Back when BMW started making series production electric vehicles, it did so under the unique BMW-i sub-brand.
It allowed BMW to experiment with electric vehicle drivetrain, and new construction methods, all without harming its mainstream brand.
In recent years though, BMW has been clear that while the i-brand will live on as a technology demonstrator and cutting-edge brand, the future of its leading brand also lies with the plug-in, and to some extent, hydrogen fuel cell technologies.
Thus, we’ve seen the steady march of mainstream models gain plug-in hybrid variants, and in the last year, all-electric versions.
The mini was first with the mini cooper SE launching at the end of last year, and earlier this week, the leading BMW brand got its first all-electric production review in the form of the 2021 IX-3 electric SUV.
Based on the X3, this first all-electric version was first shown as a Shanghai concept in 2018. The transition from concept to production vehicle has seen the iX3 change very little externally.
But as the electric variant of the X3, a car that’s available with an internal combustion engine, a plug-in hybrid drivetrain, and now an electric variant, it’s hardly surprising X3 is already an established model.
But this week’s reveal has at least cleared up some of the stuff we didn’t know, so here’s what we do now know and what we should expect from the production IX-3 when it goes on sale very shortly.
Before we get on with that, let’s acknowledge two critical things.
First, this isn’t a car that will come to North America, BMW originally planned to introduce the iX3 to the US and the rest of the world after an initial Chinese market rollout.
But that was canned earlier this year, allegedly because BMW’s North American dealers balked at the IX-3’s planned range, stating that buyers wouldn’t want one.
So if you’re in North America, this article is probably less exciting than it might be if you’re elsewhere in the world.
Second, BMW is known for being very fluent in its press releases, and they tend to be heavy on superlatives and not always deep on tech.
If you think I’m joking, the extended version of the iX3 press release is 24 pages long, while the tech sheet is less than one.
In terms of design, the IX-3 looks from a distance like the rest of the X3 family. The front kidney grille is filled in with a textured panel and blue accents, while the same BMW I blue accents the door sills.
At the rear, two massive trim pieces sit where the exhaust would be on a gasoline X3, and yes, their BMW I blue 2.
The only other subtle styling differences, the unique alloy wheels for the IX-3, and the i-branded triangular accent though down on the a-pillar.
The charge port has moved from the front quarter panel on the concept to the rear on the production, where a gas filler cap would be, and BMW quotes a maximum charge rate using a compatible CCS quick charger of 150 kilowatts.
In terms of low-speed charging, the 74-kilowatt-hour available battery pack can be filled from empty to full in seven and a half hours using a three-phase 11-kilowatt charging station.
I’m sure most of you already know this, but unlike the US, where three-phase domestic power supplies are pretty darn rare, mainland Europe commonly has three-phase to every domestic home.
Thus, eleven-kilowatt AC charging stations are pretty standard.
For single-phase mains electricity at 230 volts, the charge time is significantly longer. Thanks to that, a maximum 7.4-kilowatt single-phase charge capability.
But honestly, you’d be using a station like this for overnight charging, so I think it’s less of a problem.
The battery itself is worthy of note. It’s a new generation NMC811 battery that BMW says is free from rare earth metals.
There are a total of 188 prismatic cells in the pack grouped into ten modules, and BMW says that each of the battery cells is individually controllable, and encased in aluminum.
This suggests a relatively complicated next-generation battery management system akin to general motors promised ultim battery system, sadly though I’ve not been able to see enough tech specs to know for sure.
This battery pack, along with the IX-3’s rare earth-free motor, are frankly the most significant things to note about this car.
BMW says the power density of the entire electric drive system from the battery pack to the motor is 30% improved over previous generation BMW electric cars.
Given that the IX-3 is based on an internal combustion engine vehicle, and thus doesn’t get the benefit from a ground-up design that many other EV’s do.
That is an essential factor, as more can be fitted into less space, which in this vehicle is already at a premium.
Unlike other plug-in crossovers coming to the market, the IX-3 is only available as a rear-wheel-drive model.
A 210 kilowatt current excited synchronous motor, which I’m going to say, is essentially a hybrid variation on two different motor designs, putting out around 400-newton meters of torque.
The 0 to 100 kph is around 6.8 seconds with a top speed of 180 kilometers per hour. BMW quotes a WLTP test cycle range of up to 460 kilometers, although that’s not clear if it’s been ratified or is just an internal estimate.
Frankly, that seems on the high end, given the battery pack size, especially as WLTP is quite frankly, a little over-optimistic. But I’m willing to be proven wrong.
Some of these long lead capabilities may lie in the use of a heat pump rather than resistive heating, but as I say, I remain to be convinced.
Given its base on the X3, the cabin is very familiar to existing X3 drivers with a few tweaks here and there, and a nod to the iX3’s all-electric heritage.
The gear shifter is straight out of the i8, and you get the usual electric vehicle-themed menu systems and drive modes standard now for BMW’s electric and electrified vehicles.
When it comes to cargo carrying, the IX-3 can accommodate 510 liters of storage in the boot, 40 liters less than the internal combustion engine model, because the iX3 shares the same platform can tow up to 750 kilos.
That’s less than some other models in the market, but frankly, it’s better than nothing.
BMW is about to begin the production of the IX-3 in a state-of-the-art production facility in Shenyang China, a facility operated and owned by BMW brilliance automotive.
The first model to be completely built-in china for global export it’s likely saved BMW some significant money over producing the same vehicle in North America or Europe. But that certainly isn’t reflected in the estimated starting price.
In the UK, we expect it to market for around £60,000 sterling before any incentives. And that in case you were wondering, is above the price of any model 3 variants in the UK.
However, I don’t know because model Y UK pricing isn’t out yet, probably above the entry-level price for model Y.
This leads me to ask the question, who is the iX3 for? Well, first and foremost, it’s a compact crossover aimed I think at the Chinese market where the brand-conscious middle class will pay a premium for a car that’s got a western brand, over buying a Chinese-owned one.
Second, I think it’s not quite a compliance car for Europe as BMW intends to make a series of volumes, but given the price point and the current specs.
Frankly, it’s a BMW for BMW fans, and it’s not a conquest car aiming to take back the market from Tesla and other rivals.