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BMW e-SUV takes a potent drive down electric avenue

The BMW iX1 is a great runaround, with room for finishing touches to its on-board tech, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

The new BMW iX1, the Bavarian brand’s smallest electric offering yet, last year charged into an increasingly crowded ring of compact electric SUVs. That means it is going to appeal to motorists based either on their affinity to the brand or the extent of its on-board technology.

For the former, it offers a jolt of electric power, wrapped in a familiar package, since it is based on the design language of its petrol-powered X1 sibling. We tested the XDrive30 edition.

At the core of the iX1, of course, is BMW’s latest eDrive electric drivetrain. It features electric all-wheel drive, with drive torque sent by one electric motor to the front wheels and one to the rear wheels, giving it a combined torque of 494Nm, along with 313hp. Those are respectable figures for a compact EV, providing good acceleration and handling.

It can, however, prove to be a little too responsive, and needs a light touch on the accelerator. The same applies to the ride, which can be a little firm, translating into nimble performance for some, and a hard ride for others, depending on one’s driving personality.

The motor is powered by a 64.7 kWh battery pack featuring BMW’s latest lithium-ion prismatic cell technology. With an estimated range of  417km, it lags a little behind class leaders, but is a pleasure to nip around city streets.

It supports 130 kW DC fast charging capability, so owners can reach an 80% charge in around 35 minutes. However, the proviso is that they find a super-fast charging station, as the basic charging stations in most shopping centres run on 11 KW, meaning it takes more than six hours to charge. On a typical home plug outlet, it took more than twice as long during our tests. In other words, it needs more than a mere overnight charge at home.

Having said that, the iX1 shines in its array of tech features and safety assistance. Building on BMW’s already strong iDrive infotainment system, the cockpit enters the future of motoring with  a curved glass driver-oriented display housing both a 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster and a 14.9-inch central touchscreen. Running the latest BMW Operating System 8, it boasts snappy performance and rich graphics. The interface is not always intuitive – for example sometimes instructing one to select an option on a different part of a menu, but not providing an instant link to that option.

Fortunately, tech comes to the rescue, and one can turn to the BMW Intelligent Personal Assistant, an advanced voice control system that can understand and respond to natural speech. Can’t find the setting? Ask the car to find it for you, from changing climate settings to mapping you to a nearby charging station. Owners can set a personalised activation phrase or “wake word”.

Seamless smartphone integration, thanks to wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, brings one’s own apps into play, and Google Assistant then adds to the voice controls.

The iX1 comes standard with a full complement of active safety features, such as automatic emergency braking, blind spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, crash sensors and tyre pressure indicator. Also standard are airbags for driver and front passenger, side airbags for driver and front passenger, head airbags front and rear, and interaction airbag between driver and front passenger.

Multiple drive modes allow one to tweak settings like steering weight, accelerator mapping, and energy recuperation levels. Iconic Sounds technology can even pipe artificial powertrain noises into the cabin if you miss the old days of noisy engines and exhaust fumes.

Thanks to the battery shape and distribution, BMW can claim a 50/50 weight distribution, and the driver can experience a low centre of gravity, making for great handling on twists and curves.

Despite its compact size, one climbs into a surprisingly spacious cabin. Both front and rear seats offer ample legroom. One shortcoming, however, is the lack of electric seat controls – the manual adjustments are an anomaly in an EV.

Overall, the BMW iX1 is a compelling entry into the electric luxury SUV market, with a potent electric powertrain, a tech-laden cabin, and sporty handling.

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