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BMW’s first electric SUV is an electrified X3. Is that enough?
8 September 2021

Don’t be fooled by the name: the BMW iX3 has little more in common with the BMW i3 than its maker and two-thirds of its model name.

Whereas the latter was ahead of its time when it was launched in 2013, courtesy of its carbonfibre construction and futuristic design, the iX3 seems like a bit of a lazy effort. 

The adaptive energy regeneration is technically impressive, but it caught me out a few times by braking more than I anticipated.

In the face of the flood of new dedicated EVs coming from the Volkswagen Group, Tesla, the Hyundai Group and others, the iX3 is little more than a regular X3, shorn of its front driveshafts and with a battery pack in the floor.

In fairness, there is more to it than that. The CLAR platform that underpins all of BMW's mainstream rear-wheel-drive models was conceived to take the whole gamut of powertrain options. But it’s hard not to be a little disappointed, especially when you lift the bonnet of the iX3 and discover that under the big plastic cover is just a void that could have made some very useful extra storage yet was left unused.

Get beyond the initial disappointment, though, and the iX3 has some impressive statistics. Its battery has a healthy 74kWh of usable capacity out of 80kWh in total. The resulting WLTP range of 286 miles matches or beats that of the Jaguar I-Pace, Audi E-Tron 50 and Mercedes-Benz EQS 400.

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Also standard is 150kW rapid-charging capability, so a 10-80% top-up takes as little as 32 minutes. And after all, if you’re going to convert a petrol car, an X3 isn’t a bad start.

Between our drive of a left-hand-drive car in Germany last November and the iX3 going on sale in the UK, the whole X3 line-up has been facelifted. The changes aren’t momentous, with restyled lights, slightly larger kidney ‘grilles’, a different gear selector, a new iDrive controller and the latest version of the iDrive infotainment system on a bigger screen. 

A handful pre-facelift Premier Editions, like the car we drove (pictured) will make it to our shores, but all UK cars ordered now start from £59,730 for M Sport trim or, for £3000 more, M Sport Pro. That means they all get the M Sport styling, but all iX3s get the same adaptive dampers, so there shouldn’t be a penalty in ride quality.

Consistent with its looks and origins, the iX3 isn''t an EV that makes a point of being an EV. There’s a conventional gear selector, the digital dial cluster shows the usual four gauges (even including a temperature dial) and there are no gimmicks, other than a spacecraft-like jingle on start-up.

With 282bhp going to the rear axle, it's brisk rather than explosively fast. But as with most EVs, those coming from a normal petrol or diesel car might be pleasantly surprised, as EVs do tend to feel faster up to 40mph than their statistics suggest. The iX3’s 6.8sec 0-62mph time doesn’t set any new records but is respectable enough.

That acceleration is accompanied by synthesised sound that was created with the help of famous film-score composer Hans Zimmer. In Comfort mode, it just blends into the background, but in Sport mode, it’s more prominent. It works well, adding a sense of speed, even if it’s more Eurostar than Batmobile. If it’s not to your taste, you can always turn it off.

The iX3 does not have paddles behind the steering wheel to adjust the level of regenerative braking. Instead, it uses sat-nav data and the sensors on the car to decide how much regeneration is required. Perhaps it just takes more familiarisation, but we found it unpredictable. You can choose low, medium or high regeneration instead, but that's through a menu, so you’re not supposed to adjust it on the fly. In any case, nudging the lever to the left puts it in B mode, which enables full one-pedal driving.

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It might be disappointing that BMW couldn’t use that void under the bonnet to package another motor, but in practice, it makes this 282bhp rear-wheel-drive electric SUV remarkably entertaining to drive.

The 275-section rear tyres find all the traction you need, but the iX3 will drive out of tight corners with a little attitude from the rear if want. As it can never find itself in the wrong gear, that performance is always accessible, too. At the same time, the absence of front driveshafts leaves the steering uncorrupted, although it could do with a quicker ratio and giving some more feedback. 

The suspension too is well-judged, with springing that is relatively comfortable but decently tied down in Comfort mode. Sport mode tightens up the body control a little, which is useful on craggy rural roads, even if it can’t completely disguise the car's 2185kg kerb weight.

Despite its unambitious design brief, the iX3 has turned out to be one of the most dynamic electric SUVs. If that still sounds like a bit of a contradiction, you might want to wait for the i4, an electric version of the new 4 Series Gran Coupé.

Whether the iX3 is good value or not depends on how you look at it. Compared with its direct rivals from Jaguar, Audi and Mercedes, it's very competitive (as long as four-wheel drive isn’t a must for you), being several thousand pounds cheaper, even in M Sport Pro trim.

Look at the class just below, though, and the Hyundai Ioniq 5 uses better packaging to offer the same amount of practicality and performance, while not giving up much in terms of luxury, for considerably less money. But then it doesn’t have the badge or driver appeal of the iX3.

First drives