BMW G26 i4 M50: M Division’s first EV
Finally the first proper electric BMW, but does the i4 have the aesthetic and dynamic appeal of the 3 Series?
Discover EV expert verdict...
- Engaging handling and impressive performance
- Class-leading infotainment
- Excellent cabin quality
- Not very economical
- More expensive than the Tesla Model 3 and Polestar 2
- Cramped rear seats
Having previously owned a BMW i8 before making the transition to full electric we were pretty excited about the prospect of driving the i4. A striking gran coupé, with a range of up to 365 miles (on paper at least) and boasting the brand’s new iDrive and Operating System 8, it’s an enticing package priced from just over £53,000 (for the eDrive40) and one that offers a great alternative to the Tesla Model 3 and Polestar 2. Furthermore the line-up includes the i4 M50, the first purely electric performance car from BMW’s M division – we get one on test for a week to get under its skin and see if it’s the ‘statement vehicle’ BMW claim it is!
An all-wheel-drive saloon that generates a maximum output of 309bhp from the motor driving the rear wheels, while the unit at the front axle produces 254bhp, the i4 M50 is stonkingly quick and a specially designed boost function brings the model’s high-performance character even more to the fore. The Sport Boost button increases the system’s combined drive power by 67bhp to its maximum of 537bhp for over ten seconds, while at the same time combined torque is upped by 48lb-ft to 586lb-ft. As the tyres scrabble for traction, this short burst of speed is accompanied with great fanfare too, namely a soundtrack composed in collaboration with Hans Zimmer – cool or naff? We’re pretty certain not everyone will agree with it!
The M50’s electric all-wheel drive system plays a particularly effective role, reacting with extreme sensitivity to the speed of the wheels at each axle. So, if necessary, it can optimise grip and handling stability by adjusting the drive torque accordingly, without the traction control even having to kick in. The i4 is also fitted with near-actuator wheel slip limitation, and in the M50 variant it is set up for optimum, rear-biased distribution of drive torque between the two axles.
It is also equipped with a bespoke adaptive M suspension featuring individually configured springs and dampers, specially designed anti-roll bars and an additional spring strut tower brace in the front end, along with variable sport steering. So, what’s the sum of all these parts? Well, providing you don't think of it as a full-blown M Performance car – rather an M car – it's fun to drive with outstanding levels of traction and directional stability. However, because of the added weight of the batteries, it definitely doesn't feel as agile and planted during high-speed cornering as a similarly priced M3. That said it makes for very relaxed cruising, proving hugely comfortable on long drives, also helped by the optional £890 M Sports seats (part of the £1200 Comfort pack together with a heated steering wheel).
This model of car also comes with M Sport brakes (with red calipers), and forms part of an integrated system that BMW say delivers outstanding stopping power and reliable and superb pedal feel. In reality, we felt that with the recuperation level set to ‘adaptive’ – which automatically adjusts recuperation to the current driving situation (as detected by data from the navigation system and the sensors used by the driver assistance systems), it brakes way too hard and feels inconsistent so in situations when one pedal braking isn’t sufficient you’re unsure of how much pressure to apply. We thought medium mode was, well, a happy medium, between high (which is able to regenerate energy at up to 195kW) and low.
Range and running costs
BMW quote between a 258 and 316 mile range and consumption figure of 2.4mi/kWh – we were doing a little better in our experience with the M50, returning at some points 2.9mi/kWh on a mixture of A and B roads during winter and a range in excess of 200 miles between charges. When you compare it to our Tesla Model 3 Performance which averages around 3.8 to 4.4 it’s pretty poor. We’re assuming that’s largely down to the fact that the BMW weighs 2290kg – some 446kg more than the Tesla. It’s a shame it falls down on this area, especially with increasing electricity prices, as in every other respect it’s much better.
It’s fitted with a 83.9kWh battery pack, which is some 20 per cent more energy dense than the one in the BMW i3, and fifth-generation eDrive technology means the maximum charging speed is also the fastest BMW has ever achieved at 210kW (Polestar 2 is 150kW). So at lower states of charge 87 miles can be delivered within a 10-minute charging stop, at stations that facilitate this output at least.
Make no mistake the i4 is not cheap – how many BMWs are? It starts from £65,345 but it will at least be cheaper to run than its combustion-engined counterpart, not just in terms of electricity versus fuel and servicing, but also there’s no road tax to pay (for now, until the government introduces road pricing) and company car Benefit in Kind will be far less. In terms of insurance groupings the i4 starts at 34 for the entry-level eDrive40 model, which isn’t bad when you consider the slower 430i Gran Coupe is one group lower! In terms of depreciation, data from CDL Vehicle Information Services predicts the i4 (eDrive40) will retain nearly 58 per cent of its list price after three years (or 36,000 miles).
