The BMW i4 M50 is a 4 Series Gran Coupe, but with an all-electric powertrain; it drives like a BMW (a very good thing), and it has a 0-62 mph acceleration time of 3.9 seconds, ensuring it’s worthy of the M badge, along with an electric driving range of 316 miles.
BMW brought us the all-electric (or range-extended) i3 back in 2013, and although there have been increasing numbers of plug-in hybrids from the brand since then, there have been no all-electric BMWs – until now, with the launch of the i4 (and the iX). So has it been worth the wait?
The i4 is essentially a BMW 4 Series Gran Coupe, but in place of the petrol or diesel engine there’s an 83.9 kWh lithium-ion battery (in the floor) and in the case of the BMW i4 M50 as tested, there are two electric motors – the front electric motor produces 258hp and the rear electric motor produces 313hp. This means the i4 M50 has all-wheel drive (there’s also a BMW i4 eDrive40 which just has rear-wheel drive).
Because it shares a body with the 4 Series Gran Coupe it has five seats and five doors – in other words it’s a hatchback, as opposed to the Tesla Model 3, which has a boot rather than a hatchback – so it’s an instant win for the BMW versus the Tesla on the practicality front. And although it may not look like it from the outside, the boot is actually a decent size: 470 litres with the rear seats up, or 1290 litres luggage capacity with the rear seats down.
Design is a personal, subjective thing, but in our view the BMW i4 M50 looks great – no longer are electric cars styled as ‘eco-specials’.
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The i4 is essentially a BMW 4 Series Gran Coupe, which is a very good thing. So it’s low down, you can get a great driving position thanks to good seat and steering wheel adjustment, and the interior is well designed, high-tech and functional – more on that later.
If you’re in the fortunate position of being able to get in the car, start it up, and drive straight out onto some great roads, it won’t take long to realise that BMW has done a very good job of trying to make the i4 M50 drive like an M4. With a 0-62 mph acceleration time of 3.9 seconds, the performance is certainly worthy of the M name. There’s also the futuristic Hans Zimmer soundtrack to accompany the throttle input.
The i4 M50 has an electric motor on the front axle producing 258hp, and one on the rear axle producing 313hp, giving all-wheel drive, so there’s lots of traction. The i4 M50 can actually deliver rear-wheel drive or all-wheel drive, and the driving experience reflects this: the i4 M50 was tested on a cold and damp December morning and car had sufficient grip (and an effective traction control system) to handle the 544hp of power and the huge 795Nm of torque (the Sport Boost function increases the system’s combined drive power by 68hp to its maximum of 544hp for over ten seconds and combined torque is upped by 65Nm to 795Nm).
Overall the slight rear-bias to the power delivery meant that the handling was excellent, helped by the very low centre of gravity, which meant minimal body roll through corners, so retaining the traditional rewarding BMW driving experience. However thanks to the large battery the i4 M50 weighs a minimum of 2215 kg, so the handling can’t be described as agile.
Ride quality is good in Comfort drive mode, despite those very low profile tyres. Sport mode tightens everything up if you’re in the mood for more progressive driving.
The steering, like most other features of the car, will be familiar to BMW drivers – it’s rewarding, but it strikes a balance between comfort and sharpness.
We’ve mentioned above one advantage of the i4 compared to a Tesla Model 3 – the more practical hatchback body style. The i4’s handling and ride combination is also better than the Model 3 (especially the ride quality). But for many people, including ourselves, the one big plus point of the i4 compared to the Model 3 is the BMW interior environment. Whereas in the Model 3 the dashboard features absolutely nothing apart from a steering wheel and a central touchscreen, the i4 provides a perfect demonstration of why BMW interiors are amongst the best in the business.
There’s the sporty M steering wheel, there’s a traditional gear selector, and good pedal and control weights. There’s the central touchscreen, there’s the instrument display in front of the driver, which can provide a read-out of your speed and a map (something the Tesla can’t do because it doesn’t have an instrument display in front of the driver), and then there’s also a brilliant head-up display, again providing a read-out of your speed and sat nav directions.
Then there’s the excellent iDrive system which includes a rotary dial in a convenient position between the seats and shortcut controls to avoid having to continually press buttons on the touchscreen. On the relatively short launch event we weren’t able to comprehensively test the latest Operating System 8, but BMW claims that the new Intelligent Personal Assistant is a key improvement.
So overall there’s very little to fault the i4, although we did find one thing – the external door handles are very hard to get a grip of. Maybe not a deal breaker for ordering the car.
The i4 M50 even has a 1,600kg trailer rating.
The BMW i4 M50 has an electric driving range of 316 miles (we weren’t able to test this figure on the launch event). It can rapid charge at up to 200kW, when a 10-80% charge could be achieved in around 30 minutes, or 87 miles could be added in 10 minutes. Using a three-phase 11kW AC wall box at a workplace, a 0-100% charge should take under 8.5 hours.
In comparison, the BMW i4 eDrive40 has an electric driving range of 367 miles, and 102 miles could be added in 10 minutes at a 200kW rapid charger.
The BMW i4 is available in three different model variants from launch: the rear-wheel drive i4 eDrive40, in Sport (£51,905) and M Sport trim (£53,405), and the all-wheel drive i4 M50 (£63,905).
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The BMW i4 should provide reassurance to drivers who love their petrol or diesel BMWs and have concerns about going electric. The i4 is essentially a BMW 4 Series Gran Coupe with an electric powertrain. The overall driving experience is similar to a petrol or diesel BMW – the i4 sits low down, it has a rear-wheel drive bias, and you can get a good driving position. However there’s one major advantage of the i4 over a petrol or diesel BMW – it’s electric – so there’s instant torque – and therefore instant responses – at all times, and that’s before you factor in the near-silence and complete lack of tailpipe emissions and the benefits that brings for climate change and air quality.
And compared to rivals such as the Tesla Model 3, the i4 has a dashboard with a display of your speed and satnav instructions in front of you, as well as the brilliant iDrive system compared to having to press lots of buttons on the central touchscreen. So we have no hesitation in awarding the BMW i4 M50 a Green Car Guide rating of 10 out of 10.