Credit where it's due to BMW, it took the leap of faith with electric power ahead of many others: the i3 was launched six years ago, with the i8 at a similar time. Today there's still nothing quite like them, but with rivals expanding their electric ranges, BMW sees now as the time to attempt another step forward in electrification. Say hello, then, to the iX3...
At its simplest, the iX3 is a 286hp, 295lb ft, purely electric version of BMW's popular SUV (the original X3 having been launched 15 years ago). It will be capable of more than 273 WLTP miles on a charge, according to BMW's preliminary figures, and means the X3 will soon be available with petrol, diesel, plug-in hybrid and electric powertrains.
But this SUV represents something way more significant than just another amorphous electric bus. Because this iX3 is the first BMW to be using the company's fifth generation of eDrive technology, the hardware that will also be used in the i4 and the iNext; it promises vast gains in efficiency, from battery production to energy use and charging.
So that range increase - an i3, by comparison, has a max of 193 miles - has come about through making the batteries better, not just bigger. Described as "the optimum of what is possible nowadays", BMW is using the latest evolution of NMC-811 battery technology for the greatest energy density - rated at 74kWh.
More efficient cells also mean smaller batteries, less weight and less impact on space - this iX3 apparently has the same passenger space as a conventionally powered one. Moreover, BMW says the latest developments in battery tech mean less lithium and cobalt are being used - the latter reduced by two thirds, in fact - and that it is now sourcing the materials directly before handing over to battery builders.
The batteries obviously then supply a motor, which is housed with a transmission and the system electronics; the ratio between motor output and what the whole assembly weighs said to have been improved by around 30 per cent. A charge time hasn't yet been announced, though you'd have to assume that the improvements in battery efficiency would also come with a commensurate decrease in the time spent plugged in. If the grid is using green electricity, BMW says the CO2 balance of an iX3 - which includes raw material sourcing, supply chain, producing the car and then actually using it - is 60 per cent better than a 20d.
As for actually driving the iX3, BMW believes those outputs give the car "high initial acceleration, and keep a high level even at the upper motor speeds". It really is just rear-drive for now, too, ostensibly because of the benefits in drive system efficiency - but of course - though also because it lends the car a "traditional BMW rear-wheel drive experience."
For those people who like traditional BMWs, this may all come as quite the surprise, though don't forget BMW has been working on its EfficientDynamics tech - of which electrification is a significant part - for a decade now. Best get familiar with it! The iX3 is going to be built by BMW Brilliance Automotive in Shenyang, with production commencing at some point in 2020. More news to follow soon, no doubt...
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