By Mats-André Buraas
BMW had a brilliant product 8 years ago in the i3, it was lightweight, innovative and cleverly packaged. But then they found out that it was cheaper to just keep building ICE cars as they had always done and never followed up with more EVs, until now that is. So, does the all-electric iX3 improve on where they left off?
Here in Norway we had sunshine all week and all-round great spring weather. But on the day I drove the iX3 I was faced with 6 degrees and rain, complete with new strict COVID restrictions introduced by our government.
Getting the keys was a sad experience with my local dealer, Sulland BMW Moss, almost closed down with everything roped off. The key itself is a simple cheap plastic fob with a BMW logo on it, thankfully rather fat and not too clunky, and the car looks like a normal X3 both on the inside and out. Looking at the nose and it’s minimal plastic grill, this might just be the last decent looking Beemer for quite a while as, at least in my opinion, they seem to have lost all sense of elegance and style lately with the huge grill generation.
The seats are very comfortable, not too sporty but they just get better and better the more time you spend in them, and the doors have a typical German thud giving a good first impression. With an indicated 205 mile // 330km range despite an 80kWh gross capacity battery and 285 mile // 460km WLTP rating this could be interesting.
It’s a quiet car, around town with the rain falling and standing water, you only hear a bit of tyre noise and a bit of rain, no one really does sound proofing like the Germans. It almost has the same noise in the interior at 50km/h as at 150km/h. As a result, you often end up going too fast on a country road, not because you want to, but because the car is so quiet and tricks you into thinking your speed is lower than it is.
The interior feels very cramped, not helped by it being black. BMW still sticks to the piano-black centre console stuck full of gear leavers and i-drive controllers, pushing the cup holders too far forward.
I haven’t driven a BMW in a good while now, and the interior is just like BMWs have looked for the last 20 years or so. And some parts of it really are beginning to look a bit long in the tooth now. This is just a G01, 2017+ X3 with an electric motor in it though, and we know BMW has more modern things in the pipeline – namely the iX.
The i-drive system is very effective to use, and even though the screen can be a touched, it is too far away from you to actually function as a touchscreen so why bother. They have hidden some strange things in menus though, like the regen strength and reset of trip computers, but mostly it’s a decent system and with wireless CarPlay its all just happy days anyway.
As for interior quality I was less impressed, the door cards felt okay, but the centre console feels cheap and the plastics in the storage under the armrest is awful, my own Tesla feels much better than this in almost all places. This is a car that competes with the Ford Mach-E I just drove, and here in Norway they cost around the same (600,000NOK // $72k). Yet the Blue Oval felt much better and had a more interesting ambiance and feel to it.
The sound-system, Harman Kardon of course, and is very well balanced. Here the advantage of a quiet cabin comes to the fore. Less background noise is always good.
The base fills the cabin without being boomy, and the midrange and tweeter also comes through very clear. The experience is less neutral than in a Burmeister setup, but it gives life to the music. While being clear and consistent, it can also be cranked up a lot without breaking up for your favorite tune.
As for the ride itself, it is firm but never uncomfortable and works with the road, flowing over speedbumps and broken roads with very few complaints. The steering wheel is a relative narrow rimed and feels good in the hand, but it doesn’t carry much feel for what the car is actually doing.
Unlike a traditional X3 this is a rear-wheel-drive model only, with 320hp and 400NM. So it’s no slouch, even weighing in at 2,2 tonnes.
It is not much fun though, and that was a surprise given this should be the ultimate driving machine. What it is, is very effective, it never really involves you as a driver, it just goes through a windy country road like a knife, very competent and quick without bothering to give you much feedback. The cars electronic overlords can be turned off, so in theory you can drift this thing, but I never tried, it sticks to the ground and requires a big hard slam of power to even get moving, and that just feels bad, but they at least give you the choice.
As this car is built to contain a combustion engine and a four-wheel drive system with axles and stuff, the rear seats are cramped and have a tunnel running through, and under that big bonnet is just full of plastic – all wasted space. The boot in the back is roomy and a practical square with no lips and edges, 510/1560 litres depending on the rear seats, a which is a bit less than the combustion engine version
As stated earlier the battery size is 80kWh, but only around 74kWh is usable, so a big buffer somewhere. That becomes clear when charging the thing on a high-powered charger staying between 100-140kWh to the high 50% range, steadily dropping, without any surprises, probably just getting better as the outside temperature rises.
This time I had a chance to test the headlights, at his is my first experience with LED matrix, and it is brilliant most of the time. The lights have decent range and good spread to the sides even on a soaking wet road, doing a good job of not getting in the way of ongoing traffic. This stuff should be mandatory on all cars, giving you the security of a full beam without bothering anyone.
To sum up the iX3, if you really like BMW and you perhaps already own an ICE X3 and don’t care about the poor packaging of the car or the bland interior, then go for it. However if you want something with four-wheel drive and a more progressive or modern feel than you have plenty of other choices out there.