BMW G26 i4 M50: Electric is the new normal. I have never driven an EV-only car, but BMW nailed what it would take to get me behind the wheel of one. They set up an autocross course, and we drove a half dozen hot laps with an instructor. In short, driving an EV can be just as fun as a combustion car. Everyone talks about how great the instant torque is, but the way an EV car launches is just not that earth shattering to me. It was at the chicane after the launch that I started becoming impressed. The i4 moves like a proper sports car, with lots of grip and very little body roll. I don't own any cars with modern overboosted electric steering, and the pedals don't give much feedback either, so it took me a while to figure out how to give the vehicle smooth inputs and discover where the car's subtle feedback can be found. But this kind of electronic experience has been normal in combustion powered luxury sports sedans for a while now.
BMW G14 M850i xDrive Convertible: AWD convertible. Right after my first experience driving an EV, I tried to find the antithesis in BMW's street drive fleet for comparison. Now this is proper exclusive motoring. AWD convertibles have always been a unicorn, associated with exotics like the Porsche 911 and Lamborghinis. While the soft top is not the ideal track car configuration, I enjoyed driving under the summer sky with commercial jets roaring overhead in the final approach over COTA. In a convertible, the front windshield seems like such a small portal to have been confined to before opening the roof up to the real world. Also, top down is the best way to enjoy the wonderful sound of the good old twin turbo V8. But they should have let the engine speak for itself. I'm sure the exhaust can sound great without having to generate electronic noises. These pops and crackles are fake, I've driven cars with no cats before...
BMW G06 X6 M50i: Twin turbo V8 crossover. The study of contrasts continues, switching now from the low slung view of the open sky to the raised commanding view of the road from the X6. When "4 door coupe" body designs first came out on sedans I failed to see the point, but I like how it works on crossovers. Cars like the X6 are finding that perfect balance between adding a little off road capability without dragging around a tall, top-heavy boxy greenhouse. If I only had a 1 car garage, the X6 would work as a do-it-all vehicle. It has a hatchback, the rear seats are still more comfortable than many sedans, and it handles like a sports car, with the same twin turbo V8 drivetrain from the M850i.
BMW G07 X7 M50i: BMW crossover success. Some of the continuity in the X7's design from the original E53 X5 that launched the entire X-series in 2000 proves how much BMW got right the first time. The rear hatch is still split, with a bottom tailgate opening down like an old Buick Roadmaster wagon. This is superior for the same reason that pickup truck tailgates have been so useful for a whole century. It brings your loading platform down and towards you, making it easier for loading, should you decide to load anything into your luxury SUV. More importantly, it provides a much better seating surface than the various protrusions of weather stripping and latches that you usually find there. BMW's nomenclature can be unreliable but in this case it correctly identifies the same twin turbo V8 as the other cars I have driven, which is also welcome. Even the X7's size increase in over the X5 are modest, and within the original spirit of the BMW crossover. It still feels like a cozy car that I can maneuver and reach around in, rather than a volumous room on wheels.
BMW I20 iX: Room on wheels. BMW's first electric X-series, on the other hand, is quite the different. While the i4 is for people who want a normal car that happens to be electric powered, the iX shares Tesla's approach of departing from familiarity. I like the open area between the front seats, which is historically the way cars were built for moving lots of people. Since there are no transmission or exhaust tunnels, this seems like a no-brainer to me, and it offers some hope that one day the front bench seat will find its way back into cars. The front seats have so little side bolster that one test driver asked if there was a way to adjust it. There is no "fronk" for storage in the front, probably because the cabin is already so far forward and the EV components use up all the space under the hood. The bezels surrounding the instrument screens are gone, which further opens up the inside space to feel more roomy. The single wide screen that remains feels more authentic, versus an instrument cluster display with fake gauges that so many cars now have. Overall, the volume of the iX is not an illusion, and it weighs more than the X7. 4-wheel steering helps with maneuverability, which was highlighted in the tight closed course that BMW set up for the iX in addition to the street drive.
BMW G11 745e: Plug-ins becoming standard. The 7-series in the street drive fleet was a plug-in hybrid, which is a most sensible configuration. Luxury cars are now packed with so many complex features that adding plug-in hybrid functionality is starting to feel as routine as adding a feature package. The 745e is a relatively small price increase over the 740i, and the added convenience of taking short trips without starting the combustion engine is arguably cooler than any set of creature comforts. BMW set the plug-in hybrid trims this way on all their electrified models. Configuring a base model without the plug-in hybrid now feels as wrong to me as leaving heated seats off of the build sheet.
Overall reaction: Two thumbs up to BMW on their approach to electrification. The mix of internal combustion, plug-in hybrid, and pure EV powerplants has made BMW's lineup the most interesting of any car brand. The top of the line M models are still gas-burning enthusiast machines, and the X-series continue to nail the definition of a crossover sports car. Below M models, electrification has been implemented well. I feel like most of the modern BMW driving experience has already become so electronic that it hardly matters what is actually propelling the car anyway. Every basic aspect of driving the car, like steering, shifting, and braking, are now so computerized that using an EV motor actually feels more authentic than firing up a gasoline motor that is now hooked up to complex life support systems with fake noise to remind you it is beating.
Sunday, 5th of June, 2022