Payne: Turn up the volume — Sci-fi BMW iX is loud, lavish and ‘lectric

Posted by Talbot Payne on November 10, 2022

Pontiac — The new 2023 BMW iX is here. Call it BMW Tron.

For its first electric vehicle, BMW has created a dramatically different user experience. Where BMW has built its brand on sleek design and tight handling, iX takes its cues from Hollywood sci-fi movies. This is a vehicle out of Disney’s acclaimed, futuristic “Tron” flick.

Turn on a gas-powered BMW X5 40i and it growls like a hungry beast. BRAPPA! Turn on the iX M60 and you’re met with silence from the electric drivetrain. But that doesn’t mean it’s quiet. Instead, BMW contracted with Hollywood movie composer Hans Zimmer to create a unique interior soundtrack for iX.

The 2023 BMW iX M60 starts an electric EV line that parallels gas models (see X4 at right).

A two-time Oscar winner, Zimmer’s credits include the soundtracks for such sci-fi blockbusters as “Dune” (Academy Award winner in March), “Inception” and “Interstellar.” So he seems particularly well-suited for the iX assignment.

See my iX M60 zip by on the road, and it’s whisper quiet. But inside, it’s a symphony of noise.

I activated EXPRESSIVE mode and the cabin exploded in a musical cacophony as if the string section of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra has just occupied the rear seat. ZZPPHVEVEVEVHHHH!!!

I lifted my right foot and the symphony went silent. Back on the throttle: ZZPPHVEVEVEVHHHH!!!

Who said EVs are quiet? The 2023 BMW iX M60 offers loud Drive modes. This one, EXPRESSIVE, has sound to match its wild graphics.

Enough. I poked EFFICIENT mode on the console screen and the car went deathly quiet. I squeezed the accelerator hard and heard nothing. Not even motor whine. “That’s eerie,” said my friend Tom.

I activated SPORT mode. WAURRRRGGHH!! went the speakers when I buried my right foot, launching the nearly three-ton beast to 60 mph in 3.3 seconds.

It’s crazy.

“This car is fun to drive,” smiled pal Caroline, who has owned Audi Qs and Bimmer Xs.

“Too gimmicky,” said Tom, who owns a Porsche Panamera.

Back in 2001, Bimmer did a similar radical makeover for the dawning electronics era, introducing a rotary dial-controlled infotainment screen and mold-breaking 7-series sedan courtesy of designer Chris Bangle. At the Detroit auto show, my father-in-law shook his head at iDrive’s complexity — and the exterior design was so polarizing it was nicknamed the “Bangle butt.”

But BMW’s boldness stood the test of time, capturing a new generation of buyers.

Not a looker. The 2023 BMW iX M60 is innovative - but its blunt styling is off-putting.

The iX is even more polarizing. The interior is a stark, austere departure from recent BMWs. Aside from the signature iDrive and volume control roller on the console (crafted from crystal along with the door-mounted seat controls), there are no control dials. Everything is haptic touch controls.

I found the Drive Mode controls — accessed via raised lettering on the floating-island console — particularly frustrating.

At dusk at a Woodward stoplight, a menacing Audi S5 rolled up next to me. Devil in a red dress. I was in EFFICIENT mode. I reached for the raised lettering in the darkness to access SPORT mode/launch control but couldn’t locate it. Dang. I poked at the screen trying to find the Modes. Dang.

The light turned green. EFFICIENT mode would have to do. I still blew the Audi A5’s doors off.

Putting a gob-smacking 811-pound feet of torque (260 more than a comparable X5 M50i, 100 more than a supercharged, V8-powered Dodge Challenger Demon) to asphalt via all four paws, the iX erupts off the line despite its 5,800-pound girth (450 more than the X5). It’s addictive.

The 2023 BMW iX M60 comes standard with AWD and will hit 60 mph in just 3.6 seconds.

