The new BMW iX xDrive50. Picture: Supplied
The new BMW iX xDrive50. Picture: Supplied

BMW’s next-generation electric car, the iX, will go on sale in SA at the end of the month, foreshadowing many changes in the local electric vehicle (EV) market and the possibility of more models arriving.

The FM was invited to drive the new iX xDrive50 in Germany. The electric crossover vehicle has an output of 385kW, 765Nm of torque and a claimed range of 630km once its (net) 105.2kWh battery is fully charged. But real-world use would be closer to 500km.

It supports direct-current fast charging up to 200kW, which takes the battery to 80% in 35 minutes on a supported charger starting at 10%. A 10-minute charge yields a 150km range. Top speed is electronically capped at 200km/h and 0-100km/h takes 4.6 seconds.

The new technology prepares it for autonomous driving, 5G connectivity and the iDrive 8 operating system.

The large new kidney grille has a "smart surface" with a polyurethane coating that BMW says is self-healing: it can repair itself from minor scratches. This happens either within 24 hours at room temperature or through a five-minute supply of warm air.

In a test drive, switching on the iX was expectedly silent but required the key to be physically next to the wheel, which didn’t feel keyless.

It is the first car to support Digital Key Plus, available on the iPhone 11 upwards. The short range makes it secure, thus impossible to intercept through signal jamming. The digital key is stored on the Wallet app and can be shared on supported iPhones, with the option to restrict acceleration limits, top speed, traction control and volume.

Picture: Supplied
Picture: Supplied

The iX has three preset driving modes: personal, with individual options; sport (dynamic, with added engine sounds); and efficient, for lowest possible energy consumption.

There are two braking options: D, for adaptive regenerative braking, where the vehicle’s kinetic energy is recovered as electric energy; and B, for one-pedal driving, in which you can leave the braking up to the car — but of course your instinct is to press on the brake pedal anyway.

The iX uses artificial intelligence to determine surroundings and react accordingly. This is made possible with a front 8MP camera, ultrasonic sensors in the front and back, short-and full-range radars, and surround-view cameras. The technology will also be useful for the autonomous driving features yet to be rolled out, such as parking assist and manoeuvre assist.

The catch is the price: the iX xDrive50 will cost R2.175m, alongside the xDrive40 at R1.65m.

Given that power cuts are here to stay, BMW tells the FM that its 260 charging stations are accessible to EV drivers, even during power outages, because they have back-up generators.

Says BMW’s Hailey Philander: "The recommendation for owners and drivers of EVs is to charge the vehicle whenever it is not in use — whether it is stationary for 10 minutes or three hours," she says. "Much like a cellphone, you can top up your EV when the load on the national grid is at its lowest, that is, overnight."

BMW plans to electrify every model in its fleet, based on a scalable modular system.

Electrifying: BMW’s iX will go on sale in SA at the end of the month. Picture: Supplied
Electrifying: BMW’s iX will go on sale in SA at the end of the month. Picture: Supplied

Philander says the technology will fit into models being produced today and in the future.

BMW has sold about 700,000 EVs globally and is aiming to hit 1-million by the end of 2021.

Winstone Jordaan, MD of Grid Cars, tells the FM there will be many changes within the EV market in SA in the next six to 12 months, with the possibility of 12 new models arriving.

"It is very interesting to see the advancements in technology, with some of these vehicles sporting the new high-speed charge rates — north of 150kW with voltages over 500V," he says.

"We will see more public transport and logistics companies implementing EV pilots."

He expects EVs to become a more common sight on SA roads from next year.

Among EVs arriving here in 2022 are the Volkswagen ID.4, the Volvo XC40 Recharge, four models from Mercedes-Benz (EQA, EQB, EQC and EQS) and six versions of the Audi e-tron.

Mercedes delayed the 2020 launch of the EQC because of Covid and suggests pricing of its EQ (electric intelligence) range won’t be far off its equivalent internal combustion engine models.

Sascha Sauer, MD for Audi SA, speaks of "the opportunity to re-shape the way South Africans view EVs". The six e-tron models will be supported by chargers between 50kW and 75kW at 10 Audi dealerships, with the ability to charge several cars at the same time.

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