Editor's Note: This review comes to you from InsideEVs Germany. The story was translated from German and edited for clarity and region-specific details. You can read the original piece here.
Think really far back, and then a little further. You probably won't find many classic BMW saloons that people hated for the way they drove. That's just the thing with the models from Munich – the driving experience has to fit the emotionality. The problem is, the modern driving experience is changing – as much as it did when we switched from hooves to wheels – so it's not easy to get emotional when everything is so terribly quiet.
On the other hand, BMW is now something of a veteran in electromobility, even if it feels like the company lost a lot of ground with the i3 and i8. But things are only getting really serious now, with the brand's e-offensive in full swing. The iX3 SUV hit the market recently, and the somewhat noisy idiosyncratic iX crossover is coming soon, too.
And then there's the new BMW i4; you can call this a saloon or a Gran Coupe or whatever you want, really. But this segment is the heart of BMW, so this car has to prove that it’s worthy of the badge.
The Nitty Gritty
With that in mind, in our first meeting at BMW’s Maisach development centre, executives outlined the flaws with the competition. "Just accelerating quickly in a straight line is not enough for BMW," says the presentation. And of course, enthusiastic project manager David Ferrufino spouted the usual BMW nimbus of the i4 being the "Ultimate Driving Machine.”
The platform could be worse, even if the construction is a bit complicated. The i4 is based on the 3 Series and 4 Series – after all, it looks like the sci-fi version of the upcoming 4 Series Gran Coupe. However, BMW tweaked the double-wishbone front axle and the multilink rear suspension to fit the conditions.
Both are bolted tightly to the battery case, which results in a bunch of extra stiffness. In addition, the track widens compared to the traditional 3 Series (26 millimetres at the front and 12 millimetres at the rear), and the car has a much lower centre of gravity – 51 millimetres for the eDrive40 and 37 millimetres for the M50. The i4 inherits the stroke-dependent dampers from its combustion engine siblings too, but now an air suspension comes standard.
BMW will offer two versions of the i4 at launch. The base eDrive40 features a single electric motor in the rear with an output of 340 bhp and 317 pound-feet, with a “classic” rear-wheel-drive layout and consumption of 16 to 20 kilowatt-hours per 100 kilometres on the WLTP cycle. The provisional top model will be the i4 M50, with one electric motor at the front (190 kilowatts) and another in the rear (230 kilowatts), good for a maximum output of 544 bhp and 586 lb-ft, plus all-wheel drive and a WLTP consumption of 19 to 24 kWh per 100 km.
If these consumption figures seem comparatively low, it's because they are. BMW points, not without pride, to its fifth-generation eDrive technology. This drive unit integrates the electric motor, power electronics, and transmission in a single common housing. This design principle enables a power density that is around 40 percent better than that of earlier electric drive systems. Developed in-house by BMW, the latest version of the electric motors boast an efficiency rate of 93 percent, and they do away with magnets and rare earth metals.
The eDrive technology in the i4 also includes a rather cleverly designed high-voltage battery. To prevent it from destroying the "coupe" shape, it is only 110 millimetres high. It consists of 811 prismatic cells (which are manufactured CO2-free) and has a gross energy content of 83.9 kWh. According to the manufacturer, this gives the weaker eDrive40 a range of up to 367 miles on WLTP, and the M50 up to 317.
As you can see, these figures are more likely to annoy Tesla. Mercedes-Benz and Audi don't have a direct competitor in this segment yet, but their previous products like the EQC and E-Tron managed significantly less.
Direct current can be charged with a power of up to 200 kilowatts. This allows the battery's state of charge to increase from 10 to 80 percent in around 30 minutes. At the wallbox at home, the car is supposedly full in 8.5 hours with 11 kW.
The full-service concept also includes the BMW Charging Card, which guarantees a kWh price of 33 cents for AC charging at an Ionity charging station, for example. For DC charging, the price is 35 cents. BMW also promises a so-called total cost of ownership, or, the total costs of purchase, ownership, maintenance, etc., which are supposed to be 30 percent lower than those of a 440i Gran Coupe. Prices, by the way, start at €58,300 for the eDrive40 and €69,900 for the M50. The car will be launched in the fall.
The interior with its new, rather monumental curved display is also covered there. In the pre-production test car, though, the good stuff was still largely camouflaged. Otherwise, people who know the 3 Series should be able to find their way around the i4.
The front seats are great, per usual, and a quick check of the rear bench offered decent legroom, but a relatively steep, slightly spartan rear seat. Trunk volume is 470 litres (16.6 cubic feet), or 1,290 litres (45.6 cubes) with the rear sold folded. And 520 kg (1,146 pounds) is the maximum you can carry if you want to watch the range tumble as quickly as possible. But BMW doesn't just want to put a clean and ethically sound range monster on the road, but also a car that meets high dynamic demands.
