The iX is BMW’s flagship all-electric SUV. Forget any notion of shoehorning batteries and motors into a car designed for the internal combustion engine – the iX has been conceived as an EV from day one.
BMW says reducing the environmental impact of the car throughout its life has been key to its development, not just eliminating exhaust emissions.
This is a luxury SUV, with a price tag to match. Believe it or not, the xDrive40 Sport we’ve borrowed is the entry-level model, but still costs just short of £70,000. That buys a four-wheel-drive SUV with 326hp and a 77.6kWh battery.
What are we looking for?
According to the official figures, the iX xDrive40 has a range of around 250 miles. But how far will it travel on a charge with a caravan in tow?
Inspect the xDrive40’s specification, and tow car drivers will have mixed feelings.
Electric cars are usually hefty, especially big SUVs like the iX. The BMW’s portly kerbweight of 2440kg gives an 85% match figure of 2074kg.
Many EVs have high kerb weights but low towing limits. There’s no such trouble with the iX, because its 2500kg legal maximum is well in excess of the fully loaded weight for most luxury caravans. The range is less promising, however. The least powerful model in the iX line-up has the smallest battery, providing a range of 247-257 miles, according to the official WLTP tests.
The two more powerful models in the iX range upgrade to a battery with a 111.5kWh capacity, raising the range to 266-281 miles. Even if you work on the basis that such a distance can only be covered in near-ideal conditions, that’s a big difference.
Perfect conditions certainly didn’t apply to our test, with temperatures hovering at around 5°C. Cold weather reduces the range of an EV, as the chemical reactions that absorb and release electricity slow down in low temperatures.
To test the new iX’s range, as well as its stability and performance, we matched it to a Sprite Quattro EW with a MiRO of 1430kg. That’s well within BMW’s legal maximum, but by far the heaviest caravan we’ve ever towed with an EV.
If you’ve driven an electric car, you will know all about the immediate acceleration from a standing start. There’s no waiting for an engine to reach a certain number of revs, just punchy performance from the moment you push on the throttle. Even with an extra 1.4 tonnes behind it, the iX gains momentum with real purpose.
It easily reaches 60mph by the end of an uphill motorway slip road, and comfortably maintains that pace. There’s no sign of the caravan tugging at the back of the car, even when overtaking high-sided vehicles.
On country roads, the big iX is equally accomplished, keeping the caravan on a short leash and towing straight and true.
With separate electric motors for the front wheels, the iX is a proper 4×4, and you can tell if you make a hill start while towing. There’s no scrabbling for grip when pulling away, even on a cold and damp road, as the BMW accelerates in near silence. Some will no doubt miss the sound of an engine, but there is something quite addictive about making quick and confident progress so very quietly.
Arrive on site and the iX is easy to manoeuvre, creeping gently and under control at low speeds. As well as a rear-view camera, a suite of cameras is supplied if you opt for Parking Assistant Plus (£750), giving a clear view all around the car.
So far so good, although there’s a ‘but’ coming. Based on the battery percentage displayed at the beginning and end of our test route and the distance we covered, the iX’s range while towing would be just 104 miles. In warmer weather it’s not unreasonable to assume an extra 20 miles or more would be possible, but even so, this means frequent stops to recharge.
You’ll need to find somewhere secure to leave your caravan while charging, unless using one of the handful of forecourt-style charging stations that allow you to pull up to the charger with your caravan attached.
So the iX tows superbly, but the current range is a significant frustration.
The distance you can travel on a single charge is less restrictive in everyday driving. We found the xDrive40 has a realistic winter range of around 200 miles. Ultra-rapid charging at up to 150kW is possible, with a claimed 10-80% recharge time of just 31 minutes. But remember that, like range, real-world charging speeds tend to reduce in cold weather.
For many drivers, journeys of more than 200 miles are something of a rarity. If that applies to you, then the iX will be a fantastic means of travel.
The way the iX gathers speed is deceptive. There’s no change in engine note because there’s no engine – your ears have no indication of just how hard the electric motors are working. So you need to keep a close eye on the speedometer to avoid driving faster than you mean to.
