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Review: BMW i4 Hero Front

Review: BMW i4

  • BMW i4 from £51,905 (eDrive40 Sport).
  • Tested: BMW i4 eDrive40 M Sport, from £53,405.
  • On sale since: December, 2021.

Introduction

Safe money suggests that the i4 is the most important BMW EV model so far…an electric car at the very heart of the Munich automaker's brand. It's a four-door, GT-styled sports coupe/saloon aimed squarely at the Tesla Model 3 and sized somewhere between BMW’s 3 and 5 Series models.

The Tesla Model 3 has proved extraordinarily popular with business EV customers, but BMW believes – as does this writer – that the i4 sets a significantly higher bar in this segment when it comes to drive dynamics and interior quality.

The i4 offers Tesla-like driving range figures too and the top i4 performance model, the M50, offers the kind of performance that might make customers think twice about quick, but pricier EV four-doors like the Porsche Taycan and the Audi e-tron GT. In this sector, the plot is most definitely thickening…

Exterior

Unlike the larger iX SUV, there's no EV-specific platform under-pinning the i4. Instead, the new EV essentially deploys the same ‘CLAR’ modular cluster architecture that features in all of the brand's other mid- and large-sized models, though with a super-slim lithium ion battery inserted beneath the floor of the passenger cell.

The sleek shape has a drag coefficient of just 0.24Cd, helped by active elements like 10-stage adjustable flaps in the front kidney grille that open and close to aid aerodynamic efficiency.

That the i4 looks – at first glance, at least – pretty much like any other BMW 4 Series Gran Coupe is little surprise given the batteries and motors have been squeezed into a body very much playing by the ‘internal combustion engine’ rulebook.

There’s the conventional long bonnet, sleek window line and rear-favoured bodywork, complete with cut-outs in the rear valance for exhaust pipes. With the exception of a few ‘i’ flourishes, there really is very little to set it apart from a ‘normal’ BMW, which for some people may be exactly the point.

To be fair, unlike a lot of ICE-adapted rivals, the i4 seems less compromised in terms of space for batteries and electric motors. Plus, with well over 300 miles of range, it’s on a par with other dedicated rival EVs.

Interior

Inside, there's a completely new approach to the company's latest eight-generation iDrive cabin screen design. This sees a 12.3-inch digital instrument panel paired to 14.9-inch central infotainment screen, creating what the brand unimaginatively calls a 'Curved Display'.

It is held in place by a supporting structure concealed from the occupants' view, so it appears to be standing freely in the cockpit. And the use of anti-reflective glass makes it possible to dispense with the binnacle usually required to shield the readouts from sunlight. Rear seat space is more akin to a 5 Series than 3 Series.

Elsewhere, the i4 is a typical BMW interior, meaning it offers perfect ergonomics and an upmarket feel, while the driving position will allow most to get comfortable. Its 470-litre boot is also a great size, though the battery does encroach on space in the rear, and means that taller passengers might not be able to get overly comfortable.

Practicality and boot space

The i4 is around the same size as the BMW 4 Series Gran Coupe but its all-electric nature does mean there are some differences inside.

Front passengers can get nice and low, giving the car a sporty feel, but the floor-mounted battery means there isn't as much footwell space for rear passengers. Knee room isn't too bad for taller passengers but they may find it uncomfortable for long trips.

Boot capacity impresses, with 470 litres of volume that's just 10 litres down on the 4 Series Gran Coupe. The Polestar 2 has a smaller 405-litre boot but unlike the i4 it also has a 35-litre front compartment under the bonnet.

Both the i4 and the Polestar 2 have a hatchback opening, making it easier to load bulky items than the boot lid of the Tesla Model 3.

Towing

According to BMW's figures, the i4 is one of the best electric tow-cars currently available, thanks to a maximum braked trailer capacity of 1,600kg (unbraked 750kg). The Audi e-tron is limited to 1,800kg. Range will, of course, be affected by pulling a heavy or boxy trailer.

Trim grades & options

When it comes to equipment, there are three trims on offer – Sport, M Sport and M50.

Sport versions get plenty of equipment, including 17- or 18-inch alloy wheels, the aforementioned curved screen, LED headlights and a reversing camera to name just a few features. M Sport models then pack a more aggressive styling kit.

With the M50, you’re mainly paying for its extra performance, though it does get other tweaks, including leather upholstery, adaptive sports suspension, electric seats and a head-up display.

Powertrain and transmission

At launch the i4 is available in two guises – the M50 and the more affordable eDrive40 as tested here.

