Quick reads – BMW iX Xdrive40 vs Audi e-tron 50 Quattro

Another fresh new entry into the local EV market comes in the form of the BMW iX Xdrive40. Just landed at Auckland City BMW I jumped at the chance to do a quick comparison to my Audi e-tron. I wish I had more than an hour with it because there is simply so much new tech to take in. I have since done a second test drive in the iX and have updated this post (updated 30 December 2021).

Let me start by saying that this is the freshest design from BMW in a very long time. It’s unlike anything else in their portfolio and according to the salesperson (and some quick research on my part) the iX shares almost no interior components with other BMWs. Underpinning it all is the now-familiar CLAR platform which is also shared by the upcoming i4. The design is very polarising in the press photos, but my test car came in a rather normal dark shade of grey which makes the design much easier to stomach.

IX Interior driver view
The interior is a truly special place with (almost) no cheap materials to be found

 

  • The interior is splendid. Almost nothing you can touch feels cheap and the interior takes on a modern twist not seen in any recent BMW. Notable exceptions are the steering column stalks and the lower part of the centre console. These don’t feel particularly premium and are a bit out of step with the rest of the interior. I have never been a fan of BMWs crystal glass appliqués but in person, they don’t look too bad. Having now seen press photos of the standard trim I will say that I much prefer that to the optional Clear & Bold crystal version. I also experienced something raised by some reviewers which was the crystal seat controls on the passenger door reflecting light into my eyes while driving. Just another reason to stick with the standard trim. The massive panoramic glass roof lends an airy feel to the interior, and it has a party trick too…it goes from see-through to milky white at the touch of a button. A-la Maybach. This removes the need for a mechanical sunshade which also frees up some extra headroom.
Standard trim vs Clear&Bold
Standard switchgear vs the optional Clear & Bold crystal trim…personally I prefer the former (Credit: BMW Press Club)

 

  • The seats are probably the most comfortable I’ve experienced in any car in a long time. The way they have been bolstered and clad in sustainable leather is fantastic. And by sustainable I mean that BMW uses olive leaf extract during the tanning process. There are cloth and faux-leather (Sensatec) options available for those so inclined. As standard the seats come with a plethora of adjustments, heating and a massage function with 3 programmes. As an option you can add ventilation to them too. The only adjustment I found lacking was extending thigh support. Moving the seat controls to the door makes them easier to reach but also offer fewer adjustment options, requiring you to use the iDrive screen for fine-tuning the remaining settings. Not a big deal, though changing any of those settings on the move is just a tad trickier.
  • Jam-packed with impressive tech. The iX comes with BMWs latest iDrive 8 and, honestly, I have nothing bad to say about it. Much like iDrive 7, it’s dead simple to use. The HUD in the iX is even better than the iX3 and then there’s augmented reality navigation too that shows you when to turn through arrows superimposed on the main iDrive screen using the front view camera. I also love the theme BMW has designed for iDrive 8. It suits the design of the cabin as a hole perfectly.
iDrive 8
The iX features the latest iDrive 8 operating system (Credit: BMW Press Club)

 

  • The iX comes with an 18 speaker, 655-watt harman/kardon sound system, and it’s pretty damned impressive. The optional Bowers & Wilkins system would be an impressive 1615-watt upgrade (at $8.5k) but it’s overkill for all but serious audiophiles.
  • Driving dynamics. If I had to compare the driving comfort with anything I would say Range Rover or X7. It’s just incredibly effortless. It’s a big car, there’s no denying that, but it is plenty fast enough and easy enough to manoeuvre. There is plenty of power on tap, and comparing it to the iX3 it feels a bit more “normal” to drive. The pedals feel pretty much like any other car. The steering wheel on the other hand may take some getting used to. Why BMW decided to go with a 6-sided steering wheel is a mystery. BMW marketing-speak says that the polygon shape makes for easier switching between active and automatic driving, as well as affording a better view of the digital driver display. I say, meh, at least they didn’t pull a yoke on us. The numerous driver assistance systems are easy to figure out and BMW has hinted at increased levels of autonomous driving  being made available through over-the-air updates.
  • Cabin noise/operation. The cabin is dead quiet. If your goal is to waft from place to place in effortless silence then the iX may be the car for you. As with pretty much any modern BMW, everything is simple to operate. One minor complaint is that the climate control is hidden a level deep in iDrive, and at a glance, it’s not all that intuitive to use. I may just take some getting used to, and then there’s also “Hey BMW” to help do most things for you.

There’s no denying that the iX is damned expensive…as in more expensive than the BMW X7, Mercedes GLS, Audi Q8. The Xdrive40 starts at $163k* followed by the Xdrive50 at $197k* but at either of those price points you get something truly special, and unlike anything else on the market. The exterior design is polarising, yes, but in crisp polar white paint without the titanium bronze trim pieces it looks rather striking. If I’m being honest the e-tron interior feels rather pedestrian compared to the iX but driving around town today on roads I drive every day the e-tron holds its own very well. Comparing standard equipment between the e-tron 55 Quattro Advanced to the iX Xdrive40 the BMW makes a more compelling buy.

Would I buy an iX…probably, but I’d wait for a demo rather than paying a premium for a brand new one after two test drives I say absolutely. It all depends on your priorities though. If you’re looking for a premium EV-SAV the iX3 makes a strong case for itself, but if you need a massive towing capacity and 4-wheel-drive then the iX is the one to go for. In my opinion, the Xdrive40 offers pretty good range and enough standard equipment to make it the logical choice between the two launch models even without ticking any of the optional extra boxes.

* Prices correct at time of publication. This post is in no way affiliated with or sponsored by BMW New Zealand or Auckland City BMW

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