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How will an innovative luxury electric SUV from BMW perform with a caravan in tow? James Batchelor puts one through its paces…
Testing electric cars is becoming a common occurrence here at the Caravan and Motorhome Club. BMW’s new iX is aimed at the luxury end of the electric SUV market and the manufacturer is hoping to woo buyers who may have splashed their cash on an X5 or X7 in the past. Let’s see how it fares as both an ‘everyday’ car and a towing vehicle.
BMW rewrote the electric car rule book with its i3 in 2013. With its advanced carbon-fibre construction, neat, rear-hinged doors and interior made from recycled materials, BMW proved electric cars needn’t be boring. The fact it still looked futuristic when it went off sale in 2022 was proof of its avant-garde credentials.
Step forward the iX. In many ways it’s the spiritual successor to the i3, featuring an unusual construction (the car’s side frames are made from carbon-fibre reinforced plastic) and a cabin again created from recycled materials. It also has a distinctive look that’s unlike anything else on the road and that will no-doubt divide opinion.
Rear space in the iX is fantastic (better than any other BMW SUV) – there is loads of legroom and it easily accommodates three thanks to a flat floor. There’s plenty of headroom, too, and the deep windows provide an even more spacious feel. You can make the rear quarters feel even airier still if you opt for the £3,675 Sky Lounge Pack. As fitted to our test car, it adds a very clever panoramic roof that, at the touch of a button, electrochromatically transitions between opaque and transparent.
Boot space, however, is on the small side at 500 litres and the tailgate doesn’t lift as high as you might expect. The area itself is usefully square, the seats fold down via buttons at the side, and there’s a handy underfloor area in which to store the car’s charging cables.
It feels spacious up-front as well. BMWs traditionally have a cocoon-like feeling with the dashboard wrapped around the driver, but there’s acres of room in the iX. There are plenty of interesting details, too, such as the square-ish steering wheel that would make an Austin Allegro driver smile, and a centre console that appears to float between the two front seats.
The interior feels well made and befitting a c£80,000 car – however our entry level Sport model did feel a little gloomy thanks to its black synthetic leather upholstery and black headlining. Other colour options can be selected which help lift the interior, while you can splash out £1,155 for the ‘Clear & Bold interior application’, which adds FSC-certified open pore wood and cut glass switches.
Mounted on top of the dashboard is an elegant curving display comprising a 14.9in infotainment touchscreen next to a 12.3in digital instrument screen. Happily, BMW has kept its rotary dial on the centre console, which makes accessing the infotainment system’s vast number of menus easier when driving. There’s clever tech, such as a 360˚ parking camera and sat-nav, which, when you’re receiving a key instruction, displays a live camera view on the screen with arrows pointing to the road you need to take.
It’s pretty easy to choose which iX to go for. There’s the entry-level xDrive 40, like our car, which has twin electric motors giving four-wheel drive and 321bhp, fed by a 76.6kWh (71kWh useable) battery.
Next up is the xDrive 50, which offers 516bhp and, importantly, an 111.5kWh (105kWh useable) battery. At the top of the range is the BMW M Division-tweaked iX M60 with a huge 610bhp on tap.
Claimed figures for the xDrive 40 are 251-264 miles and 2.9-3.1 mi/kWh; for the 50 a claimed 365-382 miles and 2.9-3.1 mi/kWh; and for the M60 a claimed 338-348 miles and 2.7-2.8 mi/kWh – that’s important when towing, as we shall see.
During our test, when driving solo we were getting a real-world range of between 213 and 229 miles. Importantly, it was in the summer when the battery is at best operating temperatures; in winter that could be different – perhaps more like 190 to 200 miles. The larger battery has a higher charging rating at 200kW compared to the 40’s 150kW, but this, along with the extra range, comes at a price – there’s an enormous £30,000 difference between the xDrive 40 M Sport and the xDrive 50 M Sport.
The iX is comfortable to drive. It’s nowhere near as engaging behind the wheel as an equivalent petrol-powered BMW X5, but it has the measure over the electric Audi Q8 e-tron, for example.
It feels taut through the bends, but there’s no disguising the car’s weight. The steering is also surprisingly light for a BMW, but the automatic brake regeneration (which uses sat-nav and camera data) is excellent. The xDrive 50 and M60 models have air suspension as standard while the xDrive 40 relies on standard springs, but despite having optional 22in wheels on our car, the ride was comfortable and well judged. The iX is eerily quiet on the road, too, making it a very relaxing long-distance car.
Many of the current crop of EVs have high kerbweights but low towing capacities, but that’s not the case with the iX. We hitched up to a caravan with an MRO of 1,506kg for this test.
Thanks to its punchy twin electric motors and 321bhp, acceleration from a standing start and up our test route’s long hill was not a problem, and nor was traction – immediate torque is one of the benefits of towing with an EV. There was no tugging from the caravan, either, and through twisty corners the outfit remained stable and sure-footed. Even overtaking lorries on a breezy dual carriageway caused no shimmy – the iX was remarkably calm and balanced during our test drive.
However, the question of electric range will likely cause caravan owners a significant headache. When hitched we were only achieving 1.6 miles/kWh which means the iX would need charging every 120 miles or so. That was in high summer, in warm temperatures, and without a family and belongings onboard. So, if you are also likely to be towing with a fully-loaded vehicle during winter, it’s worth bearing in mind that your results will be different.
If you like the looks, the iX is a supremely comfortable and likeable electric SUV to drive. For caravan owners, range is the issue. The iX isn’t alone in this regard, but its high price makes the low range more difficult to stomach.