BMW iX1 Drive Review: Electric Moves With Signature Thrill

The BMW fan club has been rather averse to the inevitable electrification of the company’s lineup, and in some ways, it makes sense why. BMW is part of a small club of car manufacturers that have made performance and driving dynamics a part of their very ethos, and with that comes a responsibility. BMW fans argue that the brand’s promise of sheer driving pleasure can hardly be experienced without its raucous straight six engines or rumbling V8s, and while that may be true, electrification does provide BMW with some fantastic opportunities to take their less performance-focussed models to another level.

Take the example of the new iX1, BMW’s latest foray into the electric SUV market which now acts as the entry point into BMW’s EV range in the Indian market. The latest generation ICE X1 hasn’t quite hit the spot with its tiny 3-cylinder petrol motor and economical but hardly thrilling diesel engine. But the iX1 promises to more than make up for it, while also providing the familiar BMW experience we’ve come to adore. We spent a week with the first ever iX1 to find out how it fares in the crowded luxury car segment it finds itself in.  

At first glance, the BMW iX1 captivates with its striking design that is almost a carbon copy of the ICE X1. That’s not a bad thing by any means, as BMW has absolutely nailed the exterior design of this generation of the X1. BMW has managed to maintain its distinctive brand identity with the design of the X1, while also integrating design elements that bridge the gap between some of its more traditionally designed ICE models and its more futuristic-leaning EV models.

The front of the iX1 is dominated by BMW’s iconic kidney grille, which in this electric variant is largely a design element rather than a functional air intake, although the vertical louver design is identical to the ICE X1. This closed-off grille also features a subtle “I” badge, indicating its EV nature, which, along with the blue halo around the BMW badging, marks the only design differences between the ICE X1 variants and the iX1. The large (fake) grille is flanked by sleek, adaptive LED headlights that wrap around the body to give the vehicle an assertive presence. The front bumper is sculpted and integrates slim vents to aid aerodynamics and efficiency, and the generous use of gloss black plastic helps to create a meaner front fascia. We especially adore the subtle but aggressive bulge on the hood, and seeing it from the driver’s seat is a real treat while driving.

Down the sides, the iX1 maintains a balanced proportion that is characteristic of BMW’s compact SUVs. The strong shoulder line runs from the front wheel arches to the taillights, creating a sense of motion even when stationary. The 18-inch bi-colour M-Sport alloy wheels come as standard, and the flush door handles add to the smoothness of the design. The new X1’s design makes it look much more hunkered down and sporty, and the iX1 is no different.

At the back, the iX1’s design is equally impressive with a clean, modern look highlighted by slim LED taillights that wrap around the body and give a 3D effect that is eye caching beyond measure. The double bubble roof spoiler and integrated (but fake) diffuser add to the sportiness of the design, as does the black plastic used in the lower part of the rear bumper, which makes the car look slimmer and closer to the ground. Overall, there’s really not much to fault in the iX1’s exterior design; it looks quick, it looks expensive, and it looks like a BMW with a near perfect stance.

The story continues as you step inside the BMW iX1, where you’re greeted by an interior that combines luxury, attention to detail and cutting-edge technology. BMW has spared no effort in ensuring that the cabin is as advanced as it is comfortable, and the iX1’s cabin is truly a special place to be. High-grade materials are used throughout the cabin, with soft-touch surfaces, vegan leather upholstery, and carefully crafted surfaces with subtle textures and details. The iX1 has an overtly driver-centric layout, with the now familiar single curved screen housing the instrument cluster and infotainment system, and although we don’t love the fact that BMW has done away with most tactile buttons, we can’t deny that it looks stunning. We love the unique placement of the air vents which are spread horizontally across the width of the dashboard, the floating centre console with additional storage space underneath, and the little safety arm that holds your phone in place as it sits in the vertically oriented wireless charger. The dashboard also sits lower than usual, providing excellent visibility upfront, and the overall design of the iX1’s cabin is minimal and clean. Subtle details like the grated texture on the speakers, the pinstriped brushed metal accent on the dash, and the impeccable stitching across the cabin come together with not-so-subtle additions like the fantastic ambient lighting to create an experience that’s in equal parts exhilarating and calming. 

The highlight of the cabin is the large curved display of the infotainment system, which runs BMW’s latest iDrive 8 system and seamlessly integrates with the digital instrument cluster. The system supports wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, both of which work seamlessly without much hassle. The displays are crisp, and the customisable instrument cluster uses sharp graphics and animations to display a wealth of information. Changing the drive modes on the iX1 also changes things like the ambient lighting and instrument displays, and we like that you can play around with the modes depending on your mood. 

Tech isn’t the only area where the iX1 excels, and the car comes equipped with an extensive feature list that includes electrically adjustable front seats with memory and massage functions integrated, a huge panoramic glass roof that lights up the cabin, and a 12-speaker Harman Kardon speaker system, in addition to the usual suspects such as automatic wipers, automatic headlamps and BMW’s trusted Parking Assistant. In terms of safety, the iX1 comes with Level 2 ADAS functionality, including lane keep assist, automatic collision warning and mitigation, and adaptive cruise control. The iX1 has most of the creature comforts you can expect at this price, except for the glaring omission of ventilated seats, which continues to be a missing feature in many BMW models.

