Familiar BMW body with new electric heart

·5-min read

Electric vehicles are all starting to feel basically the same to drive.

Yes, there are big ones and small ones, faster ones, expensive and (kind of) modestly priced ones. But the driving experience is much the same in each vehicle, regardless of price or power.

It takes some readjustment for drivers who have spent the past 40 or so years admiring the burble of a big petrol V8, or the head-snapping response of a little turbocharged four-cylinder firecracker, or even the restrained and steady surge of a refined diesel.

There's almost a complete lack of character - the thing that has made buffs fall in love with so many cars in the past (think Toyota's phenomenal, three-cylinder Yaris GR, for instance, or a decade or so before that, Subaru's thrummy boxer-engined, turbo-charged WRX). Great cars to drive and models that became part of an owner's personality.

But there's very little individuality about electric-powered cars to make them stand apart. There's just calm, quiet efficiency. It's almost clinical.

Not that there's anything particularly wrong with that. It just means there might be less to write about, or read about, in years to come.

Perhaps this trait is most noticeable when a familiar car - for instance, the BMW X3 - is suddenly transformed into an electric model virtually overnight (now the iX3).

At least these "transplant" models provide some kind of reference point to the original models - but being in a conventional machine without the customary engine noise feels a bit eerie, too.

BMW has recently revealed the three models that will, for the next few months at least, form the vanguard of the brand's electric offering in Australia.

The iX3 will be joined in BMW showrooms by the company's newest purpose-built electric machine, known as the iX, as well as the i4 mid-sized sedan.

But be quick. BMW is already reporting that all three models are sold out well into 2023.

So, is this refined, nicely-evolved iX3 worth the wait? Yes and no.

The iX3 is dynamically sharp but not class-leading. It's not as quick, for instance, as the comparable Volvo XC40 Pure Electric (surely the only time a Volvo will shade a BMW for performance).

At $114,000 it's also almost double the cost of another Swedish rival - Volvo's Polestar 2 which costs about 60 grand, making the iX3 something of an indulgence.

It will be pitted against German rivals like the Mercedes-Benz's GLC and Audi's Q3 (both of which are now available in electrified form).

As if to justify the price, the iX3 is generously equipped. The long list of features including the M-Sport package with 20-inch wheels, panoramic glass sunroof, electric and heated seats, ambient lighting package, electric tailgate, Harman-Kardon 16-speaker audio, wireless smartphone charging and Connected Package Profession (navigation and infotainment).

In fact the only options available on the iX3 are laser headlights ($2000) and a "shadow package" that brings darker glass for an additional $2000.

The iX3 illustrates that there are benefits in using an existing platform and cabin design when introducing a new electric model. Buyer familiarity is one, of course - when plunging into the EV pond, many would prefer to do it inside a known and trusted cockpit.

From the manufacturing point of view, there's also an advantage in using a vehicle that has two decades of evolution under its belt, rather than reinventing the wheel (so to speak).

And the iX3 speaks to that theory. It's a beautifully resolved, thoughtfully put together family machine, made all the better by its new smoke-free drivetrain.

The BMW electric motor is sharp, if not as quick as some (including rivals mentioned above) but few, if any, electric buyers will be doing so primarily for performance.

The single-motor electric drivetrain offers a stout 210kW and grunty 400Nm of torque, sufficient to make this X3 more powerful than all but the top-level petrol equivalent. That means it will reach the speed limit in a perfectly decent time of 6.8 seconds.

Officially, it will drive 440km before requiring a recharge, which is not class-leading but not far off. Up to 80 per cent of a full charge can be gained in about 30 minutes on a high-speed charging unit. Long enough for a cup of coffee and a muffin.

BMW has done its best to keep the driving experience familiar for new EV inductees, with few vices despite the hefty weight of the batteries beneath the floor.

And appearance-wise, the odd-looking fill-ins on the grille and the absence of any exhaust pipes at the rear, are the main hints that it's anything other than a garden-variety X3, at least until it's fired up.

At that point there's a most intrusive (or irritating) soundtrack that BMW has created to prevent the iX3 operating as a stealth weapon.

The little chime on start up and the Star Wars-like hum when driving around slowly looking for a car park are distinctive, but not everyone's taste. Fortunately the system, called BMWIconicSounds, can also be switched off.

But at least it makes this electric car seem just that little bit different to all the others.


* HOW BIG: It's identical to the mid-sized SUV X3, meaning it's already got a strong following of young, upwardly mobile families. It's well suited to city or highway driving.

* HOW FAST: While blinding acceleration has been a feature of numerous electric models, the BMW will hit the speed limit in a modest 6.8 seconds.

* HOW THIRSTY? It will part-charge overnight in a domestic electricity socket, while trips over 440km will require a stop to recharge - which takes less than half an hour on most fast-chargers.

* HOW MUCH: It costs $114,900 - which is roughly comparable to its German rivals.

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