The grille substitute in the form of two XXL kidneys, which BMW CEO Oliver Zipse has dubbed a ´space of intelligence´, because of the sensors hidden behind it, already caused an outcry after the prototype´s pics of BMW´s iX were released – especially from the ranks of its own customers. And it does so with a strength not seen since the era of leading designer Christopher Bangle with the humps at the rear of the 7 and 8 Series. BMW’s reaction escalated in return: In a tweet, the Munich-based team made fun of what they saw as old-fashioned critics typical for Baby Boomers: ´OK, Boomer. And what’s your reason not to change?´. This hit me double due to my age and a certain preference for the modest size of BMW´s signature front grilles. That said, the iX design also caused me to say the least, a bit of surprise.
After watching the YouTube video of Christoph Waltz briefly introducing the iX’s interior design, I didn’t find the the chunky exterior shapes that disturbing anymore. Eventually the IAA trade fair in Munich made it. I caught the chance to sit on the driver´s seat of a BMW iX getting a first impression of the sound system. Lined with red leather, I actually really liked the cockpit design with its kind-of-swaying curved display. Of course, the first opportunity to drive the BEV (Battery Electric Vehicle) with Bowers & Wilkins Diamond Surround Sound System had to be mine.
Needs no introduction among experts
Bowers & Wilkins needs no introduction among hifi afficionados. For petrol or battery heads, on the other hand, the British are in an a kind of elite niche. What car fans should know about the loudspeaker specialist from Worthing, England: The B&W 801 3-way floorstanding speaker are a reference both for studio monitoring and high end audio geeks. These loudspeakers or their derivatives icon or its can be found in studios of the BBC or at Abbey Road. Its latest generation, called 801 D4, is greeting the iX driver from the huge display as some kind of Bowers & Wilkins Diamond Surround System icon. BMW historicians might remember the BMW 801. But it was not a car, it was an aircraft engine.
The concept: add some Playstation touch to your Screen
The iX’s futuristic cockpit is reminding neither of airplanes nor BMWs as we know them. The first impression: somewhere between a lounge and a UFO, finding me between enthusiasm and dismay. After getting in, I was bothered by the narrow, recessed door handles. But that felt just a little uncomfortable. What felt like kind of a problem: no door handles visible inside to a newcomer like me. No way to ever get out?
I used to amuse me back in the old days if passengers in a 1980s model 3 or 5 couldn’t find the hidden openers. In the iX you have to find the tiny buttons for this operation, hidden amidst an armada of buttons on the driver’s side.
And that’s even more in the iX compared to other modern BMWs. Not least because the Munich-based company was obviously influenced by its Stuttgart-based friends from Daimler when it came to positioning the seat adjustment. It is now no longer located on the side of each seat, but sits prominently at the top of the door trim, schematically depicted in the shape of the seat. Admittedly, this also caused one BMW owner to reach for nothing at first after getting in. For the majority without prejudices, however, it should be easier to handle it that way.
We wanna be transparent
It’s a good thing that, apart from the completely renewed BMW OS, the Bowers & Wilkins sound system can be operated quite intuitively – at least once newcomers to the revised iDrive have found the relevant menu setting. The designers also abolished the tactile keys around the rotate-and-push dial as part of the modernization process. The touch buttons around the now transparent knob are perfectly integrated into the central console with a smooth, glass-like surface. This looks modern without any doubt, but has the disadvantage that you can hardly operate them without looking down.
In that case, no obstacle: “What, you drive? I’ll go with you!”, a friend and colleague said. Perfect timing, because I had been given the BMW iX xDrive 50 at short notice for just an afternoon and naturally wanted to gather as many impressions as possible of the driving characteristics.
I was then able to do so at my leisure while he ensured that the listening test was executed professionally. In addition to radio (FM and DAB+), USB, Bluetooth, and Connected Music with Spotify using the iX’s fast 5G connection are available as music sources. After the first few bars of music with the Bowers & Wilkins Diamond Surround Sound System, I had a strong impression of massage seats being activated. Okay, that is supposed to be the 4D sound i already had been noticing during the brief listening session at IAA trade fair. And as I did then, I immediately looked for a possibility to deactivate it. Or rather, I had it searched, because BMW had pretty much reordered and restyled everything on the wide Curved Display.
Bowers & Wilkins massages your back
If one question is arising now: Why does a professional hifi reviewer sticks to only three dimensions? Even though the British sound specialists and their Bavarian partners BMW and Harman have put a lot of effort into this special effect: The position of the exciters in the seats and their preferred frequency seem to be both too high to my taste (and that of my colleague on the passenger seat). That’s why they have the tendency to turn from being a welcome rhythmic support a somewhat unwanted massage service for your lumbar, with some random rhythm of their own.
