Tested: 2023 BMW iX3 M Sport

The other night, I bumped into an old petrol-head acquaintance at a birthday party. After we had sufficiently reminisced about our automotive past, it turns out that his wife is a complete EV fan… and just took delivery of a BMW iX3.

What ensued was at least an hour of comparing notes. Colours, trim and cabin options, the all-important EV driving impressions, daily usability and charging concerns. Having traded in an i3 BEV, the family is well versed in the best usage for electric BMW’s: mostly town driving, where even turbo-diesels get thirsty.

They also countered our nation’s biggest woes by circumventing any load shedding with a stand-alone solar system. The exact specs of this setup evaded me as we were either distracted by more automotive chatter or the next round of Tafel Lagers. And, as you can probably deduct, I was happy to farm their opinions to review this iX3 M Sport we got from the Cape Town press fleet.

I would’ve loved to immediately lay into BMW (and their main competitor, to be fair) for prostituting their performance “M” brand even further. It wasn’t enough that diesel 1-Series are almost exclusively sold with an “M Pack”, now the antithesis of high-revving petrol motors is also adorned with M goodies?

“Don’t be such a purist!” someone may have said, although they did acknowledge my argument that the new wave of electric vehicles are extremely fast and hence, very deserving of their own performance moniker. We eventually agreed to disagree, had some more quality beer, and rejoiced in the lively acceleration of the new iX3.

Our best 0-100km/h sprint time with this vehicle took 6.42 seconds, which is not only better than the maker’s claim of 6.8, but also throws this medium-sized crossover into the midst of decent turbo-petrol and hot turbo-diesel equivalents. We can also confirm that its top speed is limited to 180km/h: at which point the digital cluster displays 183 while the true GPS speed was 176.22km/h.

For those who are interested in the other direction of momentum, a single brake test from about 100km/h took 3.05 seconds and 37.6m. The time is fairly average but the distance is quite impressive; for a heavy EV. We’ll chalk up quite a bit of that achievement to the reasonably fresh Bridgestone Alenza tyres fitted to our test vehicle.

Bizarrely, this vehicle has a staggered wheel setup, in that the fronts are 245/45R20 and the rear ones slightly wider at 275/40R20. Or, to put it into thee most childish description so loved by southern Africans: “Narrows and Wides”. My toenails curl every time I have to endure that dimensional and linguistic abortion.

Sorry, that might be the Tafel typing. In what has now become the norm with the latest flock of electric vehicles, their enormous batteries pose a wee problem to the single-phase three-prong socket in my garage. As this humble little outlet only offers a few kilowatts of juice, it would take a day or two to fully charge this car at my house.

The brand-new iX3 owner dismisses this with stories of more powerful sockets, the obvious improvements offered by installing a proper wall charger at home, or visiting one of those high-speed DC chargers you’d find at a dealer or trendy shopping mall. In fact, I took this car there and in my virgin experience with the device, came away very pleased.

We got a charge card (see what I did there?) from BMW which I simply swiped to activate the Jaguar / GridCars device. An hour and 15 minutes later, my wife and I returned from lunch to find that this iX3 had jumped from just over 40% to almost 90% battery capacity. I’m sure you’d also agree that’s not too bad?

If we get more of these big chargers, preferably powered by renewable energy, the EV dream could start to work!

My new BMW electric brand ambassador gushed out more approval. When their i3 ran dangerously low on charge – and life got in the way of better planning – the local BMW dealership rushed to their aid by getting the car hooked up to their finest source of AC, offering them coffee and a workspace, or the possibility of a shuttle service.

Again, this might be the honeymoon phase of an early mobility phase, but it’s absolutely crucial in building and maintaining consumer confidence. The rest of the iX3 experience, if we were to factor out the current challenges of its birth and power source, is a dream. Yes, even for M-fans and petrol-drunk lunatics like me.

The near-silent driving experience is enhanced by various sci-fi sounds of the excellent sound system, housed in the highly accomplished form of an X3. It’s got decent space, comfort, toys, safety and media options to keep any modern family happy; although they also suffer the German greed of steep pricing for tasty toys or premium packages.

If you’ve never experienced the one-pedal driving sensation of a true EV, the South African-built iX3 is a marvelous starting point. Thanks to multiple drive modes, the air suspension and drive train can be set up to offer relaxed response and fairly smooth sailing, or a rude ride with rapid changes in momentum.

Those X3 genes also gift it proper SUV dimensions like a 510 to 1,560L boot, 179mm of ground clearance, and a 12.1m turning radius. The all-wheel drive system provides a modicum of off-road movement whose two main enemies are the road-biased rubber and a kerb weight in excess of 2.1 tons.

In summary, the BMW iX3 M Sport is an amazingly sophisticated electric SUV with decent range (if you drive like an adult), all the toys and comfort you could wish for, but costs a rather steep R1,3 million and, in the country of its birth, leaves you at the mercy of the world’s most wonky power supplier.

Or, as my EV-loving party friends are proving, free to make your own plans and enjoy the rewards.

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