25 August 2023
Road Tripping: BMW iX Buriram Dirt Gymkhana

Plush luxury BMW iX EV meets rugged offroad terrain. Fun ensues.

BMW recently invited me to Buriram to attend the Asia Driving Challenge 2023. It was an action-packed day filled with non-stop automotive joy, being able to experience a myriad of BMW cars on and off track. If you haven’t seen it already, check out my thoughts here.

However, one particular station stood out to me, so unorthodox that it was frankly genius. I’m of course referring to the Dirt Gymkhana station featuring the BMW iX.

Now, I know what you might be thinking – putting a hefty SUV, the kind that’s more accustomed to navigating school drop-offs than daredevil courses, through a Gymkhana challenge seems like a bold and crazy move. With tight twists and even a daring U-turn, it’s almost as if the iX was designed for everything but this.

And then, there’s the lightning-quick torque electric vehicles are known for. It’s no secret that such instant power can either be a blessing or a curse in low-grip situations. Unlike the gradual response of internal combustion engines, EVs tend to be all or nothing.

But the BMW iX rocked up to the challenge confident as it could be, and absolutely demolished it.

A secret to the iX’s triumph is undoubtedly its dual-motor all-wheel-drive setup, complemented by its all-wheel steering. This is the xDrive40i variant after all.

Picture this: an opulent SUV darting through tight corners with the grace of a ballerina. The agility it demonstrated on that narrow, twisty circuit was almost unreal. With all its technological prowess, the iX pulled off a performance that could give even a Subaru WRX a run for its money on the dirt.

Now, here’s where the magic happens. While the WRX might twist and turn like a contortionist, the iX remains solid as a rock, unfazed by the undulations and rough terrain. Despite the worrying rattles and creaks heard on the outside, the iX was undeterred and rock-steady throughout the course. In fact, it easily cleared it six times.

But, like any star, the iX has its quirks. Especially when it’s strutting its stuff on terrain it’s not exactly familiar with. The steering feels feather-light and a touch vague, an aspect that’s amplified on the bumpy and sandy surface. A weightier steering feel would have helped in this regard, but even in Sport, the steering was still far too light.

But what about that U-turn bit? Due to the road-biased Michelin Pilot Sport 4 SUV tyres, flooring the pedal during the near 360-degree turn resulted in bouts of understeer, only giving in when the front tyres finally gripped the ground.

My first run was way off course, which was where I adopted a new method of getting round that pesky part of track. Since EVs have instant torque ready as soon as you mash the throttle, it was a case of mashing the throttle momentarily in rapid succession. This caused the iX to dig into the ground, and turn its nose ever so slightly more with each throttle press, resulting in a quicker manoeuvre. I shared this technique with James Wong (Oneshift) too, and we both saw our lap times drop quite considerably.

I have to admit, this experience offered a glimpse into the iX’s BMW DNA like never before, and I loved it. So the next time someone asks you if the iX can go offroad, you know what your answer will be.

Hats off to you, BMW, for turning the unexpected into a whole lot of exhilarating fun.

Photo Credits: Sean Loo (@auto.driven)

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