What is it?
BMW was one of the first manufacturers to really embrace electrification, with its i3 hatchback and i8 supercar going on sales in the mid-2010s. However, after that, it was a little slow to capitalise on its lead, with no new models or a suitable electric strategy to be found.
Fast forward to now, and it appears to have found its feet, with a more coherent strategy to expand its ‘i’ electric brand.
Traditionally, the 3 Series has been one of BMW’s core products, so when the firm announced the i4 – an electric four-door coupe/saloon – interest was piqued. This could be the firm’s next generation family car and the centre of everything to come from Bavaria.
We’ve already tested the ludicrously quick M50 version, but today we’re behind the wheel of the eDrive40, which will make up the bulk of the model’s sales.
It might look very similar to the regular 4 Series from the outside, but under the skin the i4 is an all-new model that’s been designed to be an EV from day one. That means you get all the benefits this brings, such as fitting the batteries beneath the floor to maximise weight distribution and cabin space.
It gets the latest generation of BMW’s electric powertrain and battery technology, as well as the latest iDrive infotainment system. Other features include rear air suspension, a new regenerative braking setup, extensive safety and driver assistance technologies, and a synthesised sound for the powertrain.
What’s under the bonnet?
There are two powertrains on offer in the i4, with the top version being the high-performance M50. It’s the first electric car to wear an M badge and has suitably impressive performance, making 536bhp and 795Nm of torque.
However, today we’re testing the entry-level, single-motor variant. Called eDrive40, it makes 335bhp and 430Nm, which is still nothing to be sniffed at. While the M50 is all-wheel drive, the eDrive40 is rear-wheel drive. It’ll go from 0-60mph in 5.5 seconds and hit a top speed of 118mph, too. The battery’s charging capacity is 200kW, which can add 102 miles in about 10 minutes, while the full range is 345 miles.
Bearing in mind this isn’t ‘the fast one’, performance is incredibly brisk and has more than enough punch to be enjoyable on the road. There’s that typical instant hit of performance we expect from EVs, followed by a decent surge of acceleration up to motorway speeds.
What’s it like to drive?
The BMW i4 is a very impressive car from the outset. First of all, you sit quite low but still have good visibility all around, while the steering and pedal weights are fantastically judged so it’s easy to feel comfortable quickly.
We’ve already mentioned the punchy powertrain, and coupled with the excellent steering the eDrive40 is good fun to drive down a country lane once you get into a rhythm. It’s also great at doing the everyday driving duties, where its refined cabin and silent powertrain make even urban traffic a breeze.
Although all cars ride on air suspension at the rear as standard, this entry model doesn’t quite have the magic carpet-smooth ride quality found on the M50. That being said, it’s still a comfortable place to be and is only noticeably jiggly over the roughest roads.
How does it look?
The i4 gets the large double kidney grille up front and while it proved controversial at first, it now lends into what is a sharp, handsome front end. The headlights are quite chunky but narrow and are angled down towards the grille that offer a purposeful stance.
It has chunky side sills because the batteries are stowed below the cabin, but if you look past that there’s a sleek profile – though the larger 18-inch wheels would be recommended to fill the arches better.
The rear is perhaps the i4’s weakest angle, with its chunky bumpers and lights slightly at odds with the sleek, sharp front end.
What’s it like inside?
We’ve come to expect great things from BMW in recent years, as it has consistently delivered some of the best cabins in the premium segment, merging modern technology with simple, fuss-free designs that are ergonomically sound.
The same is true of the i4, which, much like the regular 4 Series, also has the benefit of an excellent driving position with plenty of adjustment.
What really elevates the cabin is the twin-screen set-up. There’s a floating structure that holds both screens, which incorporate the digital dials and the infotainment touchscreen using the latest BMW operating system. It’s incredibly easy to use with crystal clear definition and menus that are easy to navigate – even the voice activation works well. It makes other BMWs not running this setup feel instantly dated.
What’s the spec like?
With the eDrive40 powertrain the i4 is available in two trims. It starts with the Sport at £51,905, which includes LED headlights and rear lights, that massive double display, sports seats, sports leather steering wheel, automatic air conditioning and cruise control.
Step up to the M Sport package, priced from £53,405, and you get 18-inch alloy wheels, sporty exterior styling upgrades, black trim pieces, and an M Sport leather steering wheel.
Prices then jump considerably for the high-performance M50 model, which starts at £63,905. Here, you get the go-faster all-wheel drive powertrain, adaptive M suspension, a unique body kit, upgraded brakes and the ‘IconicSounds’ audio pack, which was tuned by movie composer Hans Zimmer.
While all of the headlines might go to the M50 model, it’s the eDrive40 that will make up the majority of sales. It’s good news, then, that in many ways it’s actually more desirable, because unless you really need all that extra performance, the entry model is more than quick enough and comes with all of the key equipment.
The best electric vehicles are the ones that could slot into your life with zero fuss, and the i4 does exactly this. It’s smart inside and out, practical, has a huge range and more than enough power for most. As far as all-rounders go, it’s tough to beat.