In some EVs, lack of engine noise can make wind and road noise more apparent, but the iX is refreshingly quiet at speed.
On twisty country roads, the big BMW handles with agility. Ride comfort is very impressive, especially at high speeds, but the xDrive40 doesn’t swallow urban potholes as well as the more expensive iX M50, with its air suspension.
There are also some quirks to get used to. Take the adaptive regenerative braking. This uses information from the sat nav and the car’s sensors to decide when to increase regenerative braking force. So on a straight road, if you lift off the throttle the car will coast gently.
However, if you are close to a bend or junction, it will slow down more quickly to return energy to the batteries. We found this disconcerting, but the regenerative braking does have standard settings, which are more predictable.
Space and practicality
The iX’s interior is beautifully made and hugely spacious. It makes cabins from just a few years ago look old-fashioned.
The dashboard is dominated by the huge twin screens, which BMW calls the ‘Live Cockpit Professional’. The 12.3-inch display in front of the driver takes the place of dials, and can be configured for different information. For example, speed can appear in the centre, or a map of the car’s surroundings.
There’s also a full-colour head-up display, so you don’t need to take your eyes from the road to check how quickly you are travelling.
The second screen, blending with the first to look like one display, handles infotainment. This is a touchscreen, but can also be controlled using BMW’s iDrive rotary controller.
For such a complicated and tech-heavy system, this proved surprisingly easy to use.
The driver and front-seat passenger are given plenty of head- and legroom, but shorter people may find the fixed head restraint uncomfortable.
Those in the back also have plenty of space to stretch out, and thanks to the wide cabin and flat floor, three sitting on the rear bench will be almost as comfortable as two.
You’ll need to lift bags a long way from the ground to load the boot floor. The 500-litre capacity is some way off the Audi e-tron’s 660 litres. For more space, the back seats fold down at the push of a button.
Buying and owning
Even by the standard of electric SUVs, the iX is expensive. The Audi e-tron and Jaguar I-Pace have lower starting prices.
However, your money buys a very well-equipped car, with a five-star Euro NCAP rating.
Group 47E insurance means a hefty premium, but charging costs should be low, provided you mostly use a home charger rather than the more expensive public networks. A full recharge from an 11kW charger should take around eight hours.
How much will it cost on finance?
We found a personal contract hire deal from Sytner Affinity, costing £758.79 per month over three years. An initial rental of £6829.11 would be payable, and the contract tallows for 10,000 miles a year after which penalty charges would apply. There are no additional fees to pya, but maintenance is not included in the deal.
Reviewing an electric tow car isn’t straightforward, because neither is towing one. Are we rating the BMW against similar electric rivals, or assessing this EV against conventionally powered equivalents?
For now, and for some years to come, if you want hassle-free towing over long distances, an electric car is not for you. However, if you are committed to running an EV, and prepared to put up with some inconvenience while caravanning, it can be done.
We’ve put ourselves in the place of someone who is determined to run an EV when awarding the BMW 3.5 out of five. It tows beautifully, with rapid performance, all-weather traction and cast-iron stability. The iX also has a significantly higher towing limit than most rivals.
It’s a shame BMW doesn’t make the larger battery fitted to faster versions of the iX available with the less powerful xDrive40. This would surely be the sweet spot in the range for towing duties, with a range between charges that should reach at least 150 miles and considerably more in the summer months. Towing a caravan from London to Cornwall would be possible with one stop to recharge.
Aside from this frustration, the iX is an excellent car. The avant garde interior and sumptuous finish are in keeping with the high price, and there’s lots of room for people and luggage. The BMW is superb in everyday driving – relaxed, comfortable, effortlessly quick. It’s a worthy flagship for BMW’s growing line-up of EVs.
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Forget any notion of shoehorning batteries and motors into a car designed for the internal combustion engine - the iX has been conceived as an EV from day one
|85% KW||2074 kg|
|Towball Limit||100 kg|
|Maximum Towing Limit||2500 kg|
|Torque||465 lb ft|
|Offical MPG||247 mpg|
|Towing MPG||104 mpg|