The electric-drive BMW i4 is the four-door coupe from the 4 Series family, reimagined and re-engineered with electric motors in place of gasoline engines. The transplants work, and the patient not only survived but thrives with mind-boggling acceleration, handling and—here’s looking at you, Tesla Model 3—real attention to quality control.
Two versions of the i4 come to the U.S. starting in early 2022, BMW says, one with 300 miles of range; one with more speed but less range (245 miles), more standard equipment and a higher price tag. Base prices with shipping are $56,395 for the entry i4 eDrive40 and $66,895 for the i4 M50.
The i4 is the second of two serious mainstream EVs BMW rolled out this fall. The halo car is the BMW iX, a midsize SUV conceived as an electric vehicle-only. It efficiently packages components and provides superior passenger space.
In comparison, the i4 is a powerful EV trapped in the legacy body of a 3 or 4 Series combustion engine sport sedan. Design-sharing gets the i4 to market sooner, but eventually, BMW will need to do the clean sheet thing with its next generation of compact electric cars. Drivers who’ve always had cars with transmission humps running down the middle of their vehicles won’t notice, but there’s no more room than in any other gas-engine compact of the same length.
On the Road in Bavaria: Fabulous Sports Coupe
BMW chose Bavaria’s country roads and highways as the testbed for the i4, from Munich to the Alpine town of Berchtesgaden, some 200 miles southeast, still within the range of the more powerful i4 M50. Simultaneously depressing the brake and throttle pedals invokes launch mode, rocketing the car to 60 mph in about 3.5 seconds. That’s as fast as a BMW M3 or M4, and this i4 is the first BMW EV given M (for Motorsport) badging.
Handling benefits from placing the i4’s 80.7-kilowatt-hour battery in the floor, lowering the center of gravity 1.5 inches versus the combustion engine version. In addition, the adaptive suspension smooths out the few bumps placed on Germany’s roads for the benefit of homesick Americans.
Electric cars, by nature, are quiet. The i4 is quieter still, and if silence is not golden to the driver, BMW provides switchable synthesized sounds—IconicSounds Electric—for the driving modes, Comfort, Sport and Eco Pro, plus an M sound for the i4 M50. If this sounds like stupid pet tricks, listen first. The sounds created by film score composer Hans Zimmer, he of the Dark Knight trilogy, are delightful and subtle, a contrast to the car’s massive front grille.
The i4 M50 runs with electric motors front and rear, 536 horsepower combined. BMW’s fifth-generation eDrive technology combines an electric motor, power electronics and transmission in a single housing. The battery is just 4.3 inches high, BMW says. The car defaults to rear-drive, bringing in the front motor as needed. The i4 eDrive40 has a single rear motor, 335 horsepower and reported 0-60 mph times under 6 seconds.
Battery Pack Good for 245-300 Miles
The battery subsystem in both i4’s comprises four modules of 72 cells each, plus three cells of 12 modules. Jointly they produce 83.9 kilowatt-hours gross and 81.5 kilowatt-hours net, thus BMW’s estimates of 245 miles for the M50, 300 miles for eDrive40. Battery life is aided by an efficient heat pump for cabin warming.
BMW says the i4 can accept up to 11 kilowatts of charging power off a 240-volt home charger—a lot—and bring an empty battery to a full charge in less than eight hours. However, European power delivery uses three-phase wiring, which is more efficient. In the U.S., power flow at 240 volts, single phase, may be less, about 7 kilowatts.
At a commercial DC fast-charging station, the i4 can accept up to 200 kilowatts of power—the same, U.S. or Europe—and in 10 minutes boost range by 90 miles. If you use BMW’s navigation system to drive to a scheduled charging stop, BMW says, “anticipatory thermal management will automatically pre-condition the battery beforehand. Warming up the high-voltage battery or cooling it down as appropriate means it will be at the optimum temperature for quick and efficient charging at maximum capacity upon arrival at the charging station.”
Conventional Cockpit with a Super-Wide Screen Plus iDrive 8
Add BMW to the handful of companies bonding two (here) or three screens to create a seemingly single display across two-thirds of the cockpit. For BMW, it’s a slightly curved screen, 14.9 inches for the instrument panel (“digital gauge cluster”) and 12.3 inches for the center display. A single piece of non-reflective glass covers them from the driver’s view, and the steering wheel hides the seam.
The BMW iDrive cockpit controller system turns 20 this year, and it works very well in iDrive 8. It’s backed up by touch and voice commands. The center screen can have multiple information tiles. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are very well integrated. For example, smartphone navigation apps can display in the instrument panel, not just the center display.
There’s an available head-up display with a lot of information, perhaps too much map detail of adjacent streets. BMW’s HUD can now provide augmented reality, meaning when the car approaches a turn, the map overlays right or left arrows atop the direction of travel.
The rest of the cockpit? It’s traditional 4 Series, including the transmission tunnel that now holds wiring, BMW says. Rear seat room is okay. The trunk space is a little snug, but both rear seats fold flat. The trunk is actually a liftgate encompassing the rear window, which almost makes this gran coupe a hatchback by another name.
The Anticipation Will Build
BMW says the U.S. market launch is expected in the first quarter of 2022. However, go to the BMW USA website, and the lead time lengthens. Delivery “by June 2022” is marked sold out, but there is available “delivery from Summer 2022.” In other words, eight months from now.
BMW wants a $1,500 refundable deposit to hold a place in line. BMW estimates a lease will start at $699 a month with $5,399 due at signing; financing through BMW is available from 1.90% APR. The $7,500 federal tax credit applies for sales and may be credited toward leases. If the dealer gives back the full credit, payments would be $208 lower on a 36-month lease.
For most buyers, the simpler eDrive40 should be enough, with the benefit of a longer range but no all-wheel drive. The M50i comes in $5,000 cheaper than the M4 gasoline version, and it’s comparable in performance. The Tesla Model 3 Performance is $59,190, including shipping, with an estimated 315 miles of range and a 3.1-second 0-60 speed. Note that chief competitor Tesla has used up its allocation of $7,500 tax credits.
BMW is on its fifth generation of electric motors, so it’s not an EV novice. But Tesla’s experience in battery management and the Supercharger network are industry benchmarks. BMW’s i4 handling would be hard to top.
The BMW i4 is not the clean sheet design represented by the BMW iX, an SUV the size of the BMW X5. But it’s a fabulous sport sedan (coupe) with a lot of advantages. Performance is fantastic, the sounds are cool (really), iDrive works well for those who first read the manual, and this begins BMW’s serious transition to electrification beyond the vast network of plug-in hybrids among current BMW models. BMW has learned from its interim EVs such as the i3 small sedan and i8 super-sports car. Now it’s tackling the premium mainstream market. So far, so good.