It's been eight years since BMW released an all-electric vehicle in the North American market, but after spending an afternoon driving the 2022 BMW i4 M50 on both the autobahn and on the winding country roads of Bavaria, we walked away a bit surprised and definitely impressed.
Unlike the BMW iX electric SUV that will launch nearly simultaneously with the i4, the i4 M50 does not have a bespoke chassis, it utilizes BMW's CLAR platform, a flexible architecture that allows for ICE, PHEV as well as BEV variants. The CLAR platform was developed by BMW for the transition period between ICE and BEV. Its flexible architecture allows BMW to cut manufacturing costs while assembly lines produce vehicles with a variety of different powertrains. In doing so BMW can bring its BEVs to market at a lower price than if they had to develop a dedicated platform and unique assembly line.
Coming into the first drive event, we wondered how the lack of a dedicated platform would affect the i4's driving dynamics. Typically, when manufacturers try to accommodate all types of drivetrains within a singular platform they all suffer. That's because compromises invariably must be made to allow the different components and unique drivetrains to fit. When we arrived at the event, BMW predicted that we would experience the ultimate electric driving machine in driving the i4 M50, but we had our doubts.
|Quick Stats:||2022 BMW i4 M50|
|Motor:||Dual Electrically Excited Synchronous|
|Output:||536 hp / 586 lb-ft Torque|
83.9 kWh (total capacity) 80.7 kWh (usable)
|Charge Time:|| |
8.25 hrs (0% to 100%) on 48-amp, 240V Level 2
31 minutes (10% to 80%) on 200+kW DC Fast Charger
|Base Price:||$65,900 MSRP (plus $995 destination charge)|
Pounding the pavement
The i4 M50 is the M Performance version of the i4 and boasts a dual-motor all-wheel-drive setup that produces 536 hp and 586 lb-ft of torque. BMW claims a 0 to 60-mph time of 3.9 seconds, but often will slightly underrate its vehicle's performance numbers.
Using the launch control feature, which is unique to the i4 M50, we did a few 0-60 runs and we wouldn't be surprised if customers find they can reach 60-mph a few tenths of a second than BMW's claim. The i4 M50 rockets off the line with authority, and the launch feels about as fast as a BMW M3 Competition.
Mashing the throttle at highway speeds also produces enough force to press you back into your seat as the speed climbs up over 100-mph and to the i4 M50's electronically limited top speed of 140-mph. We were able to see 142 mph a couple of times, but that could very well be caused by a slight speedometer calibration error.
Due to the heavy battery pack located beneath the passenger compartment, the i4 M50's center of gravity is 1.3 inches lower than the current BMW 3-series and you feel it in the switchbacks. But the CoG is one thing, the suspension tuning is another and when you set the vehicle in Sport mode, the rear-biased i4 shows very little body roll and carves up even turns with ease.
The ultimate electric driving experience? Perhaps not. However, the BMW i4 M50 delivers an excellent electric driving experience, better so than we were expecting.
The i4 M50 uses lift-related shock absorbers, rear self-leveling air springs, and adaptive dampers that continuously adjust every few milliseconds - and it all works together perfectly. It's hard to believe the vehicle weighs 5,043-lbs and handles this well - and it does so without a proper bespoke chassis. Witchcraft, perhaps.
The steering is direct, precise, and very responsive, but we feel it could benefit from offering slightly more feedback to the driver. The i4 had BMW's new adjustable regenerative braking system with true one-pedal driving that allows the driver to select between low, medium, and high brake regeneration as well as adaptive.
Gallery: BMW i4 M50
In adaptive regeneration mode, the vehicle uses its drivers' assist system and data from the navigation system to adjust the intensity of the regen braking force. That increases efficiency, enables one-pedal feeling, and allows the use of the coasting function depending on need and the traffic situation. The blended-braking regen system is extremely smooth when transitioning to the friction brakes and the system can pump back power into the i4's battery pack at a peak rate of 195 kW.
We used BMW's adaptive cruise control and lane-centering feature for a stretch of the highway and it worked very with the exception of an over-aggressive automatic braking system. When cars cut into my lane ahead of me the vehicle applied the brakes as it should, but took way too long to begin accelerating again, allowing the vehicle that cut in to get way too far ahead before accelerating again.
In all, we were extremely impressed with the overall driving experience. The ultimate electric driving experience? Perhaps not. However, the BMW i4 M50 delivers an excellent electric driving experience, better so than we were expecting.
With the exception of the long, curved display screen, the i4's interior is classic BMW. Those loyal to the brand will feel right at home with the gear selector, placement of the drive mode buttons and, iDrive control wheel, and the driver-focused cockpit. Speaking of which, the i4 and the iX all-electric SUV are two of the first vehicles to get BMW's all-new iDrive 8 system.
Even though the new "BMW Curved Display" screen is one continuous piece of glass, it's actually made up of two separate side-by-side displays. There's the 12.3-inch driver's display and a 14.9-inch touchscreen infotainment control display. We found the new iDrive 8 to be a huge improvement over the previous version. It's responsive, clear, and easier to navigate even though there are lots of sub-screens. That's because it seems much more intuitive than the previous iDrive systems we've used.
The leather sport seats wrap you up and hold you tight for spirited driving. They are comfortable, but definitely on the stiff side (as I often find BMW seats) and are both heated and ventilated. Interior cabin noise was minimal, but didn't seem quite as quiet as the BMW iX xDrive50 we drove on this same first-drive event. However, the i4 M50 is still quieter than most EVs we've driven, well, at least when you don't have BMW's new "Iconic Sounds" turned on.
