“The BMW iNext Will Lead The Brand To Its Electric Future,” we wrote in 2019 about an upcoming fully electric crossover meant to make BMW competitive in the EV space after years of playing it safe. Now the iNext is here in production form, and it’s called the iX. Here’s what we know.
BMW has been hedging its bets on fully electric cars, relying on platforms that can accommodate a variety of different powertrain types rather than focusing on dedicated EV bones. And while the company is likely to continue with those versatile platforms for some time, the new iX, BMW makes clear in its press release, is an EV through and through. From BMW:
The BMW iX is the first model based on a new, modular, scalable architecture on which the future of the BMW Group will be built. Conceived from the outset as purely electric mobility, the iX sees BMW redefining the successful Sports Activity Vehicle (SAV) concept.
What’s especially interesting about this platform is the mixed material usage. You may recall that BMW’s i3 and i8 — both rather early entrants in the EV market, and vehicles that gave BMW momentum that was arguably squandered — featured carbon-fiber bodies called Life Modules mounted to aluminum frames called Drive Modules. It was a bizarre setup, uncommon even in modern EVs. Here’s a look at the i8's structure:
Though the Bavarian automaker continues the use of carbon fiber on the new iX, this time it’s used more sparingly around a largely aluminum body. BMW’s iX press release notes that the company is using CFRP for the roof frame, cowl and side frame:
The aluminum spaceframe body structure of the BMW iX is a first for its segment. The materials selected and manufacturing processes increase body rigidity and crash safety while keeping weight as low as possible.
Remarkably light yet extremely rigid Carbon Fiber Reinforced Plastic components in the body’s side, rear and roof areas form a key element of the safety concept for the BMW iX passenger cell. The CFRP components for the side frame, rain channels, roof frame, cowl panel and rear window frame combine to form a “Carbon Cage”.
I’m assuming the black part of the A- and B-pillars in the image below, as well as the black on the lower sill, is all a single piece of carbon fiber:
I’m also assuming that the black frame surrounding the roof panel in the image below is CFRP:
Looking underhood, you can see quite a bit of what looks like cast aluminum just ahead of what is apparently a CFRP cowl:
BMW says its new Audi E-Tron competitor will use two electric motors — one on each axle — to make roughly 500 horsepower and launch the vehicle from 0 to 100 km/h (62 mph) in about five seconds. Range on the EPA’s FTP75 cycle, BMW expects, will be around 300 miles.
BMW hasn’t revealed much about the battery, but we do know that, as in most EVs, it’s housed in a huge aluminum case between the axles. The Bavarian carmaker says the car can use 200 kW DC fast charging to bring the battery’s state of charge from 10 to 80 percent in “under 40 minutes.”
“In just 10 minutes,” the automaker goes on to note, “enough energy can be fed into the battery to increase the car’s range by around 75 miles. It takes less than 11 hours to charge the high-voltage battery from 0 to 100 per cent at an 11 kW Level 2 charging station.”
BMW’s U.K. media site goes into a bit more detail, mentioning a battery capacity of over 100 kWh and a consumption of under 21 kWh per 100 kilometers on the European WLTP cycle. From that press release:
A clear development aim was for the BMW iX to post an exceptionally low combined electric power consumption figure for its segment of less than 21 kWh per 100 kilometres in the WLTP test cycle. A gross energy content of more than 100 kWh should enable the latest-generation high-voltage battery to record a range of over 600 kilometres in the WLTP cycle. That equates to more than 300 miles according to the EPA’s FTP-75 test procedure. (All figures relating to performance, energy consumption and range are provisional values based on the car’s current stage of development.)
As for the front end design — which features a giant closed-off kidney grille coated in a “self healing” polyurethane coating to deal with rock chips — BMW calls it “an eye-catching presence.” That’s one way to put it. You can read what others think of BMW’s recent design strategy right here in the brand’s own commercial:
Also in BMW’s literature on its upcoming X5-sized electric SUV are some notes on aerodynamics. The vehicle’s drag coefficient of 0.25 is impressive, with BMW giving credit mostly to the “streamlined body, the tapered glasshouse, flush-fitting door handles, extremely slender exterior mirrors and precisely designed aerodynamic aids.” The automaker goes on to mention just how important certain aero elements are in optimizing range, writing:
The aerodynamic elements for the front end, rear end, underbody and wheel areas alone add over 40 miles (WLTP measurement) to the car’s overall range. Some 16 miles (WLTP measurement) of this can be attributed to the third-generation active air flap control at the front of the vehicle, which directs cooling air to the drive units and brake system when required.
Luckily, BMW doesn’t stop there. It actually gets into detail on its cooling system, which is delightfully surprising for a press release of anything but a sports car.
“In normal driving situations, both the BMW kidney grille and the air intakes at the bottom of the front bumper are completely sealed off,” BMW writes. “This default setting allows the air to flow around the vehicle unhindered, significantly reducing aerodynamic drag.”
BMW, here, is referring to what’s known as “cooling drag,” or drag caused by air having to flow through heat exchangers and then bouncing off extremely un-aerodynamic surfaces underhood.
“The electronically controlled air flaps are only fully opened in the rare case that the maximum amount of cooling air is required,” BMW says. “The flaps can be adjusted gradually, allowing cooling air to be directed efficiently to the brake air ducts and drive components in carefully metered quantities.”
BMW continues with the nerdiness. “On models with the Sport package, the air flaps are complemented by carefully engineered apertures in the outer areas of the front bumper which optimize the airflow along the vehicle. These vertically arranged Air Curtains divert the airstream in such a way that it flows along the faces of the wheels without generating the customary turbulence.”
BMW says the air blades on the rear side windows work with the roof spoiler to create an “edge” that “minimizes the amount of vacuum produced behind the vehicle and its negative impact on aerodynamics.” The blades and air curtains, BMW claims, increase range by roughly nine miles on the WLTP cycle.
The flat underbody and rear bumper diffuser, BMW says, contribute six miles of WLTP range. Even the light, aerodynamic wheels, BMW claims, help bring range up by nine miles.
Like many EVs, the iX’s interior has no center tunnel. The car’s cabin, covered in fabric, looks quite nice; there’s a hexagonal steering wheel, a big curved display on the dash, seats with a cool asymmetric design and a “rocker switch” acting as a “gear selector.” (That’s in quotes because the iX does not feature a multigear transmission.)
This is a big deal for BMW. As the world transitions over to EVs, brands like Tesla, Volkswagen, Mercedes, Jaguar and Audi have put lots of focus on offering a compelling crossover SUV option. It’s an important segment to be in, and based on the little information BMW has given about this new iX—set to hit the U.S. market in 2022—it seems the brand is going to have a genuine competitor.