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BMW's iX3 all-electric SUV promises characteristic sportiness and practicality for 2021 launch

The first fully electric X model from BMW – the iX3 – has broken cover. Promising a decent balance between power, performance and useful range, it will lead the way for next-generation BMW EVs when it goes on sale in 2021.

Whilst it's hardly a huge break from the regular ICE-powered BMW X3 to look at, the iX3 is an important car for the brand as it represents the start of a major EV push. It's all part of BMW's “Power of Choice” strategy which seeks to offer a broad spectrum of models and powertrains across the globe including not only EVs, but also PHEVs, fuel cell electric and regular petrol and diesel.

Powertrain

The BMW iX3 isn't just the first car in the brand's EV product offensive; it's the first to go to market with BMW's fifth-generation eDrive technology. This electronic drive unit (EDU) technology arranges the motor, power electronics and transmission in one housing. It will underpin BMW's electric models for the foreseeable future (including the iNEXT and i4) and represents a significant advance in power, efficiency and modularity over previous eDrive systems.

Providing drive, the electric motor in the iX3 has a power density some 30 per cent greater than other motors in the BMW range. It generates a maximum output of 282bhp and 295 lb-ft and according to BMW, maintains its output at higher revs to emulate the classic linear power delivery of the brand's petrol engines. All of the power is sent to the rear wheels and controlled through 'actuator contiguous wheel slip limitation' – essentially an electronic limited slip differential.

Zero to 62mph is dispatched in 6.8 seconds – similar to the petrol-powered X3 xDrive30i. Top speed is limited to 112mph.

The battery comes in at 80kWh gross, with 74kWh accessible. It is up to 20 per cent more energy dense than existing BMW batteries and gives the iX3 a WLTP range of up to 285 miles. Charging can be done using single-phase AC or three-phase AC at up to 11kW. DC charging can be done at an ultra-rapid 150kW, meaning zero to 80 per cent is achieved in just 34 minutes, with 62 miles added during a 10 minute electric 'splash and dash'.

An important development for BMW, and for its customers who want to be as green as possible, is a deal between it, and Northvolt – a Swedish company that makes batteries in about as sustainable way as possible. All of the cobalt used is sourced from sustainable and ethically-run mines, whilst the power used to produce them is entirely from wind or hydro power. BMW will still source batteries from Chinese firm CATL, but they will be made at its forthcoming plant in Germany and again, all cobalt used is sustainable. Furthermore, BMW's fifth-generation electric drive uses no rare earths, minimising its environmental impact.

Styling changes and interior enhancements

As mentioned, in broad terms the iX3 looks pretty similar to the regular X3. However, being an EV has enabled BMW more freedom to change the exterior, predominantly for the benefit of aerodynamics. The large kidney grille is largely enclosed and a new front apron helps smooth out airflow, whilst the rear end has also been subtly altered for the same reason.

Lightweight alloys have been developed to control the airflow around the car and offer a five per cent reduction in drag coefficient over conventional alloys. These, on their own, add six miles to the WLTP range. Overall, the car has a slippery drag coefficient of just 0.29.

Both inside and out, subtle blue accents allude to the presence of electric drive. Otherwise, the interior is broadly similar to the X3, which is no bad thing as that means versatility. Rear 40:20:40 split/folding seats take the boot capacity from 510 litres to a maximum of 1560 litres, for example.

Making its debut on the iX3 is the BMW IconicSounds Electric which provides acoustic feedback depending on the car's movements and driver inputs. High loads, energy recuperation and braking all have an audio accompaniment, filling the gap left by the lack of an ICE motor and offering feedback to the driver. On start-up the iX3 has a short sound composition which was jointly created by Hans Zimmer and BMW sound designer, Renzo Vitale. Future drive soundtracks, in collaboration with Hans Zimmer, will apparently be available down the line.

The latest BMW Operating System 7 comes as standard and will receive over the air updates as they become available. Another standard feature is the BMW Live Cockpit Professional which offers a high-resolution 12.3 inch instrument cluster behind the steering wheel, supplemented by a central 10.25 inch touchscreen. Voice, gesture, iDrive controller and a multifunction steering wheel offer drivers a range of ways to control settings and infotainment. As you'd expect, the iX3 is fully compatible with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay.

Price and availability

BMW has promised us full UK prices and specifications this autumn when pre-ordering will open. We'll have to wait until summer 2021 before any cars actually hit the road here, though some markets – such as China – will get their hands on the car late this year.

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