BMW’s new technological flagship is headed north, to the Arctic Circle, to endure winter testing ahead of series production commencing and the official market launch, the latter of which is scheduled for roughly a year from now. It’s a traditional part of the vehicle development process at BMW and plenty of other automakers, but iX is anything but traditional. The purely electric SAV represents the future of the brand and its take on mobility, and it seems as though the archetypal technological torch has been passed from the 7 Series to the iX.
If you think you might be experiencing déjà vu, that’s because iX has already been subjected to some of the harshest winter conditions on earth. This was back when it was still in the concept phase, and being referred to as iNext. We’re now much closer to the model BMW has been talking up for the last few years becoming reality, and anticipation has only grown since mid-November, when the design of the iX was revealed in what appeared to be nearly production-ready form. Specifications including the equivalent of up to 500 horsepower and 300 miles worth of range have also been encouraging, but before the proverbial rubber meets the road, the engineers at BMW must ensure the vehicle can deliver in the real world, in some of the most challenging environments on earth. Every BMW goes through it, and the extreme cold is just one core component, as these vehicles must also operate without fault in some of the hottest places on earth.
Temperature influences the operation of a battery and other electronic systems in a way traditional automobiles have never been affected. Cold-starting a diesel engine in the dead of winter always used to present a bit of a challenge, but once things reach operating temperature—and preferably stay there—you’re largely off and running, and the same has traditionally been true of gasoline engines as well. The cooling system thermostat maintains the temperature of the engine within a prescribed range where things are happy, and the engine can both run efficiently without incurring damage, and interior occupants can enjoy a heated cabin and protection from the elements when necessary.
The systems which motivate electric vehicles are both different and the same, in that there is an optimal thermal range in which components seemingly prefer to operate, and that maintaining this state is critical to preserving things like range and performance, in addition to battery lifespan. However, while an internal combustion engine gives off excess energy in the form of heat, which is regulated by a cooling system, electric vehicles face the challenge of being more heavily influenced by the thermal properties of the environment in which they are operating, and can quite literally become too cold or too hot to operate as designed.
The same is true (although certainly to a lesser degree) of all of the supporting electronic systems, including things as in-your-face as the digital interior displays. Additionally, something as simple as heat, rather than being a sometimes-useful byproduct of an internal combustion engine, is a problem in both warm places, where batteries can overheat, and in cold climates, in which heating a cabin uses additional energy which can sap range from batteries already suffering from reduced storage capacity.
As iX is being put through its paces in terms of the temperature gamut, it’s also being tested as it traverses some of the roughest terrain and road conditions it’s likely to encounter in its eventual life as a daily-driven vehicle. For BMW, there’s no better place than the frozen north of the European continent to subject a pre-production prototype to such demands. More specifically, iX is undergoing testing in the Finnish Lapland (for which the Volvo Laplander is named), and at the North Cape on the Norwegian island of Magerøya, both of which are located well within the Arctic Circle.
It’s all in the interest of ensuring iX meets its expectations, both in terms of how it tackles adverse terrain, rough roads, steep angles, and other challenges, while performing as advertised, with expected range and the exhilarating performance that’s been promised from the eDrive motors and the high-voltage batteries which power them.—Alex Tock
[Photos courtesy BMW AG.]