The new i4 M50 that got its moment in the wintry sun last week represented the sensible, buttoned-down side of BMW's electrification strategy, being an EV version of the 4 Series Gran Coupe. It's the sort of car that offers an easy - if pricey - migration for those who want to change powertrain but keep the rest familiar. Not so the equally fresh iX, a car with all the nuanced subtlety of a Frankie Boyle punchline.
The design was always going to trigger debate and lead to social media punch-ups. Indeed that seems to have been part of the corporate strategy, with BMW's corporate "OK, boomer" tweet last year targeting those with doubts as to whether this was a bright new future for the brand. Yet, as often the case with louder personalities, the iX is much less radical under the surface than it is on top, sitting on the same CLAR platform that underpins the combustion-powered dinosaurs in the range.
Does this matter? Not a great deal, but it does explain why the detailing is more radical than the basics. The iX's front end is defined by the sheer size of its not-grille, most of which is there for looks and to house sensors rather than ingest cooling air: it's the angriest squirrel look that BMW has managed so far. Beyond that are slabby flanks, what are described as polygonal wheel arches and a wraparound tailgate whose lights also seem to be trying to make a face, albeit one wearing a look of serious constipation. Even getting in will feel unfamiliar, the recessed door handles containing touch sensitive panels in place of conventional mechanisms. And the cabin is even wilder...
Yet beyond the zaniness the fundamental proportions remain close to those of the X5, as does the layout dictated by a platform designed to accommodate a substantial engine up front. The bonnet line and front bulkhead position are pretty much where they would be for a combustion model - compare and contrast with the sleeker, cab-forward Jaguar i-Pace which sits on bespoke architecture. And while powerful EVs are always heavy, the iX xDrive 50's official 2,585kg kerbweight might be the highest ever for a car that contains a significant amount of structural carbon fibre - a cage made from carbon reinforced plastic sitting within the composite panels to save weight.
Much of that mass is due to the hugeness of the underfloor battery, the xDrive50 getting a 105kWh unit rated for an admirable 380 miles of WLTP range. But the less potent xDrive40 which uses a much smaller 71kWh pack is still a substantial 2,440kg. Packaging constraints are also obvious in the height of the iX's floor, with shallow footwells, and the relative paucity of luggage space - 500 litres with the rear seats in place is hardly Alpine holiday spec.
Not that the mass is allowed to get in the way of performance, with the iX xDrive50 using what is effectively the same powertrain as the i4 M50 to impressive effect. This uses two motors, a brawnier 309hp one at the rear and a 254hp one up front, although the combined peak of 516hp is slightly lower than the individual totals. That's enough for a 'physics, pah!' 4.6-second 0-62mph time, although top speed is restricted to a less potent looking 124mph.
It certainly feels like an event. The i4's cabin sticks very close to that of the 4-Series, but the iX's lack of a direct combustion equivalent has let BMW's designers roam much freer. A grizzled old road tester once said that a non-round steering wheel is the inevitable sign of a car that is trying much too hard. The iX's strangely rounded six-sided helm categorically doesn't disprove that rule, but I quickly warmed to its over-the-topness. It's certainly hard to accuse any car that features quilted leather seats, a wooden touch sensitive control panel and wall-to-wall high definition screens as being boring. The bronze metal detailing of my test car was considerably too bronze for my tastes, but the optional electrically dimmable glass sunroof (£3,500) and spectacular Bowers & Wilkins surround sound audio that comes as part of the £5,000 Technology Plus pack definitely added to the sense of specialness.
The naturally elevated seating position produced by the underfloor battery pack also gives a Range-Roverish seating position, something that extended to the driving experience. Land Rover has yet to show its hand with a fully electric Range Rover, but the iX feels like a good benchmark: cossetting and comfortable - certainly here on optional air springs - but also effortlessly fast. Refinement was impressive at everything from an urban crawl to a fast motorway cruise, and although the suspension stayed pillowy in Sport mode the active dampers remained in control of the iX's considerable mass even when it was flung down some tight, bumpy Hampshire B-roads. Like the i4 it offers an artificial electronic soundtrack, and as with the cheaper car I had turned this off within a couple of miles and didn't miss it.
The iX's chassis tolerates faster progress, but doesn't do much to encourage it. My test car's huge 22-inch Bridgestone Potenzas delivered impressive traction and stability under braking, but it didn't take big cornering loads in tighter turns to get the front nudging wide. The electric xDrive system can send torque to whichever axle needs it most, but I never got any sense of a rearward bias on cold, greasy Tarmac - nor encouragement to push to the ragged edge from the powerfully assisted steering. Sport mode also brought a lesser version of the top-end throttle surge I experienced in the i4 M50; Comfort mode was gentler and more progressive, and suited the car's relaxed character far better. And even using no more than the top quarter of the pedal travel had the xDrive 50 accelerating at an imperious rate.
The iX also possesses an abundance of presence, one proved by reaction it got from spectators. Children seemed to love it the most - an entire playground full rushing to line the fence of a school when the BMW was stopped by a neighbouring set of traffic lights. A chap in a L322 Range Rover on a dual carriageway stretch of A31 was so entranced he passed it three times before slowing down to watch it go by again. It might not be a traditional BMW, but that doesn't mean people don't like it - or at least want to look at it.
I also found myself warming to the iX much more than I was expecting to, certainly after BMW's social media sneering last year effectively said this wasn't a car aimed at people like me. No, I don't think I could ever fall in love with the exterior design, or even stop wincing when seeing its reflection in shop windows. But the interior feels special despite the gimmicks, and the driving experience is as relaxing as a hot bath.
Not that it is ever going to be a cheap club to get into, with a price tag that makes it clear that the iX sits at the top of the corporate EV hierarchy until the even more monstrous XM arrives. The iX xDrive50 M Sport kicks off at £94,825, with a £20,845 options ladling bringing this one to £115,670 - an amount that inevitably produces comparison with some very serious alternatives. It's certainly not a hard car to criticize - but nor is it a hard one to like.
SPECIFICATION | BMW IX XDRIVE50 M SPORT
Engine: 400V Lithium-ion battery, 105kWh capacity, twin AC synchronous electric motors
Transmission: Single-speed, all-wheel drive
Power (hp): 516 (total system)
Torque (lb ft): 564 (total system)
0-62mph: 4.6 secs
Top speed: 124mph (limited)
Range: 380 miles (WLTP)
Price: £94,825 (£115,670 as tested)
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