A month in the BMW iX

I spent a month driving the BMW iX xDrive40 for the holidays, which went back on 18 January. Driving an EV for a couple of days vs. a month is so different; the more you drive, the more you learn. And what better way to feed my curious mind than to experience it first hand.

I drove the higher-end xDrive50 at the Europe launch last October, you can read more about that here. I’m not going into the same details again. This post is a more practical write-up about what it was like to drive an EV for nearly 5 weeks. The iX xDrive40 is R1.65m.

The spec

The entry-level xDrive40 has a battery capacity of 76.6kWh; a top speed capped at 200km/h and it goes from 0-100km/h in 6.1 seconds. It has a total output of 240kW and 630Nm of instant torque; and 390km range, but a more realistic one would be closer to ~330km. BMW says consumption is 24.5kWh/100 km.

The drive

The iX delivered more than enough power for my usage. I didn’t plan any lengthy road trips, but more integrated it into my daily life for the 5 weeks, as we were coming out of another wave. I went everywhere, even to Hartbeespoort when we had out of town guests. There was enough range for wherever I needed to go and it was only on one occasion that I ran the battery to below 20% at the time of charge.

I loved the modern insides, in its unusual blue suede fabric and crystal touches here and there and gold finishes. It felt like getting into a futuristic vessel daily, and the silent drive was very welcome. It was relaxing and felt isolated from the noisy outside world. I loved the parking cameras and sensors that helped me manoeuvre as the vehicle is huge.

I know most people still prefer reversing by winding down the window and looking out back, but I love me some parking cameras and focused on the closed vehicle for getting out easily or driving out of narrow spaces. With Apple CarPlay (and Android Auto) being standard, all my playlists were just there and everything felt seamless when you got in.

The attention
I love noticing the amount of attention a car I’m driving receives on the roads. That little bit of insight tells me a lot of about its perception to the every day consumer. I can confidently say that the BMW iX received the most attention and interaction from strangers on any vehicle I’ve ever driven. Whether I was driving on the highway, to the supermarket, or waiting in the front of a traffic light (I always time it so I’m at the front).

I could see people physically turning their head 90-degrees to stare instead of looking ahead while driving. I also found people just hanging around it taking photos in the parking lot, or waiting to ask me if they can take pics and to show them the car. A car guard asked me for a ride from one end of a shopping centre to the other, so I told him to get in (with a mask!).

Interestingly, I found a mechanic taking pics of the car outside a Woolworths, and he asked me to show him what’s going to ‘put him out of business’. He was fascinated with it all, from the interior to the screens and starting up in silence.

Driving an EV such as the striking iX meant I had to speak to a ton of strangers to answer their questions. Not to mention charging it. This also attracted a fair amount of attention, and a lot of questions from people driving by or simply walking up to the car for a closer look. Again, I had to explain what I was doing and how it works.

The tech

The iX is the first vehicle to support Digital Key Plus, an upgrade to Digital Key, first announced by Apple that allows iPhone users to unlock and lock the vehicle. BMW is the first manufacturer to support the tech. Subsequently, BMW Digital Key will also be available on Android starting with the Samsung S21 series, and Google Pixel 6 and 6 Pro.

I set up Digital Key Plus on my iPhone 13 Pro and Apple Watch Series 6. The difference between Digital Key and Digital Key Plus is the use of ultrawide band (UWB), through the U1 chip found on the iPhone 11 upwards (it also works with precision tracking for the AirTag).

This allows the vehicle to be unlocked only with your phone in a pocket or bag. You had to enable this setting as an opt-in feature, which I did. Comparatively, Digital Key uses NFC where you hold the phone physically against the door (also works on Digital Key Plus). I could also unlock or lock the vehicle by physically holding my watch to the door (NFC). This was convenient so you’re not fumbling with keys after doing grocery shopping.

I also logged into my user profile from the MyBMW app, which I paired with the vehicle. I enabled it to log into my profile with the key inside the car, otherwise it was bothersome to log in manually each time. I loved this option because when you log out, all of your personal data and custom settings get wiped. When it was time to hand the vehicle back, I didn’t have to worry about my home address being accessible on the navigation, etc.

As mentioned earlier, Apple CarPlay was there, and worked as best as we know it to. But I sometimes switched between using the car’s own navigation and my phone because I wanted to experience the in-car system with it’s augmented reality overlays with arrows that show you where to go. I used Google Maps when I needed to rely on real-time traffic info.

The car also has wireless charging on a dedicated tray, and surprisingly worked with my clear cover that had a clickr phone grip attached to it. Everytime I placed it face up, it would start charging so on the times I didn’t need it charged, I placed it face down. This did help me a few times when I was low on power but it didn’t put a dent on the car’s range.

I also loved access to the MyBMW app to perform basic functions like remote locking or unlocking; accessing climate control; turning on the lights; and using the hooter. It also provided other usage info like battery status and percentage, range and charging info. You get push notifications when the vehicle is charging, for things like it has begun or if there is an error, if there is an interruption and when it will be complete to 100%.