In terms of space, iX1 offers comfortable seating for five, with ample legroom and headroom in both the front and rear. The front seats are supportive and offer ample adjustment, and while the rear seat isn’t the most comfortable due to the slightly raised floor and limited legroom, it’s certainly not the worst when it comes to EVs. The iX1 also provides a reasonably spacious boot at 490 litres, but you’d have to compromise on some of it if you want to carry a spare wheel, which unfortunately doesn’t fit under the boot floor due to the battery placement.

Performance is where the current-gen ICE X1 fails to impress, but thankfully, the iX1 steps up and delivers driving dynamics worthy of the BMW badge. The iX1 is powered by a dual-motor setup, one on each axle, providing all-wheel drive capabilities. This setup produces a combined output of 308 bhp and nearly 500 Nm of torque. While those numbers fall just short of the Volvo XC40 Recharge Twin Motor’s mental performance figures, the iX1 can still give many sports cars a run for their money. The instant torque delivery typical of electric motors, combined with impressive traction thanks to the four wheel drive setup, provides 0-100 km/h acceleration in under 5.6 seconds. There’s even a singular “Boost” paddle shifter to the left of the steering, which gives you access to the car’s full 308 bhp in short 10-second bursts. The instant surge of power and torque helps manipulate gaps in traffic, making the iX1 a great daily driver, although we did find the throttle to be a tad too sensitive in some situations, especially in Sport mode. But overall, the iX1’s performance off the line and beyond will prove to be thrilling for most buyers, and although the power starts to dip as you pass 120 km/h, most people would hardly notice it, with the iX1 going on to reach a top speed of 180 km/h.

But straight line performance is just part of the package, and we’re happy to report that the iX1 upholds BMW’s reputation for producing vehicles with exceptional driving dynamics. The iX1 drives like a BMW should, despite the fact that its an EV with the downside of added weight. There’s plenty of grip on offer, thanks to the four wheel drive setup, and the iX1 pulls itself out of corners with little to no fuss. The low centre of gravity and the balanced weight distribution contribute to agile handling and balanced driving dynamics, and the iX1 also comes with an adaptive suspension setup which stiffens up the dampers in Sport mode, making the car feel more planted on the road during harder cornering. The difference is subtle but noticeable, and manages to offers the tight and precise feel that is the hallmark of BMW engineering. The suspension setup also translates into a good balance between ride quality and sharpness, and while the suspension does feel a tad jittery in Sport mode, it still manages to provide adequate cushioning from most road irregularities. 

The steering is great as well, providing a decent amount of feedback as you reach higher speeds or corner hard but still managing to be light in city driving conditions, making the car feel nimble and light on its feet in urban settings. Also helping city driving is the iX1’s well calibrated regen system, which allows you to choose from Low, Moderate and High brake regen, while also providing an Adaptive mode which modulates the amount of regen from the brakes automatically. NVH levels are good too, with just a hint of tire noise permeating into the cabin at high speeds, which is to be expected.

Equipped with a 66.4 kWh lithium-ion battery pack, the iX1 has a claimed WLTP range of up to 440 kms, and unlike many other EVs, it actually manages to get pretty close to its claimed numbers. We found that the iX1 routinely provides a real world range around the 400 kms mark, and with a slightly more restrained driving style, it might even cross the 420 kms mark. The iX1’s low drag coefficient seems to be helping it achieve its high real world range, and the fact that it can charge on DC chargers at up to 135 KW (going from 10-80% in less than half an hour) is an added bonus.

Having spent a week with the iX1, we are excited about BMW’s electrification journey. While the iX1 doesn’t have the characteristic charm of rear-drive BMWs, we’re thoroughly impressed by how the brand has managed to translate parts of its ethos into a rather mundane class of vehicles. The X1 was never supposed to be an enthusiast’s choice, but the iX1 manages to add tiny moments of thrill and exhilaration in a package where you least expect it, and that’s possible only due to its EV nature. One can confidently claim that the ICE X1 falls short when compared to the total package that is the iX1.

BMW has managed to tread the fine line between doing too much and too little, and the iX1 provides the comfort and familiarity of the traditional BMW experience while also integrating cutting edge technology and the benefits of the EV experience. It’s perhaps the best looking car in its class, and is one of our personal favourites in the current BMW SUV lineup. It has an absolutely gorgeous cabin, that blends comfort and technology to create a truly special environment for its passengers, and manages to provide an engaging driving experience that is leap years ahead of its ICE siblings. Priced at INR 66.90 lacs ex-showroom, the iX1 does demand a premium over its petrol and diesel siblings (INR 49.50 lacs & INR 52.50 lacs respectively), although the difference in price reduces when you account for on-road charges.

In our opinion, choosing the iX1 over the regular X1 is a no-brainer, if budget isn’t the primary concern of course. The iX1 is not just another electric vehicle; it is a statement of intent from BMW which shows that the brand is fully committed to leading the charge in electric mobility and creating offerings that do not compromise on the driving experience characteristic of BMWs. If you’re in the market for a luxury compact SUV that offers cutting-edge technology, exceptional performance, and sustainable mobility, the BMW iX1 should be somewhere near the top of your consideration list.

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