BMW, as well as a few other electric vehicle brands, is concerned that their existing customer base will miss the audible feedback they get from combustion cars, especially the high-performance ones. So they have developed a variety of artificial sounds that can be pumped into the cabin while driving and the sounds get more dramatic as the driving becomes more spirited. In contrast, Tesla lets you play fart sounds in the cabin while your driving.
I don't mind these artificial sounds in electric vehicles as long as the driver has the opportunity to turn them off, which, I believe most EV owners will. They may turn them on when they first get the vehicle, because for one, they are curious, and two, they probably think they will miss the combustion engine noise. However, we suspect most drivers will turn the system off once they've owned the car for a while because they'll realize a peaceful, quiet cabin is a better driving environment. Plus you get to enjoy your real music even more. Silly fake sounds.
There's an automatically dimming rear-view mirror as well as heated side mirrors. The i4 also comes standard with a large, 3.6 sq-ft standard glass slide/tilt sunroof that lets plenty of light into the cabin.
The exterior is nearly identical to the new BMW 4-Series Gran Coupe′, complete with the controversial oversized kidney grille upfront. I'm not a fan of that new look, but I did like the look of the rest of the i4. It has a muscular stance, very clean lines, and the Frozen Portimao Blue looks awesome up close. Even though the i4 has a long hood, there's no front storage space (frunk) underneath.
Plug me in
The i4 comes with an 11 kW onboard charger which, when plugged into a 48-amp Level 2 charging station will fully recharge the vehicle in a little over 8 hours. That translates to roughly 30 miles of driving range per hour of charging.
Plug into a high-powered DC fast charge station and it's a different story. BMW tells us the i4 will charge from 10% to 80% in 31 minutes, thanks to a peak charging rate of slightly over 200 kW. It's not the best charging curve but it does hold about 200 kW until what looks like about 25% state of charge before it begins a steady climb down to about 60 kW at 80% SOC.
If the chart is accurate, the i4 will charge at more than 100 kW until about the 50% point. We'll need to conduct our own DC-fast charge tests to fully analyze the i4's charging characters, and we've already reached out to BMW to see when they can provide us with a vehicle for testing.
Sizing up the competition
In addition to converting some 3-Series and 4-Series buyers, the i4 M50 will surely lure some potential A5 buyers away from Audi, as well as C-Class shoppers from Mercedes as electric vehicles across the industry are proving to have a high conquest sale rate. But what about competing electric vehicles?
There aren't too many electric vehicles that will be a direct i4 competitor but two that come to mind would be the Tesla Model 3 and the Polestar 2. Like the i4, both of those vehicles will be offered in a rear-wheel-drive configuration, as well as a higher-performance AWD version. Tesla also has the long-range dual-motor Model 3 sandwiched in between its RWD and high-performance models.
It's also notable that both the BMW i4 and the Polestar 2 qualify for the $7,500 federal tax credit, and the Model 3 doesn't. Those claiming the full $7,500 would effectively pay $59,395 for the i4 M50, and that's only $205 more than a Tesla Model 3 Performance. However, that could change soon, as Congress is considering an update to the federal EV tax credit which would restore Tesla's tax credits, but there's nothing guaranteed at this point.
|EPA Range||Base Price||0-60 MPH|
|BMW i4 M50 (AWD)||245 mi (est)||$66,895||3.9 sec|
|BMW i4 xDrive40 (RWD)||300 mi (est)||$56,395||5.7 sec|
|Tesla Model 3 Perf (AWD)||315 mi||$59,190||3.1 sec|
|Tesla Model 3 SR+ (RWD)||262 mi||$44,690||5.3 sec|
|Polestar 2 (AWD)||233 mi||$61,200||4.5 sec|
|Polestar 2 (RWD)||265 mi (est)||$47,200||7.0 sec (est)|
Looking at the comparisons, if straight-line acceleration and bang for the buck is your thing, then Tesla is hard to beat. Both its AWD and RWD versions cost less and are faster to 60-mph than BMW and Polestar's offerings. But there's much more to a car than that.
The Polestar 2 is one step up from the Model 3 in comfort as well as premium look and feel and the BMW i4 is a step above the Polestar. The i4's cabin has a completely different feel than the Model 3 - it's much nicer and more luxurious. And I know that first-hand because I own a 2021 Model 3. The i4's build quality is also far better than Tesla's, and when I was driving at highway speeds there wasn't any wind noise seeping through the driver's side window, unlike how loud it is on both of my Model 3s.
We're not going to declare a winner because the fact is - everybody is a winner now that more desirable, high-performance electric vehicles are coming to market. It wasn't too long ago when the only EV choices were to get a Tesla or a little hatchback with ~100-mile driving range.
Having choices is good and the i4 xDrive40 and i4 M50 add two more very good choices to this segment. BMW built an electric 4-series gran coupe that will make many of their customers want to trade in their beloved 3-Series and 4-Series vehicles.
The i4 isn't BMW's first all-electric car, but it is the first one that threatens its entire way of doing business. The i3 was a great EV in its own right, and I owned two of them. But it's wasn't a "typical" BMW. It was outside of BMW's core products, far enough that it didn't really cannibalize sales from existing BMW models. The i4 is a true BMW through and through, it just happens to run on electricity - and it's better than its ICE counterparts.
There's no turning back for BMW now. The i4 M50 is the best driving BMW that I've ever driven - and it's the first serious all-electric performance car that they've made. Wait till they've had even more practice. The i4 M50 is the beginning of the end of performance combustion cars for BMW. I wonder if they fully understand that yet.