The BMW i4 is a stop-gap. But if this is a stop gap then we have a lot to be excited about from the electrified BMWs of future. But before we get ahead of ourselves let’s go back a bit. BMW mis-read the room when they cancelled their F1 program, slashed spending and created BMWi. The concept was spot-on but the resulting products (an excellent city car with limited appeal and range followed by a GT car that was hard to live with) were low volume players that didn’t have a real affect on the market. In hindsight the car we have in front of us today is the one we’ve been waiting for and BMW probably should have built years ago. But can it possibly live up to expectations a decade in the making?
Being based on a platform that underpins both the ICE 4 series range as well as the new all electric i4 models, the BMW i4 is an inherently flawed product. There are trade-offs exposed in the performance, range and even suspension dynamics as we got to know the car. But a funny thing about the i4 is that it’s a BMW and flawed or not. There’s an overall quality to the driving experience that coupled with an aggressive pricing strategy ($65,900 base) immediately makes the i4 one of the most compelling electric cars on sale today.
The Range and the Anxiety
Why our BMW i4 M50 was equipped with the optional 20″ wheels and tires that degrade the range by 43 miles was a bit bizarre. Apparently BMWNA thought so too and seemingly has eliminated that option from the line-up making 270 miles the official range no matter what options you check. That’s good because the i4 M50i needs all the range it can get given that Model 3 Performance has a full 315 miles and 334 on the Long Range model.
If you’re looking for more range from the i4 line-up, here’s how things stack-up:
- 301 miles – BMW i4 eDrive 40 with 18-inch wheels
- 282 miles – BMW i4 eDrive 40 with 19-inch wheels (performance tires)
- 270 miles – BMW i4 M50 with 19-inch wheels (performance tires)
- 227 miles – BMW i4 M50 with 20-inch wheels (high-performance tires) – On our test car but currently unavailable
While the daily need for that much range was questionable, our time with the i4 M50i coincided with a couple roadtrips to both Wisconsin and Michigan. That not only exposed the 227 mile range and being uncomfortable low for these use-cases but also the poor charging network we still have in the US.
Even in major cities like Chicago the availability of accessible chargers (ie not in parking garages) is shockingly bad. I can’t help but think back to our review of the Tesla Model S seven years ago and how even then Tesla’s proprietary Supercharger network made living with that car drama free.
Putting range issue on roadtrips aside, living with the i4 day-to-day was extraordinary simple. The i4 can hit up to 200 kW via a DC fast charger which allows it to charge up to 90 miles of range in 10 minutes. Officially it’s possible to change the battery from 10 to 80 percent in 31 minutes. The more common L2 residential charger, can go up to 11 kW on the i4 which means it’ll go from 0 to 100 percent in a bit under 8 hours.
But be warned. Plugging into a typical wall socket is painfully slow with up to 4 miles per 1 hour of charging. That means a nearly dead i4 will take days to charge fully. Yes it pays to install a L2 charger at home if you’re looking at buying an i4.
In our tests we found BMW’s range estimates to be very conservative as we regularly saw full charges with range around 280 – over 50 miles more than the official estimate.
BMW i4 M50i – This Is Not an M Car
This is not an M car. Of course we knew that going into our week with the all electric BMW i4 M50i. But given how many reviewers have been confused by the name and the position in the range (looking at you BMW), let’s reiterate that before we go further. Because the second you turn the wheel and feel a total absence of M levels of feedback you’re all too aware.
We’re going to dwell on this for a second because this lack of feedback and natural weighting is unforgivable in our eyes. Electric cars from a Tesla Model 3 to even the new Rivian R1S truck have more natural and nuanced feedback calibrated into the driving experience than we found in the i4 M50. However as much as that feedback is missed, once you acclimate yourself to the experience, there’s still a precision here.
Trust must be built as you really have little feedback telling you what the car is doing and where the limit is. Luckily the limits are incredibly high. The all-wheel drive system seamlessly moves torque around responding (in milliseconds) to traction issues giving the i4 M50 grip levels that seem impossible just a decade ago.
The sum of the 83.9-kWh battery pack situated low, the 536 hp and the enormous grip means the i4 M50 can blow away an M4 in most stop-light scenarios. The immediacy of the torque and the relentlessness of the power delivery is something an ICE car will never be able to match.
Unlike Mercedes and Audi, the i4 is based on a platform meant to underpin everything from a 2 series to the X7. While a few signs that give this away (the height and the redundant transmission tunnel), BMW has done a fair job hiding this non-bespoke EV strategy.
Technology and that Massive Screen
BMW has fallen into the common trap of not just increasing the technological capability but unfortunately increasing the complexity of the UI. Whether its scrolling three rows of apps on a short, wide-screen or using inconsistent touch-points and interactions iDrive 8 is a step back for usability. And that’s not even mentioning the elimination of the physical controls for HVAC.
The good news is CarPay works flawlessly.
Living with the BMW i4 M50
Take away the uneven charging network, lack of M level feedback and an overly complicated iDrive, the i4 M50 is an incredibly appealing car. Fit and finish is superb as is the overall layout of the i4. The hatch is massive and a nice upgrade over the standard trunk on a 3 Series.
In many ways this is the Tesla Model 3 killer many of us have been waiting for. The i4 M50 delivers BMW levels of quality, design and engineering that feels immediately separated from the Model 3. While the performance may lag the Model 3 Performance, its 0-60 time of 3.3 seconds leaves little to be desired. It’s also delivers all of this with quality, design and performance that inspires confidence the Tesla cannot.
Would we opt for the i4 M50 over the M440i? Taking away the charging infrastructure issues we have in the US, the i4 is a very compelling product that feels like a glimpse of the future. But for us it remains a glimpse. It’s an imperfect product in a transition period for the brand that both follows that classic BMW formula while looking to the future. Unfortunately that future isn’t quite here. What is however is the excellent petrol powered BMW M440i.