Car reviews - BMW - i4
Accomplished BMW sports sedan driving experience, smartly made (and largely conventional) cabin, audacious acceleration, reassuring driver-assistance tech, big boot
Room for improvement
Too heavy to be considered a driver’s car in the mould of an M3, performance arguably surfeit to most users’ requirements, eDrive40 a better buy
The flagship of BMW’s new i4 range is fiendishly fast – and effortlessly so
4 May 2022
By MIKE FOURIE
WITH the local introduction of its third new battery-electric vehicle (BEV) since the discontinuation of its pioneering i3 compact BEV and scene-stealing i8 sportscar, which was, admittedly, a hybrid, BMW has taken the next step in its electrification strategy with the i4, which is based on the svelte CLAR-platformed 4 Series Gran Coupe and looks to take on the Tesla Model 3 – the US brand’s medium sedan, which is also a top-selling BEV in Australia.
Having been proactive in signalling its commitment to sustainable, environmentally conscious motoring by introducing the bespoke, carbon-fibre-rich and therefore, pricey, i3 model nine years ago, BMW is ultimately obligated to follow the formula that most legacy car brands have adopted as they look to gradually electrify most of, if not all, their model line-ups.
They’ve introduced BEVs based on existing architectures as they aim to offer ICE, hybrid, plug-in hybrid and all-electric versions of their various products – this way, BMW may argue, no consumers who aspire to buy into its brand will be left out in the cold...
The downside to that strategy is that models such as the i4 have fundamental drawbacks to BEVs that were designed from a clean sheet (such as the Model 3), the latter of which has better weight-saving measures, packaging (with regards to space utilisation) and, to some extent, onboard technology.
In the case of BMW’s all-electric medium sedan, although its front electric motor takes up only a portion of the engine bay, there is no front luggage bay; its interior has a conventional transmission tunnel with no more than nominal oddment spaces; the accommodation for rear occupants is rather snug and, most of all (although it’s not alone in this regard), the range-topping i4 M50 is hefty – it tips the scale at 2300kg.
Still, BMW appears to have given its i4 every chance to avoid being labelled as a “not bad for a first attempt” product... For a start, the Munich-based firm has endowed its new model with the distinctive shape of the neatly proportioned 4 Series Gran Coupe, replete with a few tasteful gloss-black adornments (the oversized kidney grille looks best when darked out anyway and, as for the faux rear diffuser, let’s call it a dash of artistic licence).
Whereas some may find the brand’s new iX large electric SUV a trifle outlandish-looking, the i4 is arguably BMW’s most handsome sedan – it certainly does not lack kerb appeal.
The interior too seems ideally fashioned for those who are interested in buying their first BEV; there is no oddly shaped steering wheel, no maxi-tablet-sized infotainment screen perched on a minimalist fascia.
Instead, the i4’s cabin feels reassuringly comfortable, well-finished and… instantly familiar, with a conventional transmission lever, a logically laid out centre console and a fetching curved digital display that runs the brand’s eighth generation iDrive software; it looks slick, is intuitive to use (via the rotary controller or touch inputs) and although HVAC controls have shifted to the screen, they’re quickly and easily accessible.
And if the i4’s tastefully appointed interior doesn’t offer enough evidence that the Bavarian brand can draw from several decades’ experience of bringing desirable sporty sedans to market (as opposed to some of its newer rivals), the i4 M50’s driving experience is an eye-opener.
Most people who’ve had their first taste of BEV motoring have been astounded and delighted by the manner in which all-electric cars can produce all their power and torque instantaneously, but, at the risk of sounding blasé, the novelty wears off rather quickly.
Courtesy of its pair of electric motors (one located at each end of the vehicle) and 84kWh battery pack, the 400kW/795 Nm i4 M50 delivers nothing short of neck-snapping acceleration (it’s claimed zero to 100km/h time is 3.9 seconds, but in truth, it feels faster than that, partly because of the lack of mechanical noise, as well as the way that the digital speedometer’s numerals positively blur as you mash the throttle).
Not once during our test drive did we dare to sustain full applications of the accelerator, because the difference between a swift overtake and a licence-costing traffic offence is a half-flex of the foot away.
Dynamically, however, the “first model produced by the M Division” (as BMW describes this variant), is less than razor-sharp. It certainly does not lack for mechanical grip and the all-wheel traction is a boon when the roads are a tad greasy (as they were on the test drive), but even though the i4 M50 corners with negligible body roll, you’re always aware of the weighty sedan’s inertia when its spears into tight bends.
It often feels as if you have to brake a bit harder than you anticipated and slightly adjust your steering inputs accordingly; the brakes do bite ferociously when you need them to… and in the M50, that’d be often!
But then the i4 M50 is not a pukka performance sedan or an all-electric option for would-be M3 buyers – it shows in the variant’s slightly-vague-round-the-centre steering setup, languid brake-pedal feel and shapely, but not overly bolstered front seats.
It’s quite understandable why BMW has produced this variant; some buyers want a BEV with top-trump numbers and the ability to win drag races against exotic machinery, but the top-of-the-range i4 (for now, anyway) has a much broader skillset than that – and it’s one that will worry Tesla and Audi.
That’s because although the M50 is one of the most effortlessly quick sedans that BMW has made, the M-fettled i4 is, at its core… an accomplished tourer.
In fact, the M50 truly leaves the competition in its wake by virtue of is its adaptive M suspension, which provides the variant with an admirably pliant ride quality on uneven roads, yet keeps the model well-planted and sufficiently engaging to pilot when tackling the twisty bits in Sport mode.
For all its rapidness, the i4 M50 is quite at home on the commute, where the BMW’s smartly integrated driver assistance systems take much of the stress out of threading through traffic (and adhering to variable speed limits).
By shifting the transmission lever into B, you can maximise regenerative braking to conserve the battery’s state of charge (BMW claims a driving range of 465 km, but obviously not if you drive it to its full potential).
Plus, if you tire of the Hans Zimmer-enhanced BMW M IconicSounds Electric soundscapes, which are quite soothing in Comfort – if a little too Dune ornithopter-like in Sport – you can switch them off, after which the M50 feels much like any other BMW medium sedan to drive – only silent.
Then consider that the i4 has a fastback-style tailgate (rather than a boot lid, which makes the load bay very practical to transport oddly sized items), that the cabin is beautifully made, comfortable (well, at least for front occupants) and features an intuitive digital interface, as well as the model’s inherent on-road poise and refinement…
BMW may not have produced a medium sedan built on a dedicated e-platform, but it’s a model that feels like it fits perfectly within the rest of the brand’s line-up, it just happens to be battery-powered. And to prospective buyers who’re thinking of “switching to electric” but don’t want to miss out on the renowned “BMW driving experience”, that is a compelling plus.
With a price tag of $124,900 (before options and on-the-road costs), the i4 M50 commands a $13k premium over the 3.0-litre inline-6 turbo-petrol M340i xDrive sedan, but given its novel packaging and superior punch, it’s well worth considering.
For best value, look to the single-engine, rear-wheel-drive i4 eDrive40 variant, which comes in just under $100k (it can still zoom to 100km/h quickly – in 5.7 seconds – and it has a slightly better range of 520km).
All car reviews
Click to share