The BMW i4 M50 offers a solution for motorists who want both an electric car and a driver’s car, thanks to its huge performance, rewarding handling and driver-focused BMW interior.
It feels like we’ve had to wait a long time for a mainstream all-electric BMW (we’re not counting the i3 as a mainstream product) – not helped by Tesla bringing the Model 3 to market a number of years ago. But now it’s here – the i4 is an electric BMW 4 Series Gran Coupe, and the i4 M50 is the performance-focused version. So does the i4 successfully combine an electric powertrain with a BMW driving experience?
The BMW i4 M50 looks good – like a conventional BMW sports saloon. It even has curvy styling details – unlike the more boxy-looking BMW iX, which was launched around the same time as the i4.
The interior also features the best of BMW – overall the cockpit design is typical BMW, but with the latest technology. There are five seats, four doors and a hatchback, with a good-sized 470-litre boot (or 1,290 litres with the rear seats folded) – so it’s practical.
Under the skin is an 83.9 kWh lithium-ion battery, and the M50 has two electric motors, one at the front producing 258hp and one at the back producing 313hp, combining to deliver all-wheel drive.
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We’ve already driven the BMW i4 M50 on the UK launch event, for a relatively short time, based out of Farnborough. However we’ve now had the i4 M50 for a week, during which time it was tested around the UK, including on some of the most challenging routes in England: the Hardknott Pass and the Wrynose Pass in the Lake District, both of which were covered with a liberal sprinkling of ice early on a February morning.
Many of the cars that we test are subjected to these roads. One thing happens consistently every time: petrol and diesel vehicles can be heard – and seen – to really struggle up these hills, whereas electric cars have no such problems thanks to the 100% torque that is constantly available from their electric motors.
The i4 M50 has an added weapon – it doesn’t just have constantly-available torque, it has a huge 795 Nm of torque (as well as 544 hp of power). This translates to M car-like performance, with a 0-62 mph acceleration time of 3.9 seconds. And there’s another item in its arsenal – all-wheel drive. Add to this the slight rear-wheel drive bias, and the very low centre of gravity thanks to the (non-SUV) body style and the battery in the floor, and the result is that the i4 M50 ascended to the top of both passes in an effortless and very enjoyable manner, with high levels of traction, even with lots of ice on steep corners to contend with (despite no all-weather tyres). There’s minimal body roll, and the ability to go round corners is helped by the sharp steering.
Of course we wouldn’t be writing an accurate review if we didn’t mention the i4’s kerb weight, which is 2,215kg. This is obviously heavier than is ideal for a sports saloon of this size, and this does mean that the i4 isn’t as agile as, for example, a BMW M2.
For the Lake District roads, Sport was selected from the drive modes of Eco Pro, Comfort and Sport, and the gear selector was pushed to the left to engage B, ie. maximum brake regeneration for the downhill sections.
Sport drive mode results in the car hunkering down and being more responsive – as well as generating a simulated futuristic sporty soundtrack. Ride quality is still good in Sport mode, but if you want even better ride quality, then Comfort mode delivers this. And when you’re back on normal roads and motorways, the i4 is as refined and quiet as you would expect from an electric premium BMW.
And then there’s the cockpit. You’ve got the normal excellent BMW driving position and M-Sport steering wheel. The iDrive system remains, which means a rotary dial between the two seats, along with a number of shortcut buttons, to control the infotainment system, rather than having to reach for the touchscreen all the time, which would involve looking away from the road. And the central screen is very wide, and it displays amazingly sharp graphics. Satnav includes a high quality map on the central screen, a more simple map can be displayed in the middle of the driver’s instrument display, and key directions are also on the head-up display.
So the i4 is excellent to drive and everything works nicely. However there are a couple of backwards steps in our view compared to previous BMWs. Firstly, most BMWs over recent years have had rotary dials to easily and quickly increase or decrease the cabin temperature (and there have also usually been dials or buttons for the fan settings). Many other manufacturers have instead opted to put these controls on the touchscreen, but BMW has mostly resisted up to this point. But this has changed with the i4 – the physical buttons on the dashboard for the heating have gone! Instead there are two buttons on the bottom of the touchscreen, which you need to press to bring up the heating controls on the screen.
Secondly, BMWs have also made it easy to banish the lane departure warning system, which ruins the driving experience thanks to the highly annoying steering intervention. Not anymore. You now have to press a button on the central screen to bring up icons for lots of car controls, then scroll all the way to the bottom, find the car icon, then press that and select the controls for safety systems, then switch off the lane departure warning system and the steering intervention. And you have to do this every time you start the car. Doing this when driving will mean that you’ll have taken your eyes off the road for so long that you’re much more likely to crash than would be the case if you didn’t have the lane departure warning system in the first place.
Finally, as reported on our First Drive review, the exterior door handles are hard to get hold of… sounds like a minor thing, but everyone who tries to get into the car comments on it.
The BMW i4 M50 has an official electric driving range of 316 miles. Our test, which was during a week in February when the temperature was often at zero degrees, resulted in an average real-world range of 222 miles, which is considerably less than the official figure.
However – the official range for this model with the extras as tested is 265 miles – the 20-inch wheels are a key reason for the reduction in range (18-inch wheels give 316 miles, 19-inch wheels give 314 miles, and with 20-inch wheels the range drops to 265 miles).
The i4 M50 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. Our own experience was that a 1-100% charge (yes we got down to 1%…) took from 8pm to 8am, ie. 12 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.
Electric cars do not charge at their maximum charge rate for an entire charging session – their charge rate typically starts off high with a battery with a low state of charge, then the charge rate decreases as the battery charge increases. See the charge curve for the BMW i4 from Fastned:
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 as tested, at £63,905.
Our test car had options including Aventurine Red III metallic paint (£1,100), Visibility Pack (£1,500), Technology Plus Pack (£1,900), Comfort Pack (£1,200), 20-inch alloys with performance tyres (£1,350) and Carbon Fibre Interior Trim (£500), taking the total price to a rather hefty £71,575.
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The i4 M50 has a 1,600kg trailer rating.
Yes, it feels like it’s taken a long time coming, but you can now buy an all-electric BMW M car. It has huge performance, and of course this is delivered without the raucous exhaust note of petrol M cars (although you do get the simulated futuristic noise to accompany the acceleration). The usual excellent BMW handling/ride combination is still there, with the added grip of all-wheel drive – although the kerb weight is heavier than that of a petrol M car. There’s the normal refinement of electric cars, and the 4 Series Gran Coupe body is practical. In our view one of the key benefits is the functional BMW cockpit; although some physical controls have been lost, and buried in the touchscreen, it’s still better than many rivals, with excellent graphics for the satnav mapping and instructions. It feels like BMW has applied intelligent thought to the design of most aspects of the i4 M50, and it’s awarded a Green Car Guide rating of 10 out of 10.