When it comes to electric SUVs, we're already at the point where you kind of know what to expect. The power will be plentiful, the interior like something from Tomorrow's World, and the design mildly futuristic. Think Mustang Mach-E, Tesla Model Y, Mercedes EQC and so on.
Against expectation, the BMW iX3 is not one of those electric SUVs. To all but the keenest spotters (see the wheels, grille and i badges) this is just another example of BMW's best seller, which ought to appeal to anyone unwilling to shout about their conversion. Indeed the iX3 is notable in the segment for not being based on a BEV-specific platform, like the Jaguar I-Pace and Audi e-tron. Though its CLAR architecture was designed for an array of BMW powertrains, a platform meant for petrol, diesel, hybrid and electric does have disadvantages for a pure EV. Here that means ground clearance is reduced because the additional gubbins hang low, there isn't a frunk and the battery itself isn't huge (although the latter isn't necessarily a deal-breaker). It's also a rear-drive model, which means you won't be getting very far off-road.
While it weighs more than an M5, by the standards of the class, the iX3 is light, weighing hundreds of kilos less than the all-wheel drive Mercedes EQC and Audi e-tron. As with a combustion-engined car, that has benefits everywhere; it means a 74kWh battery can deliver 3.3 miles per kWh and 285 miles of range. An Audi e-tron 55, though faster, needs a 96kWh battery to get a maximum of 273 miles. A smaller battery charges quicker, too, with BMW stating that the competitive 150kW charge capacity (a Mach E only offers 125kW) can deliver another 62 miles of range in just seven minutes. Presumably with pigs flying overhead, too, but the point stands that the iX3 will replenish quicker - all other things being equal - than some similar cars. And goodness knows that's going to benefit owners.
That the iX3 feels just like an X3 inside should be considered a positive, too. As other seek to wow with vast touchscreens or spaceship sound effects, this is just a BMW interior: smart, logical, stylish, well built, and very easy to use. The battery reserve sits where the fuel gauge was, the tacho space now tells you how much throttle is being used, and the (very effective) one-pedal drive mode sits in the old Sport position of the automatic gearbox. Anyone coming from a petrol or diesel X3 - indeed, any modern BMW - will feel right at home. Which is exactly the point, and certainly preferable to sitting in a four-wheeled Imax. Sorry kids, it just is. All that being said, it's worth noting that the car pictured is the pre-facelift iX3, of which very few came to the UK because of how topsy turvy the past couple of years has been. Order one now and you'll get the mildly revised version which is a tad fussier inside, if still more than good enough.
The iX3 drives like an X3, too. If you thought a BMW needed a big straight six to feel rear-drive, think again, as the iX3 is balanced really nicely; understeer which maybe arrives a tad early can easily eliminated with throttle. That this innocuous X3 can be goaded round corners won't matter people who buy SUVs, but it might for those who buy BMWs. Maximum outputs of 286hp and 295lb ft are not prodigious by any measure - against similarly priced ICE BMWs or comparable EVs - but the iX3 always feels brisk enough, obviously aided by the immediacy of response.
The rest of the dynamic package is well done, too, with assured damping for something so heavy and accurate steering; the iX3 is so authentically BMW that Sport mode even thickens up the latter unpleasantly. But the Hans Zimmer-created sound that also arrives is quite cool. Leave it in Comfort, or Eco Pro for the especially virtuous, and the iX3 is a really satisfying place to rack up the miles - just like any other high spec BMW. The fact that you forget what's powering it is probably the X3's greatest asset, because of how well integrated the package is, and how normal the drive feels. At least until the range plummets on a motorway cruise...
Given its name, it's hard not to reflect on just how dissimilar the iX3 is from the car which previously laid claim to most of its name. Not so long ago, the BMW i3 was the carbon-tubbed supermini of the future, and a very good one at that. But plainly one of the salient lessons the manufacturer learnt was (in the nicest possible way) to not try less hard at being different. The iX3 is a very unassuming product, and probably the better for it.
And even if you're inclined to think that BMW is simply cramming batteries into an existing SUV so it doesn't miss the boat, the new model's ease of use, rewarding drive and decent range make the result very easy to rub along with. Those who don't want to shout too loudly about their eco credentials (as an i3 buyer might), and still like the feel and fashion of a current generation BMW, will find a lot to like here. Just make sure you don't like a Jaguar I-Pace just a little bit more first.
SPECIFICATION | 2021 BMW IX3
Engine: 74kWh battery (80kWh gross), single e-motor
Transmission: Single-speed auto, rear-wheel drive
Power (hp): 286
Torque (lb ft): 295
0-62mph: 6.8 seconds
Top speed: 112mph
MPG: Up to 285 miles (from 3.3mi/kWh)
CO2: 0g/km at tailpipe
Price: £61,850 (iX3 Premier Edition Pro)
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