The eDrive40 features one 335bhp electric drive motor sending power to the rear axle in classic BMW manner. An impressive range of 367 miles is also promised, which is slightly more than you get with a Tesla Model 3 in long range guise.

But the show-stopper is the M50, which gets two electric motors (one on each axle, allowing all-wheel-drive). It offers up a staggering 536bhp and 795Nm of torque, which is more than you get from BMW’s ICE-powered M3 sports car. It can sprint from 0-60mph in under four seconds and has a top speed limited to 140mph.

Charging

All versions of the i4 are equipped to recharge using a super-fast 205kW DC charger – which can, in theory, take the battery level from empty to 80% in 34 minutes.

Unfortunately, this is way more powerful than the public rapid chargers typically available in the UK. The more common 50kW DC chargers will need 83 minutes to do the same, with 100kW DC taking around 46 minutes. You’ll rarely have a completely empty battery, of course, so you probably won’t need to be stationary for as long as that.

If charging at home, you’re more likely to have access to a 7kW AC charger, which will need 13 hours for 0-100%. Faster 11kW AC takes 8.3 hours, while a regular 13-amp wall plug will need as long as 43.5 hours – or a bank holiday weekend.

On the road

The most important thing about the i4 is that it drives like a BMW. Both pedal and steering efforts feel familiar, if you discount the fact that there are no gears and allow for the instant torque of this single-motored, fifth-generation eDrive system. The car accelerates swiftly and silently, as we’ve come to expect from the latest EVs.

When you lift off, you have the choice of a 'sail' coasting mode or another that provides a higher degree of regenerative braking, although there’s nothing in between. The powertrain is instant, powerful and nearly silent, especially after you’ve found the centre-screen menu that dulls the artificially configured 'sound of motion' (and you should).

Like most BMWs, the car generates a degree of road noise on the UK’s more coarse roads but copes with bumps in a quiet and refined way.

Best of all, the i4 eDrive40 rides exceptionally well. It’s sporty but comfortable, with barely a hint of the pitch and slight jitteriness that affects some EV saloons. BMW has clearly put considerable effort into developing the EV version of this platform (in both Sport and Comfort modes) for what is an unusual weight distribution compared with the ICE-powered versions made on the same production line alongside it.

Reliability and safety

While BMW might only now be becoming a more proactive player in the electric car market, it has been building EVs and hybrid models for quite a number of years, including the BMW i3 which launched in 2013 and was closely followed by the i8 PHEV. That BMW’s eDrive electric technology is now its fifth generation should prove reassuring for buyers.

The i4 is available with around 40 driver assistance features to make it safer and easier to drive and park. It's fitted with a reversing camera and Parking Assistant as standard, while the optional Driving Assistant Professional adds adaptive cruise control that can stop and start the car in heavy traffic. It can also help steer the car in its lane, reduce the likelihood of side and rear collisions and help prevent accidental speeding.

Summary

As an all-electric car for people who want a BMW, not an EV, the i4 is a convincing reinterpretation of BMW’s long traditions for the electric age and arguably one of the better driving non-M products it’s built in many a year.

For fans of the brand that’s great news, given it means they support their chosen marque and finally have something to get the Tesla fanboys shifting uncomfortably in their seats. Electrification offers the opportunity for radical reinvention of the automobile as we know it.

However, be assured that the i4 is not that. It is what we know and love in the BMWs we’ve grown up with, reinvented for the post-ICE age…and superbly clever with it.

Because you’re here and you have been, thanks for reading.

KEY FACTS: BMW i4 eDrive40 M Sport

  • Powertrain: Single electric motor.
  • Drive: Rear-wheel drive.
  • System power/torque: 340 bhp / 430 Nm
  • Battery: 81 kWh.
  • Power consumption: 3.9-3.6 m/kWh
  • Range: Up to 365 miles.
  • Transmission: One-speed automatic.
  • Acceleration: 0-62 mph: 5.7 seconds.
  • Top speed: 118 mph.
  • Eligible for OLEV grant: No
  • Kerb weight(unladen): 2,125 kg
  • Luggage capacity: 470 / 1,290 litres.


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By Wayne Gorrett

Wayne has been covering developments in the UK's automotive sector for over 10 years, providing news, reviews, first-drive impressions and opinion pieces for a number of print and web outlets in the UK and South Africa. A former marketing director, Wayne is based in a rural village near Winchester, Hampshire. You can follow him on Twitter: @WaynesWorldAuto Facebook: WaynesWorldAuto Instagram: WaynesWorldAuto