The electric vehicle landscape continues to expand in South Africa with two new editions from BMW. Earlier this month, the German manufacturer launched the i4 M50 and iX3 in Waterfall, Johannesburg.
The Mail & Guardian had an opportunity to drive the i4 M50, BMW’s first EV with an M badge, in France earlier this year. The i4 will not make its way to SA, with the i4 M50 all-wheel drive being the only variant available locally.
Pricing has been revealed for the 400kW four-door gran coupé M50 – R1.6-million. This includes a complimentary wallbox home charger and free charging at any BMW Group-branded charging stations, including Mini outlets.
As previously reported, it features the company’s fifth-generation eDrive technology with scalable architecture and high-voltage, high-energy-density battery packs, which reduce the number of components. It supports speeds of up to 205kW of fast DC charging, although chargers in SA are not capable of delivering that speed, yet.
Its 83.9kWh battery offers over 500km of range from a single charge and it can go from 0 to 100km/h in 3.9 seconds, with a top speed of 225km/h.
The M50 features BMW’s new, futuristic curved display that combines a 12.3-inch infotainment display with a 14.9-inch control display which takes up two-thirds of the dashboard. The driver can drag and drop widgets like they can on a smartphone.
It runs on BMW’s operating system 8 and leverages Google Cloud’s augmented reality-based navigation. The AR overlays resemble that of a video game but it’s not just a party trick, it is functional, ensuring you never take a wrong turn, especially when the distances between off-ramps are close.
Other technology highlights include Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, with deeper integration of CarPlay which appears on the driver control display; digital key for Android and iOS and a voice assistant that responds with, “Hey, BMW!”
Enter the iX3, the X3 electrified
Alongside the launch of the flagship i4 M50 was the iX3, the electric equivalent of the wildly popular locally built X3.
While the X3 has a range of engine and fuel options – at the October 2021 launch in South Africa, there were eight variants to choose from – the iX3 has only one derivative on offer – the rear-wheel drive iX3 M Sport.
The iX3 features the same fifth-generation eDrive technology as the i4 and has a 210kW electric motor with 400Nm of torque. It will go from 0 to 100km/h in 6.8 seconds and its top speed is 180km/h.
It has a nett battery capacity of 74kWh that can deliver up to 460km of range (according to WLTP figures), with a claimed consumption of 19.5 to 18.5kWh/100km. Unlike the i4’s 205kW max charging speed, the iX3 is capable of 150kW fast charging; at its maximum speed, a 10-minute charge would yield 100km of range.
Our first experience driving it on South African roads was pleasant; it felt familiar. It looks more like the X3 design-wise than the more futuristic iX. Naturally, the grille is closed but there is subtle branding of BMW’s “i” logo on the front and back.
On the brief launch drive, I experienced typical Johannesburg traffic, which is what the vehicle is intended for. I toggled between the driving modes which are more suited for stop-and-go traffic.
The 12.3-inch infotainment screen on the centre console is similar to its X3 counterpart, and offers cloud-based navigation, a voice assistant, smartphone pairing on Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, remote software updates and a host of digital services from BMW Connected.
The infotainment screen offers data about your driving style on different levels: sport, eco pro and comfort, displayed as graphs – if you’re into that sort of thing. It also lets you view the car’s energy flow in real time, which I found interesting. You can see different statuses, such when you’re using battery power, coasting or when it’s recharging.
Other standard features include Driving Assistant Professional which has lane controls; active cruise control with Stop&Go; automatic speed limit and route monitoring and parking assistant with reverse-assist cameras.
The iX3 is priced at R1.29-million and comes with a free wallbox charger and free charging at BMW and Mini dealerships. It costs almost the same as the X3 30d, which is a first for an EV and its internal combustion engine equivalent.
Both the i4 M50 and iX3 come with an eight-year warranty on the battery and a two-year/unlimited km warranty.
BMW is in the process of upgrading its charging infrastructure at its dealerships to accommodate the tech featured in the newly released models, as well as its future EV models.
Charging infrastructure and potential risks?
The installation of EV charging stations is gaining momentum in Africa, including South Africa, as investors look to exploit what looks set to develop into a multimillion market, driven by a growing demand for e-mobility.
These largely automated EV chargers will pose new security risks which will require smart surveillance technology, says Axis Communications.
Engineering and training manager Rudie Opperman says range anxiety is among the biggest consumer concerns, and while they would have a charger at home, they would also be needed on main routes and in areas where cars are parked for a long time, like shopping malls or public parking.
“It would require significant investment to roll out these charging points and have them linked up with the power grid and cloud for management and security services to run seamlessly,” says Opperman.
“Considering location and distance from the power grid, frequency of points and the complexities and costs of installation and roll-out, you can understand that those interested in investing want to feel that their investments are secure and the risk is managed,” he says.
Opperman cites vandalism and equipment theft as the most significant challenges at public charging stations, which are unmanned during quiet times but cyber crime would become another concern, once more intelligence was added.
“There are many ways to combat vandalism and theft of these points using intelligent devices with deep-learning capabilities and AI-based intrusion systems to detect, verify and deter unwanted activities.”
He adds that telecommunication companies already use similar systems at their towers and substations.
“We have seen how these systems perform and reduce the threat to assets and people.”
“When systems become more intelligent, cyber threats emerge as a security concern, and with intelligent systems connected to the cloud, perpetrators seeking to disable the grid could see this as a potential soft target,” says Opperman.
“Suppose these smart, self-contained security deployments are robust, cyber secure, and power efficient, in that case, we are confident the outcome would be positive. The cost of deployment of these intelligent and robust security systems could be justified by the risk they minimise.”