Electric BMW iX3 coming in 2020 with rear-wheel drive, 286 hp

It will be sold alongside the gasoline-powered X3

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BMW released preliminary specifications about the iX3, an electric variant of the X3 scheduled to enter production in 2020. The model will be the i sub-brand's first SUV, but certainly not its last.

The iX3 will benefit from the fifth generation of BMW's electric powertrain technology. It's built around a medium-sized, 74-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack that zaps an electric drive unit into motion. BMW cleverly grouped the motor, the transmission and all system electronics into one housing in order to keep weight in check and make the powertrain as compact as possible.

The motor will deliver 286 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of instant torque, and the battery pack will power the iX3 for up to 273 miles on the hugely optimistic WLTP testing cycle. We expect the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will give it a range in the vicinity of 220 miles, though BMW could follow rival Porsche's lead and ask an independent company to carry out a second test. It sounds like the iX3 will be rear-wheel-drive-only when it goes on sale, but it's reasonable to assume an all-wheel drive, dual-motor variant will join the range a little bit later in the production run.

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BMW is taking a different approach to developing and manufacturing an electric powertrain than many of its rivals. No rare earth metals are used to make the motor, and the group purchases cobalt and lithium directly from mining companies instead of going through a third-party company. All of the components that power the iX3 will be manufactured in-house rather than sourced from suppliers.

We don't know how much the iX3 has changed over the past two and a half years. We don't expect anything drastic; spy shots (shown above) suggest it will still look like an electric X3. One key difference is that stylists closed the concept's open grille. Engineers went through the trouble of developing sensors that can see through chrome because designers concluded replacing the double-kidney grille with a one-piece unit creates cars that don't look like they belong in the BMW range.

When it arrives in showrooms, the iX3 will stand out as a pioneer in the BMW range. Chinese state-owned automaker Brilliance will manufacture the model, so it will be the first car BMW sells in the United States with a "made in China" label. And, there are no plans to discontinue the gasoline-powered X3, so it will the firm's first nameplate offered with a piston-powered engine and as an EV. Sales will begin in early 2020, but pricing information hasn't been released yet.

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