Judging by a brief listening check, the eternal rivals from Stuttgart in the (twice as expensive) Maybach with Burmester 4D Surround System have solved this in a far better way. After all, every passenger can dose the 4D effect of the Bowers & Wilkins Diamond Surround Sound System to their liking – or deactivate it.
Even without exciters, which work much like a loudspeaker without an diaphragm and cause the backs of the comfortable seats to vibrate, plenty of good vibrations could be experienced. These are generated by the loudspeakers themselves with an astonishing volume and sonority, perfectly matched in frequency and timing. That came as kind of a surprise because one might expect battery modules to eat up the space in the underbody of an electric car which is usually mandatory for large subwoofers.
But BMW still managed to position two 8″ woofers equipped with carbon fibre diaphragms under the front seats. The so-called central bass drivers use parts of the car´s chassis structure as a rear chamber to prevent acoustic short-circuiting between out-of-phase soundwaves from both sides of the woofer.
And if you or the co-driver have already dived into the depths of the quite colourful menu setting, which are routinely implemented in best PlayStation manner, it naturally also makes sense to see if you can’t squeeze a bit more tonal balance out of the high end sound system.
Two hi-fi experts, one opinion: With mildening the somewhat exaggerated brilliance, adding some kick bass to strengthen the punch, the remarkably broad-sounding Bowers & Wilkins Diamond Surround Sound System could showcase the undisputed high quality of its drivers in a more engaging way.
The agony of choice
Bowers & Wilkins offers the best conditions for such special requests. The sound system does not only provide the listeners with four different sound presets (´Studio´, ´Concert Hall´, ´On Stage´ and ´Rear´). The British, or rather their automotive stalwart at Harman in Garching, have also implemented it a finely tunable 9-band graphic EQ. This professional sound tool enables experienced BMW crews to very quickly succeed in improving the system´s tonal balance to a satisfactory coherence and sound a bit full-bodied neutrality.
The system´s 1,615 watts are with the help of some EQing friend capable of putting a big big smile on face of everyone in the car, improving not only the tonal balance of particularly demanding classical or acoustical music. Rock and pop also get really enjoyable with it. For sure, audiophile ears prefer the somewhat neutral ´studio´ stereo setup despite its plain staging effect. It does not manipulate the signal as much as ´Concert Hall´ mode adding some surround effects to the stereo recording. Even more is generated by ´On Stage´ mode, using the computing power of Quantum Logic Immersive (QLI) to distribute musical instruments all around the salon of the nearly 5-meter-long vehicle.
Speaking of ´On Stage´: I had my first contact with this idiosyncratic staging variant in the Ferrari FF, in which Harman introduced the 2D derivative of Quantum-Logic first. Frankly, its wonderful large-volume naturally aspirated V12 engine sounded so beguiling to my ears that I judged this very idiosyncratic sound effects with a certain portion of forgiveness. For obvious reasons, acoustic conditions in the BMW iX are quite different.
Driving impression Bavarian BEV with British sound system
With its two separately excited synchronous motors (which do not require permanent magnets to preserve resources), the BEV in the AWD xDrive version remains extremely quiet, and not just compared to the high-revving internal combustion engine in the Ferrari. Even compared to other electric vehicles, the 523-hp iX xDrive 50 is relaxingly quiet. Even during recuperation, i.e. when the electric drive recharges the batteries like a generator in push mode, the BMW does not make the sound reminiscent of a tram or suburbian train as we know it from many other electric cars nowadays. Not only in order to fully enjoy this silence, which is also disturbed by any noticable rolling noise, I refrained from using the ´BMW IconicSounds Electric´ composed by none other than Hans Zimmer.
Without offending the award-winning film music composer and his equally award-winning Synthetic drive sound: First, I associate the terms BMW and Iconic Sounds with the more natural roaring of high-revving inline sixes breathed by single throttle bodies like that one in the BMW M5 E34 well known from John Frankenheimer´s movie ´Ronin´. At least BMW leaves it up to the crew to activate the sound to their own liking or, as in my case, to deactivate it again after a few miles.
Feel the heat
By the way, deactivation was also the priority while driving the first few miles. Our test sample, as I later happened to find out, quite obviously had the optional Radiant Heating Package installed. It includes heated steering wheel, heated front and rear seats, armrest heating in the central console and door handles both front and rear plus panel heating of the dashboard´s instruments. All these heaters were activated right from the start and caused a certain surprise that practically all contact surfaces give every passenger touching them a certain impression of having a temperature. A good opportunity to bypass the new iDrive controls and simply turn everything using the voice regognition of BMW´s Intelligent Personal Assistant. As expected, this worked well. However, every seat heating had to be deactivated separately instead of doing so by one single command.