Let’s start with that front end… So, the reason BMW changed their kidney grille is that it needed a bigger nose to breathe through, it was also intended as a tribute to older models like the 328. Electric cars, however, do not have internal combustion engines which require cooling, so there is actually no need to have one. It’s strange then given how polarising it is that BMW chose to keep it. Still, it works well on this car, especially in a sea of faceless EVs (aside from the Jaguar I-PACE), while still managing to look conventional and in keeping with BMWs other models.
Unlike the iX, the i4 shares the same modular CLAR platform, so it is 1852mm wide, slightly longer at 4785mm and with marginally wider tracks (1600mm front and 1630mm rear) creating a purposeful, muscular stance. Short overhangs, slim pillars, frameless window doors and a roofline that flows smoothly into the rear makes it very coupé-like in appearance despite being a saloon, and also aerodynamic with a 0.24 Cd rating (the same as the Tesla Model S interestingly).
BMW i4 M50 specific design features include the signature U-shaped graphic of BMW M models on the front apron, boot spoiler and choice of 18 or 19 inch alloy wheels, while contrasting colours for the kidney grille surround, vertical trim around the air curtains exterior mirror caps and inlays in the outer edges of the rear apron (in Cerium Grey) as well as the air breathers, the side sill trim strips and rear bumper trim (high gloss black) round off the performance-led styling cues. We loved the Frozen Portimao Blue metallic paintwork of our test car but it’s a costly option at £2985!
Inside, there's little to make it stand out from its petrol or diesel counterpart. The M50 specifically benefits from Vernasca leather upholstery, electric memory seats, M seatbelts, wireless phone charging, aluminium rhombicle anthracite trim, head-up display and Harman Kardon surround sound system. Otherwise all models of the electric gran coupé come as standard with sport seats and steering wheel and BMW’s rather brilliant and innovative curved display encompassing the 12.3 inch information display behind the steering wheel and the 14.9 inch control display of the operation system. All in all, it’s beautifully put together and feels very upmarket.
Comfort and practicality
The i4 combines the best of both worlds – the hallmark sporting aesthetic of the brand’s coupés with the comfort of a four-door car and a practical appeal enhanced by features including a large tailgate. We do however, have a few niggles so let’s get them out of the way.
Rear visibility is bad (fortunately around 40 assistance functions are offered for the i4 either as standard or optionally to assist with parking – as well as driving). As impressive as iDrive 8 is, the voice control isn’t as good as Tesla’s but the screen is the best on the market (better than the Porsche Taycan) – with highly responsive, ultra slick graphics, allowing you to configure what info appears, plus it integrates with your phone, showing Apple or Google maps in the head-up display. There’s not enough room to stick a baby seat behind the driver making it a little awkward for 2 point 4 families not helped by the curved roofline or transmission tunnel. However while the Tesla Model 3 outperforms the i4 in passenger space, the BMW comes out on top with boot space at 470 litres (also bettering the Porsche Taycan and Ford Mustang Mach-E) and underfloor storage for charging cables. There’s no frunk mind and storage spaces consist of average-sized door bins and a shallow centre cubby under the centre armrest, plus a pair of cupholders and somewhere to put your phone under a sliding panel.
Equipment standard to all versions (including the i4 eDrive40 in both the Sport and M Sport specification) includes a reversing camera, parking assistant, automatic air conditioning, ambient lighting and LED lights front and back. A host of options are also available, enabling customers to personalise their i4 to their own individual requirements.
Unlike the BMW i3 and i8, the i4 is a lot more mainstream – while those first i cars were ahead of their time and arguably future classics, this car will certainly appeal to more people, especially in the cheaper eDrive40 guise, which is more playful (being RWD only) while only 1.8 seconds slower to 62mph, £11k cheaper and with a longer range. If you’re after an EV within the premium midsize segment that’s not an SUV it’s a good contender. It boasts the sporting prowess and performance for which BMW is renowned for as well as useable driving range, refinement, great infotainment, comfort and usability. The Model 3 has the added bonus of Tesla’s supercharging network for owners that cover a lot of motorway miles (although it is slowly being opened up to other makes of EV) while the Taycan handles better and the Polestar 3, another great all-rounder, is the cheapest of the three. That inefficiency is a bit of a bug bear, but – and going back to my first point – it is indeed a statement of intent by BMW.