With its big 105.2 kWh battery pack under the floorboards, adaptive air suspension and a sophisticated carbon fiber-reinforced, mixed-metal frame, this rhino in tennis shoes is surprisingly nimble for a mid-size ute that can seat four six-footers with ease. Through the S-turns of Oakland County lake country, iX bounded about happily — its instant torque always at the ready.

The innovative, hexagonal steering wheel — firm in SPORT mode — adds more security at speed, its squared-off construction allowing excellent instrument visibility like the Corvette C8’s square wheel.

The 2023 BMW iX M60 has a hexagonal steering wheel to better view the big instrument display.

But in this EV utility space, smooth electric torque is not exclusive to BMW. The Mustang Mach-E GT matches it. And the Rivian R1T. So too the Tesla Model Y Performance.

Where the Bimmer really wants to make its mark is as a tech showcase. This is an all-wheel-drive smartphone.

As with a smartphone, I only scratched the surface of what was available in a week behind the wheel. Years ago, after a month with my first Samsung smartphone, my son (who owned the same series) came home and unlocked features I had no idea existed. Each day in the iX was like that.

The 2023 BMW iX M60 encourages multiple voice commands.

After my frustrations with accessing Drive modes, I discovered I could just talk to iX.

Hello, BMW. Set Drive Mode.

BMW’s Personal Assistant then switched the curved 14.9-inch infotainment display to beautifully crafted Drive mode pages. I tapped the one I wanted. With its ergonomically inferior touch controls, I increasingly used voice commands. Like a lot of luxe vehicles, the Bimmer wants to self-drive — but unlike other systems, iX is also aware of its surrounding environment even when driver-assist turns off.

Coasting toward another car, my iX M60 broke lightly — not harshly — just as a human would. Other gee-whiz functions included an electromagnetic, panoramic glass roof that could switch between opaque and non-opaque. You can take pictures of passengers inside the car. The iX has its own security camera, a polyurethane covering on the front grille that self-heals scratches … and so on.

Still, all this tech will not make up for EVs’ Achilles heel: range anxiety.

My M60 boasted 220 miles at (recommended) 80% charge, not enough to get to Charlevoix without stopping for electrons. An Electrify America charge stop adds half an hour — and when you arrive with just 11% of battery range? You better hope there’s a 240-volt charger to juice up overnight. Charging adds another hour to my 7-hour trip to hometown Charleston, W.Va.

The good news? The Bimmer’s nav system is on par with segment-standard Tesla. It plans your route complete with fast chargers — even locating restaurants/retail nearby. The bad news? Unlike Tesla’s multi-stall stables, third-party chargers from, say, EVGo, often are single units, meaning you’ll face delays if others are in line.

Like a sci-fi vehicle, iX is a big-budget blockbuster ($110K for my tester, $20K more than the X5 M50i) and wants to explore the frontier of electronics and EVs. Like a sci-fi flick, it’s more interested in entertainment than utility.

So have a seat in the iX theater. Turn up the volume and enjoy the show.

Next week: Who needs a truck? Towing a boat with a 2022 Ford Explorer SUV

2023 BMW iX

Vehicle type: Battery-powered, all-wheel-drive, five-passenger SUV

Price: $85,095, including $995 destination fee ($109,895 iX M60 as tested)

Powerplant: 105.2 kWh lithium-ion battery driving two, electric motors

Power: 516 horsepower, 564 pound-feet of torque (xDrive50); 610 horsepower, 811 pound-feet of torque (M60)

Transmission: Single-speed drive

Performance: 0-60 mph, 3.6 seconds (mfr.)

Weight: 5,800 pounds (as tested)

Fuel economy: EPA 78 MPGe; range, 324 miles (xDrive50); 280 miles (M60)

Report card

Highs: Hi-tech interior; explosive power

Lows: Polarizing exterior design, short battery range

Overall: 3 stars

Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at hpayne@detroitnews.com or Twitter @HenryEPayne.

Comments are closed.