Considering that the heating in ab EV works electrically anyway and practically generates an immersive heating experience in this electric BMW, the real range absolutely earns respect. With 90 percent charge when starting our journey, the dashboard´s instruments displayed a range of more than 500 kilometers (310 miles). This makes the BMW iX not only an extremely comfortable granturismo, but also one that is suitable for long distances – at least if you don’t take use of its maximum acceleration of 4.6 seconds for the standard 0-60mph sprint and the top speed of 200 kmph (i.e. 125 mph).
Drive it like a petrol head
But our time was too short for such a stretch anyway. So I decided to drive the iX exactly the same way a petrolhead would drive any BMW. And that works surprisingly well straight away. This SUV being not particularly lightweight feels smooth and powerful when accelerating, and not very spectacular, but enormously secure at any speed, until the electronic limiter puts an end to the hustle and bustle at 200 kilometers per hour (125mph).
Once you have overcome theperiod of settling in to the completely redesigned cockpit, including the glass controls for adjusting each seat, gear selector and more, the iX xDrive 50, which weighs just under 2.6 tons and is not exactly flat, simply feels like an agile BMW. It doesn’t matter whether you’re used to gasoline or diesel, compact sports car or luxury sedan.
Drives like a BMW
The confidence that one has come to expect from any well-balanced car ´made in Bavaria´ is immediately present when taking first highway exit. Not even a somewhat futuristically deformed steering wheel changes that. Perfect, direct feedback from the road is given even if you don’t activate the Sport mode beforehand. The brakes can also be dosed quite well, with the driver having the option to additionally tune the ´intelligent´ adaptive recuperation.
The combination of an extremely quiet drive, very low rolling noise and really quiet, but due to the lack of acoustic masking not inaudible wind noise combined with excellent ergonomics and set-up ensures a relaxed sense of well-being. This combination forms the perfect base to appreciate all the virtues of the Bowers & Wilkins Diamond Surround Sound System with its 30(!) drivers. In order to teach them to fly, the 28-channel power amplifier produces a hefty 1,615 watts. If you put the number of drivers in relation to the amplifier channels, you can see that BMW and B&W rely mostly on active x-over control without passive filter located between power amplifier and drivers. This is amidst hifi engineers commonly associated with improved control of diaphragm movements as well as advanced capabilities of equalization, delay and filtering.
Sound plays hide and seek
In the iX, by the way, BMW not only in terms of the powertrain takes a different approach to the 7 Series, which also comes with a Bowers & Wilkins Diamond Surround Sound System for a premium of €5,850. In terms of presenting its gems, the BMW BEV sets itself apart from the competition only by some LED illumination to the branded aluminium grills covering the Diamond tweeters. The latter are equipped with domes made of real artificial diamond, which are quite expensive to obtain. The 4 inch aramid fibre woven midrange speakers in all doors are not highlighted in any way. They are hidden behind a fabric grill in the front part of the door handles.
Not even a perforation in the sky-blue fabric/microfibre seat cover gives any hint that several 2.5 inch immersive drivers are housed in the front and rear headrests. More importantly, they are not perceived acoustically for what they actually are – speakers that emit sound directly behind the head to improve spatial imaging.
With the back to the stage
The same does not apply of the two 2″ 3D effect speakers located in the very rear. Even with the sound mode ´Rear´ they appeared acoustically dominant and could be located. This created a bit of a feeling of sitting with the back facing the stage.
However, despite its spacious rear salon, the BMW iX, unlike the 750d xDrive , does not appear to be one of those vehicles in which the owner can be usually found sitting on the right back seat. And the new generation is likely to pay more attention to the beats than to the staging. And there are plenty of them.
Two additional 8.5″ subwoofers with carbon fibre cones are hidden beneath the rear bench. If you want to really feel the bass, much more intense and organic than with the 4D exciters we previously deactivated on purpose, you just have to sit in the middle of the back seat and play tracks like ´The Time Is Now´ by Moloko at suitable SPL. Anyone who has always been unable to get enough of having their diaphragm massaged by bass in the club should be overwhelmed by this. Most people have probably not experienced such fluttering trousers since the days of their youth. (Recommendation for those who cannot get enough: ´Limit To Your Love´ by James Blake).
Listening test of the BMW iX
So let’s summarize the aforementioned individual impressions once again in a definitive listening test. The Bowers & Wilkins Diamond Surround Sound System derives its immense charm primarily from the outstanding quality of its select components resulting in enormous bandwidth and dynamics.