Road To Success
Let’s start with the eDrive40, and I'll spare you the nonsense about "silently” rolling off the test track. You probably already know that the i4 accelerates relatively brutally at the slightest touch of the pedal; the 0-62 mph figure is officially 5.9 seconds. But the rest feels like what you expect of a traditional EV.
In the first two seconds, the i4 accelerates smoothly and neatly. But even at speed, the curse and blessing of this EV’s power delivery is that it doesn't really unfurl any more higher in the range. So far, so predictable.
It's a little different from a dynamics standpoint. Here I expected the typical BMW jitteriness; extremely quick, very nervous steering, and agility drenched in Red Bull that you almost have to like. But unlike internal combustion models like the new 4 Series or the Z4, those vehicles seemingly have no relevance whatsoever to the all-electric BMWs. And the result is actually pleasing and very impressive.
The steering is among the best that Munich has produced in recent history – very natural with great weighting.
The steering is among the best that Munich has produced in recent history – very natural with great weighting. The car moves very cleanly, very flat, and considering the weight, with amazing agility without the mistake of overwhelming the occupants with artificial sportiness.
Once again, you notice how unbelievably different the electric car behaves compared to the petrol model, simply because a large part of the weight is located very centrally and very low down in the vehicle. Body movements that would cause it to sway or rock a bit in fast curves are forgotten here. Traction problems are also not an issue – at least on dry roads.
The i4 maintains a very intimate relationship with the road, achieves impressive cornering speeds, but does not bury that dynamism with nervousness or harsh behaviour. Its suspension is firm but comfortable, and it has a wonderfully balanced ride.
The same applies to the first electric vehicle with an "M" in its name. Despite the standard adaptive sports suspension, specifically tuned steering, additional struts in the front end, and more negative camber on the front axle, the i4 M50 also shows no signs of over-committed hyperactivity. Instead, it just drives very very smoothly and confidently. And admittedly, much faster than the eDrive40.
Gallery: BMW i4 M50 (2021) PreDrive
The Bavarians promise 3.9 seconds for a 0-62 mph sprint. Those aren't Porsche Taycan Turbo S-levels of "launch control and I'll vomit," but the M50 is also quite capable of causing queasy stomachs and pale cheeks. A launch control function was part of the demonstration on the test track – the poor M2 Competition that had to take part in that drag race ate up more dust than a truckload of brand-new Dysons. Brave new world, and in this case, too, it's relatively hard to believe that almost 2.3 tonnes are on the road here, including the driver.
The best way to stop all that mass is to use the brakes ambitiously. And if you want, push the gear selector lever from D to B, then the armature takes on a much more rigorous life of its own and you can basically drive with one pedal. For everyday driving, however, it's probably smartest to simply switch to the adaptive regeneration mode familiar from the iX3, which has been beefed up a bit for the i4.
In other words, it is now a bit smarter and knows even better in which situations regenerative braking or sailing is called for. Everything works splendidly, so you really can't complain. You really don't have to put your foot down much anymore, unless you're on a race track, of course.
The M2, which had just been beaten to a pulp in a straight line, whistles away in front of us on the track, while the i4 M50 glides sterilely behind. It is agile – very much so, there's no mistaking it. And it stays incredibly well on course. Traction is available in abundance, too, but otherwise, neutrality is key.
Very little of the mischievous behaviour of the xDrive combustion models carry over. You can feel how the super-smart power electronics take the front axle with it when slip occurs on the rear. But because nothing has to go through any clutches or driveshafts, the whole thing happens so brutally fast that there can't really be any slip on the rear axle, at least that's how it seems to have been programmed.
Electrifying, To An Extent
That, combined with lack of sound, does take some of the fun out of the overall experience on the track. In other words: It’s more about the result than the journey. But buyers of an i4 should be able to cope with this minor drawback.
Because all in all, the Munich-based company has succeeded in creating an impressive sports saloon first with the i4. The nice thing is, you don’t have to sacrifice much compared to a 3 Series or 4 Series. On the other hand, this car offers unagitated but highly agile and confident driving dynamics that would look good on many sporty internal combustion BMW models.
The weighting in favour of optimising power consumption and conserving resources seems exemplary and gives the Munich-based company a unique selling point that cannot be ignored. Let's see how it really works in practice. BMW just seems to be able to do that with the saloons – even if everything else changes.
Gallery: BMW i4 eDrive40 (2021) PreDrive
Technische Daten und Preis BMW i4 M50