Car first, EV second
The way I see it, there are two approaches to an EV.
The first path is a clean sheet approach, meaning the company is very liberal with the design and philosophy of the car, and usually, it results in a vehicle that is futuristic to look at and fundamentally different in many ways. Two good examples of this include the BMW iX and Hyundai Ioniq5.
The other approach is a more conventional one. They don’t aim to make it groundbreaking or avant-garde; rather, the aim is to create a car that feels normal, familiar, and conventional. It just happens to be an electric vehicle.
The BMW iX3 appears to fall into the latter. And I think it’s a good thing.
When I first started reviewing cars, the X3 was still in its first generation. It’s hard to believe it’s been that long since BMW’s smaller SUV, uh, SAV came around. BMW jargon aside, the crossover proved to be a very strong seller for BMW.
Actually, the X3 is the best seller as the model really comprises what a lot of BMW customers want. No, we’re not talking about the BMW customer that wants M on everything; rather, the majority that needs space and practicality while still delivering the BMW brand values of driving pleasure, efficiency, quality, and -let’s face it- the badge.
The iX3 is the latest in this lineup. And the weird thing is when you walk up to it, there’s nothing outwardly different. Sure, you do spot a few things like blue details here and there, and the fact that the double kidney “nostrils” are practically blocked off. Beyond those little bits and pieces, there aren’t any apparent or obvious signs that this isn’t your run-of-the-mill X3.
Only when you look closer do you spot a few things. When you look underneath the rear bumper and spot no exhaust tips. When you get on all fours and look underneath the floor of the vehicle you’ll spot a big housing for the batteries. Pop open the fuel door and you’ll realize it’s a Type 2 and CCS charging port, not a receptacle for a gas nozzle.
The difference also becomes clear when you open the hood. There’s a big plastic piece covering the whole thing, but once you remove that, it’s really just a bunch of electronics housed in cast aluminum and other watertight compartments. There is a radiator, and it cycles coolant into the 400-volt, 188-cell battery pack underneath the car that has a capacity of 74 kilowatt hours.
Instead of internal combustion, this gets an electric motor. But it’s not actually under the hood. The electric motor is over in the back; meaning this is a rear-wheel drive-only vehicle. It’s not a dual-motor setup to give you all-wheel drive. It’s not a slouch either; the electric motor makes 286 PS and 400 Nm of torque. Those figures make it more powerful (albeit heavier) than an X3 with the 2.0L turbo gasoline engine.
Where the iX3 really stands out is how normal the cabin feels. The dash isn’t different from the other X3 models. You’d think that the dual 12.3” digital screens for the instrument cluster and infotainment are new, but these are not; BMW has been doing this for a long time now. Even the transmission lever isn’t different; actually, it can’t be a transmission lever anymore because there’s no multi-speed transmission that has to be controlled. It’s a single-speed.
As I said, BMW isn’t trying to be groundbreaking with the appearance and feel of the iX3. You get in it, and it feels conventional X3. The seats seem a little firm, but that’s par for the course with BMW. You’ve got a nice audio system (with great Harman Kardon speakers) with the usual connectivity options, plenty of safety features, and compartments, pockets, and cupholders that are expected. You hop in from any other BMW, and you’ll feel right at home.
The same goes for the rear seats. It’s all normal in here, right up to the floor. You see, many dedicated EV platforms have flattened the cabin floor because there’s no need for a transmission tunnel to make space for a drive shaft or an exhaust pipe. But the iX3 uses a variation of the X3 platform shared with the other variants, so it still has these engineering elements typically expected in an internal combustion variant.
Only when you drive it do you realize it’s totally different. The sensation of acceleration in an iX3 is very different from the X3. For one, there are no vibrations apart from what the road gives you. The ride is really comfortable in the city; even on EDSA. There’s also no clatter as you would get in a diesel X3 or an exhaust sound like you would get from some of the performance-oriented X3 variants. Instead, all you hear is maybe a bit of tire noise, road noise, and a cool EV soundtrack scored by Hans Zimmer himself.
The sensation of thrust, however, is something we always look forward to in any EV. The max torque is right there the moment you touch the throttle, so if you’re the type that expects a delay then you’ll be in for a shock. In the iX3 it certainly is there, but it’s not as pronounced or as powerful as the iX we drove earlier.
Still, it’s best to not be lead-footed in any car, but even more so in an EV. The driving dynamics are certainly there even though the steering isn’t particularly rich with feedback. This iX3 is an enjoyable car to take corners with at a reasonable speed. And you can just prod the throttle a bit to accelerate out with gusto.
A couple of things I noticed about the iX3 is that some of the things seem a little dated. There are no smart features that we would expect in this class of car like AEB or adaptive cruise; instead, you get just regular cruise control. The position of the USB port also isn’t optimal for charging your phone or staying connected. And even the wireless charging pad is a bit small for today’s larger phones. It’s best to note that this generation of X3 came about in 2017, and some things haven’t modernized as much as we would like.
The range is going to be the thing that people pay a lot of attention to in any EV, and the 74 kWh battery in the iX3 can do about 400 km realistically. That will vary depending on traffic, air conditioning usage, the number of passengers, and the like, but the way we see it, expect around 350 km in mixed city and highway use. Unless you do a lot of driving or enjoy the thrill of flooring it every time the light goes green, we don’t see the requirement to charge the car every day.
You can use the supplied mobile charger and plug it into your A/C outlet at home, but that will take quite a bit. It’s better to visit a nearby BMW i-rated dealership if you need a quick charge or have a faster charger installed in your garage. You can even take advantage of the charging currently available at selected malls and service stations, but the time it takes to charge will be an important consideration.
The price of the 2023 BMW iX3 M Sport BEV as we tested it was PHP 4,990,000. Hopefully, that doesn’t change (except if it goes down a bit) because I think BMW has something good here. This crossover feels normal, and that’s a good thing. Yes, it’s an EV, but it’s not intimidating nor is it screaming that you’re some kind of environment nut. You just acknowledge that there’s potential in driving an EV every day and that it has no tailpipe emissions.
The caveat though is the source of the vehicle: China. This is the first BMW being sold in the Philippines that is from the PRC. Will these put us off on the iX3? We can’t really care about the politics; we’re about cars.
What we will say is this: EV is not for everyone. If you’re considering one of these you’ll have to adapt your driving style and plan ahead. It also has to suit your typical daily routes, living situation (e.g. does your condo allow you to put a charger?), and so on and so forth. If it suits you, then the iX3 is a great choice for a premium EV SUV that feels as normal as can be.