Putting the i in team BMW

BMW is on an electric offensive and we’ve experienced some of its latest models and we look ahead to more on the way.

BMW introduced us to its electrified i brand in 2011. Electrified because while the i3 is available as a pure electric model, the i8 was a hybrid and there was a range extender version of the i3 with a BMW motorbike engine acting as a generator. 

Production of the i8 came to an end in 2020 and the last i3 will roll off the line in July 2022, most likely ensuring their place as a future classic, although for fans of design the i3 in particular has already achieved something of an iconic status. 

Essentially for the past almost ten years, we’ve seen BMW i as the i3 and the i8 but now the brand is expanding, really expanding and while there are plenty of plug-in hybrid electric models in the BMW line-up, i is now all about electric. We’ve spent a bit of time with the i4 Gran Coupe, the iX3 SUV and the current flagship of the i range, the controversially designed, iX. We’ve also had a look at the future flagship, the new i7, the first all-electric 7 Series that will go on sale later this year and while we haven’t yet seen it in the metal, there’s a new iX1. BMW is going big on BEV.

iX3

Essentially the iX3 looks every part the new X3, but with a few differences such as the blue highlighting, the blanked out grille and the different wheels with plastic trim inserts. The range starts at £62,865 and we drove the Premier Edition Pro. Its overall exterior design is good and having regular X3 looks means that for many it won’t stand out as something different, much like the Honda Civic hybrid did compared to the Toyota Prius in the early days of electrification.

Not surprisingly there’s a premium feeling throughout, with good quality materials, although there are certain places where it feels like the engineers have tried to reduce weight to compensate for the batteries. The doors, for example feel a little bit lighter than they do in other X3 models. There are a few more plastic items to try and reduce that weight too, including the plastic inserts on the wheels. 

Inside, everything is well laid out with a cool and easy to use digital dash and a nice infotainment screen that uses BMWs latest operating system. It has all the mod cons such as wireless phone charging and USB ports but as with any premium German model, you might find some of things you most want on the options list. The driving position is excellent, there’s plenty of space in the back seats, a panoramic roof that makes it all feel light and airy and and good boot space that will easily cope with most family needs.

With 286hp and 400Nm of torque from its fifth generation BMW eDrive electric motor, it scores quite well on the whoosh rating that my kids would give it too, whether in Eco Pro, Comfort or Sport modes. In Eco Pro it potters around conserving energy, but Comfort is the sweet spot with a little bit more acceleration and a bit of a fake sound to it. Put it into Sport and you've got a sound that while synthesised works fairly well. The steering is very precise with just the right amount of feel to it and there’s plenty of oomph from the electric motors. It can feel a bit thumpy on occasion through the 20-inch wheels, but nothing that is too bad and it’s a very comfortable thing to drive with good turn-in, good handling and good dynamics.

With a driving range of up to 286 miles and the ability to charge at 150kW, the BMW iX3 is not just a good electric vehicle, it’s a practical premium SUV.

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i4 Gran Coupe

The i4 takes the typical 4 Series Gran Coupe looks, adds a little bit of BMW i to it and of course, a big bucktooth grille which we'll say no more about. Inside, it’s all very familiar BMW saloon, there’s nothing radical about the design which is something that will appeal to many. It does get the iX's curved screens with BMW's latest operating system 8.0, all of which work really well and are easy to work with.

Space is decent, although leg room is not amazing at the back, but it should be ample for most family use and the boot space is good and practical. It’s all very comfortable, very BMW.

The i4 range starts at £53,480 but we drove the £63,905 i4 M50 with its 544hp, 400kW and a range of up to 302 miles, but it’s about much more than just the impressive stats. While it might look like a practical four-door coupe, it’s actually a proper little rocket ship which is nicely planted on its feet, happy to change direction instantly and has phenomenal grip. In fact we found ourselves accelerating and braking just for fun because it’s so addictive, as is its ability do both while turning. This thing is great fun.

The best driving range is in Eco Pro mode, but Comfort is its sweet spot. Select Sport and you get some Hans Zimmer sound, which isn’t as cheesy as you might expect and you can turn it off.

Overall, the BMW i4 Gran Coupe M50 is a fantastic piece of engineering with the ability to truly showcase where we are now with electric vehicles. It's practical and fun with decent driving range and while it might not have a unique EV design, if this is the future then we’re definitely okay with it.

iX

The new BMW iX is not pretty and is probably never going to be. Adrian van Hooydonk told us that he thinks he's designed a car that in 10 years time will be much more acceptable than it is today. We’re not convinced but we’ll see. Behind the exterior looks though, is something that is rather impressive. 

The interior design is superb, from the curved screens to the copper highlights and the overall minimalist look. The recycled materials have moved on significantly from the i3 and feel premium and luxurious. The seats are comfortable, but feel as though they are lacking in structure a bit, while the electric architecture provides loads of space for passengers and even decent room in the boot for your stuff. 

There’s plenty of tech too, including the infotainment screen with access to everything from the weather to Spotify, wireless phone charging, multiple USB ports and the latest driver assistance systems. There are elements of the infotainment system and digital display that do seem complicated, even comic-like at times, such as when you switch to Sport mode and there’s an explosion of sci-fi like graphics on the screen, but we have to say that the overall experience with the system is that it is one of the best we have experienced so far in any electric vehicle. If you need storage spaces and cup holders, there are plenty of those too.

We drove the iX 40 with a base price of £69,905. City driving range is billed as 286 miles, but the claimed overall range is around 248. On the road, the strangely shaped steering wheel feels un-natural and the ride is a little on the firm side, but generally comfort levels are good. Acceleration is instant thanks to the 326hp from the electric motor and while the steering lacks some of the typical BMW feel, it’s reasonable well balanced. 

One of the most impressive aspects is just how quiet it is inside the iX. IN an almost silent running EV you typically notices more of the tyre and wind noise, but BMW’s engineers have done a superb job of limiting this to give you almost limousine-like peace and quiet inside. 

So while it’s not a pretty car, the iX is both comfortable and practical. It has decent range for everyday use and the ability to meet family needs on local or long distance journeys. BMW has come up with something that might be controversial in terms of its looks, but if this is the direction it’s going in in terms of technology and comfort, then it's a really good road that it’s plotting.  

What’s Coming

In this world of crossovers and SUVs that we now live in, it’s likely that the iX1 is going to be big news for many and a big seller for BMW. It will be sold alongside the new X1 with its range of traditional engines, but with production ending of the i3, the iX1 marks the smallest pure electric model for BMW apart from the Mini, which also has an all-new electric version coming soon.

The i7 is also the electric version of a range that will include regular engine models and a plug-in hybrid, but for those who are ready to charge-up, the i7 represents the ultimate in luxury BMW electric motoring. Like other new 7 Series models its design is also the subject of debate, but it’s not so much about the exterior as the interior in the luxury game. 

The interior is superb, with the latest in materials and technology as well as a drop down wide “cinema” screen for those reclining in the back seats. It’s all sumptuous and luxurious with the tech we expect these days without going too overboard like Mercedes with its hyperscreens. 

BMW isn’t done though, with plenty of other electric models on the way too as it really starts to focus on putting the i in team BMW.