However, with the factory setting it could not achieve maximum homogeneity and tonal balance at first. The fundamental range seemed to be a bit too slim and the brilliance somewhat highlighted leading to an overall impression of slightly cold timbres. It’s hard to shake the impression that the unrivaled qualities of the diamond tweeters in terms of transpareny, which are expensive by automotive standards, should be highlighted, just as we know it from certain models of the B&W 800 Diamond home series. However, Bowers & Wilkins has altered that with their latest D4 versions for slightly richer bass and mild brilliance.
No matter. What can be conjured up with the equalizer in an expert´s hands marks not only the absolute acoustic champions league on four wheels. Amidst the exclusive circle of the best sounding car hi-fi systems on this planet it is also a bargain. At a premium of 5,300 euros in the ´standard´ versions of the BMW iX and as free-of-charge inlcuded in the BMW iX xDrive M60, it remains below what Porsche, for example, charges for its superb Burmester system in the likewise electric Taycan.
Grabbing sound with extremely solid base
It is actually pointless to try to describe the countless facets of a musically accompanied journey in an electrifying BMW with B&W. You should actually experience it for yourself. Still, a few examples: The sharply slapped electric bass´ string in Thomas Dolby’s ´Budapest By Blimp´ was presented with excellent impulses and the desire darkness.
The sound system’s timing was spot on and all instruments and vocals seemed to be projected in front of the listener. This was true to all test tracks – as long as you weren’t sitting in the rear. But we have already dealt with that. Few car hi-fi systems get this low down into the lowest octaves. And even fewer cars would show off this remarkable bass response in full glory while driving. The same applies to the extremely transparent midrange and the treble of astonishing resolution. Okay, that would actually be an argument even for Baby Boomers to swap their combustion engine for the electric glider.
Is the Bimmer even good for Boomer?
The smart Bavarians have even taken precautions to alleviate the frustration caused by interruptions of the ride due to recharging that is still amain argument against e-mobility, not just for boomers. Where Tesla fans pass the time at the charging hub with video games behind the wheel, BMW enthusiasts can pass the time without pressure listening to the built-in sound demo: a track composed especially for the iX and finally mixed in the vehicle. It’s a multichannel 5.1 FLAC file – so it’s a real surround recording with matching HD video animations. This also allows the high-resolution curved display to be put in the limelight. Anyone who is not yet in the mood for electric vehicles will probably not be able to get rid of their combustion engine even if fuel prices exceed 2.50 euros per liter (i.e. US$10 per gallon)…
Conclusion on the BMW iX with Bowers & Wilkins Diamond Surround System
BMW really hits it out of the park with the iX, which also applies to its British Diamond Surround System. It is true that after Mercedes, the Munich-based company also succumbed to the zeitgeist to quite an extent. The entire vehicle shines from front to back with countless colourful digital gadgets, which seems to be of course a certain radical change with the ideal of a simple, function-driven, almost sober dashboard design we used to know from BMW. And yes, adding a 4D seat shaking wasn’t really necessary either. But if you just focus on the essential qualities of the vehicle and its sound system, you will be totally thrilled. For sure.
Special recommendations of the editors
Three recommendations in conclusion. For those who like performance, the BMW iX xDrive M60 kills two birds with one stone: in the Power variant, the formidable Bowers & Wilkins Diamond Surround Sound System comes as a standard in most of countries. That saves you 5,300 euros and the shame of only ever seeing most Teslas from behind. But more importantly in my eyes: The colour scheme. You don’t have to count metallic red among your favourite colours, but equipped alike, the electric BMW simply looks stunning, especially in conjunction with the stitched red natural leather interior. The light blue fabric/microfiber trim of our test sample is at most recommended for vegans and the particularly thrifty. And as far as the B&W sound system is concerned, it’s worth taking the time to tune the EQ setup according to personal taste with its finely tunable tone controls. There will be an opportunity to do so at the first major charging stop at the latest.
Specifications BMW iX with Bowers & Wilkins
- Price BMW iX: from 77,300 euro or approx. 84.000 $
- Price B&W Diamond Surround Sound System: 5,300 euros or Premium Package (USA 4,000 $) plus 3,400 $ for the B&W hi-fi.
- More info: www.bmw.com
STEREO GUIDE verdict
+ Natural tuning (after small corrections via EQ), excellent fine resolution
+ High dynamic range
+ Excellent infotainment functionality and good operation
+ High range
+ Very quiet drive even for a BEV
- Somewhat colorful user interface, somewhat striking sound setup
Price/Performance sound system9.2