This info was invaluable me because I used public chargers at the mall and could quickly check for errors or when it was complete. I did encounter a technical issue where the car was not communicating to the app in real-time but due to the model being so new, running on iDrive 8, there was no fix on the internet. But I found it, and shared it here:

The iX is the debut model to run BMW’s latest operating system 8. It feels more like a phone operating system where you can drag and drop tiles and customise it to your liking. You can only do this when the vehicle is stationery, for safety reasons.

I loved the huge two-part display that ran across from the centre console to the digital cockpit. It was one large physical display but with separate screens for the differing functions. You can also customise what you want to see on the cockpit; I always chose the range as mine.

In an every day scenario, I made extensive use of the above technologies. It became seamless for me, and everything just worked when I got into the vehicle. It was an adjustment going back to my own vehicle after the 5 week period.

The charging

I received a public charging cable for the iX, which meant that I could plug it into an AC charger at a mall, etc but I barely made use of it due to using DC chargers exclusively. The vehicle did not come delivered with a home charger but I also did not request for one because it would take too long to charge at home. Owners can install faster ones through a wallbox charger but as someone who was testing it, I didn’t/couldn’t have accessed it.

The reason I used DC chargers exclusively was for time. EVs charge the slowest from 0-20%, so I never ran them down below 20%; I always charged between 20-30% as a time saving measure. Also I think it would be a bit risky driving around with 20% battery. So most of my charging time was around 1.5 hours, give or take. The DC chargers I used were all 50kW ones. There are faster ones being rolled out.

Edit: I should have pointed out also that EVs take longest to charge from 80-100% so that last bit also takes time.

I also have to point out, my experience as a tester will be very different to that of an owner who will likely qualify for a free home charger and installation (some manufacturers are offering this) or get a home wallbox charger. Most home (AC) wallbox chargers will charge at 7.4kW (it is also dependent on model) or 11kW, so a 76.6kWh battery will charge in about 10.35hours (on 7.4kW). Ideally, if there is no load shedding overnight, this means your vehicle will charge in a ~10 hour window in your garage (eg: 8pm-6am). This excludes factors like charging when it’s at 20%, then it will probably be less than 10 hours.

The cost

I was provided with a ChargeNow card from BMW, which covered the costs of me recharging at any public charging station. However, I did test using my own card supplied by GridCars when I visited their HQ. I charged the iX while there, using 11.16kWh, which cost me 49.23 tokens, which is a Rand equivalent. This means they charge R4.41 per kWh. And if I had to recharge the 76.6kWh battery in full from 0%, it would cost R337.80, which is roughly “one tank”.

But I doubt anyone would be recharging from 0%, that would be mostly impossible – and irresponsible. When you log into your GridCars account, you can start a session from the web app if you don’t have your card physically on you, so that’s neat. You can also opt to receive real-time updates on Whatsapp. This is great because if the charger goes offline or needs to be rebooted, you know will know immediately.

FYI, GridCars is not a registered FSP (you can’t transact in SA Rands) therefore you have to buy prepaid tokens to top up your account first, before paying for a session.

The issues

As someone who spent such a lengthy time with an EV driving around Joburg using various chargers, I also found and alerted the relevant companies of faulty chargers. These have been around for 4-6 years and it looks like they need either maintenance or fixing. Some were old, some outright were broken, some needed to be rebooted, etc. But these little things add up to the time window you may have allocated to get it done, based around other commitments. Sometimes the issues that I had experienced affected my plans and I had to cut short the charging window to drive off to my next appointment.

I’ve said it before, I do think there are not enough DC chargers in Jhb North. Another issue you potentially may have on your hands – it happened to me – after experiencing a fault on one charger, I drove to another without checking the chargepocket (web) app, and the charger was being used by another vehicle. Given the cost of DC chargers, I’ve only ever seen one at any location, so it’s not like I could use another one.

The iX that I drove meant I could freely use BMW dealership chargers and yes, I also experienced some fault with them, but a good thing to know is that they are available 24/7. There are security guards and it is access controlled but when you drive to it, it will be opened for you. Unfortunately, my issue with Audi when I drove the e-tron was that its dealerships close at 1pm on a Saturday and are not open on Sundays. I hope this changes this year.

The future

I’m excited about the future of EVs in South Africa, despite certain issues that we may face. As with any new tech, there will be cost and teething issues, not to mention being penalised with import duties. With load shedding, there are ways to work around time tables, all areas don’t get it at the same time, and you can use a DC charger for the window, vs home overnight.

I appreciate that manufacturers are trying to add benefits, such as getting a free home charger and installation, or providing you with an access card where they either partially or fully cover costs at their own charging stations. Each vehicle is executed differently; it’s such a privilege to be able to experience them for a longer period to learn how it works.

Lastly, despite numerous requests, I’m not able to compare the Audi e-tron to the BMW iX because I drove a model before the launch. The company was not ready and most of its chargers or app was not live when I drove it so it won’t be a fair comparison. Stay tuned for the launch for more on that.

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