What is it?
BMW was one of the first car manufacturers to explore the world of electrification seriously with the i3 hatchback and i8 hybrid sports car… but then things went quiet. Very quiet. That’s all changed now, though, with the firm releasing electric vehicles left, right and centre.
Today we’re testing the i4, which is arguably one of the most important. There are two reasons for this. The first is that this is just your everyday four-door saloon, not something trying to convince you to buy electric through wacky styling or a quirky concept – it wants you to buy it because it’s a stylish, practical family car.
Secondly? In the M50 trim we’re testing today, this is the first proper electric M car…
This is the first ever BMW i4 and therefore it’s pretty much all new under the skin. It uses a platform designed from the outset to house electric powertrains, which means the layout can be optimised for the benefits EVs bring – namely putting the batteries low beneath the floor, improving weight distribution and increasing cabin space.
It’s slightly bigger than a 3 Series, has air suspension on the rear as standard, has newly developed systems that control slip to the wheels for more dynamic handling, largely blanked off front grille with integrated cameras for safety systems, a unique sound and much more.
What’s under the bonnet?
At the launch of the car in Munich, BMW called the i4 ‘the ultimate electric driving machine’. For a manufacturer that has built a huge fanbase from its combustion-engined ‘M division’ performance cars, that’s a big statement to make.
As such, the M50’s on paper performance is hugely impressive. It uses two electric motors, one on each axle to provide all-wheel-drive, making 536bhp and 795Nm – that’s more than the iconic M3. It’ll go from 0-60mph in under four seconds and has a top speed limited to 140mph. Range? The battery can take you up to 324 miles between charges, and can be topped up from 10-80 per cent in 31 minutes at speeds of up to 200kW.
What’s it like to drive?
There really are two characters to the i4. When you first pull away in its normal drive modes, it’s quiet and comfortable. It really is extraordinary how well-tuned the suspension is, soaking up all but the worst bumps in a way we rarely see in electric vehicles.
However, put it into sport mode, unleash its full performance and it’s utterly rapid. The instant torque of the electric motors punches you forward, the car lurching backward as the weight shifts to the back. Its straight-line performance is undoubtedly worthy of the M badge, but there is some mild criticism coming its way.
In corners the front end lacks the directness of traditional M cars, meaning you need to be quite restrained on a winding road. You can get into a rhythm once you tune into the car’s movements, but it feels heavy, without the urgency you’d want from a true performance car.
It’s also, bizarrely, loud. BMW worked with movie composer Hans Zimmer to create a new sound for its electric vehicles, and in sport mode with the noise turned on it sounds like you’re entering warp drive. As far as I could tell you could only turn it on or off, and the novelty wore off quickly. A volume control for this would be welcome…
How does it look?
We’re becoming more accustomed to BMW’s large double kidney grilles now, and as such the i4 in standard trim is fairly inoffensive. However, in M50 guise it’s elevated somewhat – we’re not talking M3 levels of aggression, but just enough to give it a sporty stance.
It’s not quite as stylish as some BMW models, though – the downside to the big battery in the floor is that the side sills are chunky, giving it a raised, inelegant stance. The wheels also look quite small in the arches and the rear end is uninspiring, but as a complete package it’s a decent looking thing. This is supposed to be your everyday, mainstream BMW, though, so it’s relatively uninspiring styling is likely a deliberate choice.
What’s it like inside?
Jump in the cabin and it’s typically BMW fare, meaning excellent ergonomics and high quality materials. The seating position is spot on with lots of adjustment, and visibility is decent.
The front is dominated by the curved twin-screen display, though. It gets the latest generation of iDrive infotainment also found on the iX electric SUV and forthcoming 2 Series Active Tourer. It’s an excellent design, with highly customisable menus, clear displays and excellent voice control.
What’s the spec like?
Prices start at £51,905 for the regular i4 in Sport trim, which brings you LED headlights and tail lights, that new curved display and infotainment system, sport seats, leather steering wheel, automatic air conditioning and cruise control. These models have a 335bhp motor and a range of up to 367 miles.
The M50 starts at £63,905 and adds M styling parts, M alloy wheels, M leather steering wheel, all-wheel-drive, upgraded brakes, adaptive suspension and a sport boost function for extra performance.
There are two verdicts to consider today, and the first is whether this four-door electric saloon has the abilities to slot into everyday family life. Here, it excels. It’s practical, has fantastic on-board technology and is one of the most comfortable electric vehicles on the market.
The second is whether it’s worthy of the iconic M badge, and the answer is yes – just about. You cannot deny that its straight-line performance is hugely impressive, and coupled with Zimmer’s soundtrack won’t fail to put a smile on your face.
It’s not quite as sharp and exciting in corners as traditional M cars, but as an all-rounder, BMW is on to a winner.
Model as tested: BMW i4 M50
Engine: Twin electric motors
Max speed: 140mph
0-60mph: 3.7 seconds
Emissions: 0g/km CO2 (NEDC)
Range: 258 - 324 miles