX3 is not the electric powerhouse a la the Tesla Model X. But the BMW’s seamless punch even with the slightest pressure on the accelerator is impressive; a quick look at the speedometer reveals that the iX3 hastens to serious figures quickly. Though once at higher speeds, the battery power does weaken a bit.
A pretty clever tool that the BMW employs is adaptive recuperation, which works with signals from the navigation system (for approaching intersections, tight bends, and speed limits) and the radar sensors (for the traffic in front of you). When you take your foot off the accelerator, the level of recuperation is automatically selected so that it brakes as gently as possible toward the new target speed. If you take your foot off the gas very early, the system allows efficient sailing.
In other words: Lifting the accelerator pedal leads to different results depending on the situation, and you really have to get used to it. But after a while, you should be able to come to terms with it pretty well. The system makes smart decisions and overall inspires trust. But if you prefer the old-school method, there is also the option to select between gentle or strong recuperation.
As far as sound goes, BMW worked with Hollywood sound legend Hans Zimmer to create the ideal note. In Comfort mode, the sound when accelerating is more subtle. In Sport mode, however, the car produces an over-the-top sci-fi sound that increases the harder you press the pedal. If you don't want to feel like you're cruising through the latest Star Wars flick in a Tie Fighter, then you can turn off the cinematic noise entirely. It doesn't really convey a real sense of speed, anyway.
Gallery: 2021 BMW iX3: First Drive
Poise > Playfulness
When it comes to driving dynamics, the iX3 feels like it's from another planet. And that’s a good thing – for the most part, at least. Though it’s obvious that you’re sitting in and driving a BMW, it feels so much different.
It may sound like a paradox, but the electric X3 is the most dynamic, least sporty car we’ve probably ever driven. Just imagine you have a vehicle up to your belt that moves like an SUV. Underneath, however, the low weight of the batteries offers road-holding abilities that are difficult to grasp. Without batting an eyelid, this car reaches cornering speeds that seem completely absurd for this type of vehicle. And even the steering – with its thin wheel rim by BMW standards – offers a lot of feedback.
However, the BMW iX3 isn’t particularly playful. You really don't notice anything from the rear-wheel-drive layout; the iX3 is ultra-stable and offers extremely high traction. And the standard adaptive chassis doesn't feel tight, just well balanced.
Basically, what BMW says is true: The iX3 is one of the most efficient EVs out there, especially for its size. After an 81-mile, not super fast test route – which mainly comprised roads and some freeway – the on-board computer showed a power consumption of 18.1-kilowatt-hours per 62 miles. For an SUV that weighs almost 2.3 tons, that's a good number.
The remaining range read 150 miles, which meant we would have covered about 230 miles in total. That’s a bit far off from the 286 miles that the WLTP estimates suggested, but if the route was supplemented by more city traffic and more intensive recuperation, things would probably look a little different.
Inside of the iX3 is where you can tell most that this car doesn’t use a dedicated EV platform. One of the key advantages of having a dedicated platform is having an unusually large amount of space. But that’s missing here. And like the Mercedes-Benz EQC, the iX3 isn't particularly lush in the rear either. The seats, seating position, and material quality are all convincing, but it feels much like a normal X3; it’s still not as upscale as something like a Jaguar I-Pace.
At least trunk space is pretty impressive, offering 18 cubic feet behind the second row and 55 cubic feet with the second row folded flat. And while the cockpit feels very familiar – it’s just as easy to use as any other X3 – the instrument panel grows to include one extra display. You can also call up various information about your journey and your efficiency on the infotainment screen. That’s about it.
But we appreciate BMW’s relatively pragmatic approach with the new iX3. For the brand’s first "mass-market" electric car since 2013, the mid-size SUV feels very familiar; no wild acceleration, no monstrous battery pack, nothing unusual that takes getting used to. And that’s what makes this EV so successful.
Deliveries of the iX3 will start at the end of January 2021, with prices starting at €66,300 and the ability to deduct up to €7,500 in incentives. For comparison, the X3 M40i starts at €69,210 euros in Germany.
Nevertheless, almost €70,000 is a lot of money. Next year, not only will the BMW iX3 hit the market, but also other, cheaper electric crossovers like the VW ID.4, the Nissan Aryia, and the Ford Mustang Mach-E. It will be exciting to see which one appeals more to electric car buyers.
2021 BMW iX3