We are somewhere between ankle and knee-deep into the electric car revolution, but still witnessing unique approaches and innovations to emission-free transportation.
BMW is no stranger to EVs. In 1972, the automaker stuck a bunch of 12-volt batteries into a gutted 1602 for the Munich Olympic games. The vehicle could go just 37 miles and took a lifetime to get to any usable speeds.
Fifty years ago was also the birthdate of the German automaker’s motorsports arm, which has transformed into the M performance brand that touches so much of the BMW lineup of vehicles. Today, with vehicles like the 2023 BMW iX M60, we are witnessing the marriage of those two ideas with roots so long ago: an all-electric performance car.
We recently had a fun test drive in Germany of the new vehicle, which should be landing in dealerships throughout the US this year. Here’s what you need to know…
BMW’s New Electric Strategy
Not all-electric cars are designed equally. Some vehicles use the same platforms, layouts, and components as gas-powered vehicles, like the BMW i4, which shares a lot with the 4-series coupe. One look within the cabin, and you’ll see the resemblance.
This isn’t the case with the new BMW iX, the brand’s new flagship electric vehicle, which looks unique inside and out. The iX uses an exclusive platform leading to a specific layout for its battery and motors. The platform uses an aluminum spaceframe, a carbon cage, and carbon fiber reinforced plastic (CFRP) in the roof, side, and rear sections, helping to reduce weight and improve strength and rigidity.
Fifth Generation Powertrains
However, BMW’s latest EVs will all use a new generation of electric motors, which are fairly unique in the automotive world. Instead of using a permanent magnet, these units use a brushed motor design, which helps reduce the use of rare-earth materials. The iX uses two motors, one for the front axle and another more powerful motor for the rear axle.
Now, previous experience with brushed motors (like on a model train set) suggests that they’ll need maintenance at some point in their life. The automaker says buyers won’t have to worry about it until after 186,000 miles. While the powertrain is sealed, the motors are apparently easily accessible for its techs to service them as needed.
In true M Performance fashion, these motors pack more power thanks to a few significant tweaks. Compared to the more mainstream iX xDrive50, the M60 features a larger rotor and twin inverters that deliver 1,200 amps to the rear motor, rather than the 600 amp delivery in the non-M models. As a result, the electric motors can spin up to 15,400 RPM, and put out 532 hp and 749 lb-ft of torque combined. A launch mode bumps the power temporarily to 610 hp and 811 lb-ft of torque to deliver speedy 0-60 MPH times.
Batteries and Range
The iX M60 uses the same sized battery as the xDrive50, meaning 111.5 kWh stashed low and within the wheelbase. However, due to the additional power, the M60 range is just 280 miles, compared to 324 miles on the xDrive50.
The vehicle employs a few tricks to try and extend the range. While most electric cars have regenerative braking, the iX features an adaptive setting, which uses information from the sensors used for adaptive cruise control, and data from the navigation system to provider the right amount of braking and energy recuperation.
Speaking of recharging, the iX only supports DC Fast Charging speeds of up to 200 kW, rather than 350 kW found on some other new vehicles. That isn’t too bad, and when paired to the right charger, the iX will recharge from 10 to 80 percent in about 35 minutes.
So we told you about the battery, motor, and the platform, but what about how it drives? This is an M-badged product, so it has to carry the spirit of driving joy.
With a 0-60 time of 3.8 seconds and a top speed of 155 MPH, the iX M60 is quick enough to get you to smile and giggle when the route is straight and clear of traffic. We tested it out on the unrestricted highways around Berlin, and the iX filled the role of electric, high-speed cruiser with top marks.
But speed and acceleration aren’t the only things that define performance vehicles. That huge, 111 kWh battery is pretty heavy, leaving the iX with a 5,700 lbs curb weight. Unfortunately, it’s difficult for such a hefty vehicle to dance at high speeds. Besides, this is a large, family-friendly crossover, and not really designed to hunt apexes at the track. It features an air suspension system to help level the ride and veil the weight of the vehicle.
BMW fans will tell you that an important piece of the M recipe is the noise they make. However, electric cars are notable for their lack of a soundtrack. There’s no soul-stirring to come with the silent whir of electric motors or the grating hum of tires. So BMW turned to award-winning composer and musician Hans Zimmer, to generate a soundscape that would try and engage with the driver of its electric vehicles. It’s bassy and cyberpunk-y, reminding me of the soundtrack of the plug-in hybrid, turbo three-cylinder powered 2014 BMW i8 sports car, which sounded as cool as it looked.
But if all those fake noises don’t stir you, they’re easily disabled through the infotainment system.
Tech, Tech, and More Tech
Besides being cool, there’s an important reason to discuss this car on TechSpot: it is loaded with techie gear. This car features the latest generation of the iDrive infotainment system, found on a large curved piece of glass that combines a 12.3-inch gauge cluster and a 14.9-inch touch-screen display. BMW also offers a colored head-up display for a real sense of information overload.
That infotainment screen is smartly laid out, but can be customized with several widgets to help you show information you care about upfront and center.
There’s also a voice-activated assistant, like a Google Assistant or Apple Siri for your car. You can bark commands at it to change the cabin temperature, adjust the drive modes, lower windows, or even tell you a joke. It can make inputs to the navigation or media system while driving.
Speaking of that navigation system, whenever it has to tell you a new instruction, it plays a video feed from the car’s front-facing camera, and overlays directions and arrows on top of it, letting you know where to go through augmented reality. It might sound distracting, but the screen is big enough for you to see it quickly and easily.
If you don’t like those gimmicks, you can use Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, either wired or wirelessly. Those with Apple devices can use BMW Digital Key Plus, which takes advantage of the iPhone’s U1 chip and the BMW ultrawideband (UWB) radio, to let the mobile device act as the keyfob.
BMW and Apple have been working together with the Car Connectivity Consortium (CCC) to help develop the standard of the digital key feature throughout the automotive industry. You can even iMessage friends or family your key, and give them access to your car.
Outside the cabin, the iX offers a bajillion safety and driver assistance systems, including a dynamic cruise control system that can help make even soul-crushing traffic feel palatable.
The 2023 BMW iX M60 arrives this year in dealerships with an asking price of $105,100 plus $995 in the US. This is an increase of $20,000 compared to the more mainstream iX xDrive50, and the similar X5 M50 gas-powered vehicle. A few moments in the spacious cabin will let you admire the crystal controls and high-end materials. Combine that with the sheer straight-line performance and technology, and you can kind of understand why BMW is asking six-digits for this speedy EV.
With the BMW iX, we can see the German automaker’s approach and dedication to electric vehicles. For now, this is the only model in the lineup that doesn’t have a true gas-powered counterpart like the i4 and the 4-Series, as well as the upcoming i7 and 7-Series. However, all these electric models feature the same motor technology, while the M-badged versions like this M60 will add extra power and tweaks to help convince automotive enthusiasts that may be hesitant about the switch to electrons.