First ride: 2021 BMW iX prototype review

The first electric-powered BMW production model, the i3, was launched in 2013. So far, it has racked up more than 200,000 sales globally, making the compact, rear-wheel-drive hatchback one of the 10 best-selling electric cars to date.

Yet despite the relative early entry into the electric car ranks, BMW has taken a good seven years to build on the foundations set by the i3.

Last year’s iX3 kick-started the second wave of electric-powered models from the German car maker, building off the third-generation X3.

Now, in quick-fire fashion, BMW has launched the i4 saloon and iX SUV. We’ve driven the former, in prototype guise, and here we ride along in the latter as part of a final validation test in a route across Germany.

Regular Autocar readers will know the background to this Audi E-tron quattro and Tesla Model X rival. First revealed in concept car form as the Vision iNEXT at the 2018 Paris motor show, the iX is described as the most advanced of BMW’s electric models yet. It features a much more heavily modified version of the CLAR platform than the iX3, with part-carbonfibre construction, and the same fifth-generation drive system as the i4, including a large, 105.2kWh lithium ion battery that is claimed to boast a 30% increase in energy density over that used by the i3, providing it with a range that BMW puts at over 373 miles on the WLTP test procedure.

The new five-seat SUV is produced alongside the 5, 6, 7 and 8 Series at BMW’s Dingolfing factory in Germany and, as a series of updates from BMW over the past two years has chronicled, the new five-seater has undergone the same development regime as other, more traditional, combustion-engined BMW models.

The iX we ride in is among a series of pre-production prototypes currently being run by BMW engineers as part of a final phase of durability testing. There’s no disguise of any kind. In fact, it looks showroom ready. But that’s no great surprise. We’ve known what the production version of the new BMW looks like since its unveiling late last year.

It’s certainly distinctive, with proportions and details quite unlike any other BMW model.

Up front is possibly the largest kidney grille yet seen on a BMW. Extending well down into the lower section of the large front bumper, it is bookmarked by thin-line headlights with LED graphics and is blanked off as part of a wide range of aerodynamic measures that net the iX a drag co-efficient of 0.25.

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Its styling is unconventional – bewildering even, from certain angles, to these eyes. But if the iX can convince us as much from behind the steering wheel as it does from the passenger seat when we finally get to drive it, the incumbent electric SUV protagonists are set to be in for some extra-stiff competition when it reaches the UK later this year. It is clearly a different kind of BMW in many aspects – not least its concept-car-like interior, but for now the key attributes of performance, dynamic finesse and overall refinement appear to be high among its appeal.