Although the Tesla Model 3 is the best-selling electric car in Europe, with 74,818 units registered from January to the end of August 2021, it surprisingly has no direct competitor. Most manufacturers prefer to launch SUVs, a more fashionable body type, which also benefit from higher ground clearance for installing batteries. The first to respond to the California sedan is the BMW i4. But while Tesla intends to make the Model 3 the car of Mr. Everyman, BMW wants to support its sporty image with its i4, which he presents as “the ultimate driving machine”. Which could roughly be translated as the car that offers ultimate driving pleasure.
Like the iX3, the BMW i4 was not designed as a 100% electric model. It is none other than a adaptation of the new 4 Series Gran Coupé. The structure has certainly been modified: the rear turrets are specific, to adapt to a new multi-arm train capable of supporting the additional mass of the battery. At the front, reinforcements have been added to stiffen the subframe, mainly in the upper part. Finally, the tracks have been widened by 26 mm at the front and 13 mm at the rear, compared to the 4 Series Gran Coupé thermal. Necessary, because the i4 is a heavy car: the M50 version is announced at 2,050 kg, compared to the 1,825 kg of the 440i xDrive Gran Coupé or… the 1,844 kg of a Tesla Model 3 Performance.
A very capable BMW i4 M50
For its electric mechanics, BMW applies the same industrial strategy as that undertaken for the thermal ones. The Bavarian manufacturer has thus developed a modular engine family, built in the Dingolfing factory. This is the fifth generation of electric machines from BMW, which now adopts technology with wound rotor, thus abandoning permanent magnets, consumers of rare earths. The entry-level version i4 eDrive40 is a simple propulsion, which shares its engine with the iX3, here increased to 340 hp. As for the powerful i4 M50, it adds to this rear engine (limited in this case to 313 hp) a front engine of 258 hp, which is technically derived from the first but equipped with a shorter rotor. The total combined power, limited by the battery, amounts to 476 hp, but can climb to 544 hp in Sport Boost mode or by activating launch control.
This high power comes with lightning times. On the road, almost nothing that drives can resist the BMW i4 M50, starting with the Tesla Model 3 Performance. The 0 to 100 km/h announced in 3.9 seconds seems quite credible to us, while we measured a recovery from 80 km/h to 120 km/h in 2.6 seconds. At high speed, on the other hand, the i4 cannot keep up with its cousin the M3 (read our test of the BMW M3), even if it has a rare extension for an electric car (the top speed of 225 km/h is easily reached).
The performances are largely up to expectations but, unfortunately, the manner is not there. Lhe mass of the i4 is too great for the handling to be fun. The grip is abundant, the efficiency impressive, but we are more bored than on board the big SUV iX. A peak! The steering, connected to a variable-pitch rack (the gear ratio becomes more and more direct as you turn the steering wheel), proves reasonably precise, but uninformative. Above all, the distribution of torque between the two engines lacked finesse on the prototype we tested, with sometimes transitions lacking fluidity.
Added to this is electronics (which acts at the source, by limiting the torque of the engine) which restricts the possibilities far too much, by eliminating any slippage, whatever the driving mode chosen. Frustrating, even though BMW concocted for us a few months ago a 440i xDrive with the typical balance of a rear-wheel drive, as delicious as it is reassuring… And the Tesla Model 3 is more playful! Worse: if you keep constant pressure on the accelerator when leaving a roundabout, the i4 M50 starts accelerating harder when you put the steering wheel back on line, giving the unpleasant impression that you are not in control of the car. So many fine-tuning details that engineers must correct before marketing, scheduled for early 2022.
An honorable versatility
So there’s still some way to go for the BMW i4 M50 to live up to the brand’s reputation for sportiness. But we must not forget that this is above all a family sedan, for which versatility is also an important criterion. This i4 M50 does not manage to display the same sobriety as the Tesla Model 3 Performance, but still manages to contain its consumption. We noted an average of 21 kWh/100 km on the road and 22 kWh/100 km on the highway, which gives hope for respective autonomy of 380 km and 360 km in real conditions (BMW advertises 510 km on the WLTP cycle), given the advertised useful battery capacity of 80.7 kWh (total capacity of 83.9 kWh). That is more than respectable! On the other hand, it was impossible for us to carry out rapid charge tests on the prototype tested.
The BMW i4 can better envisage long journeys as the controlled suspension of the M50 version delivers a remarkable comfort. In addition, soundproofing is a reference. This electric sedan also defends itself rather well in terms of practical aspects, mainly thanks to the wide tailgate which was refused by its Californian rival. This provides access to a rather generous 470-litre trunk, which unfortunately does not double, as is the case with Tesla, with a second compartment at the front. The habitability turns out to be correct, even if the low roofline requires you to hunker down when slipping into the rear seats. The onboard environment is obviously reminiscent of the Series 3 and Series 4, but the i4 differs from its sisters by a larger dual screen, equipped with new software, shared with the iX. Luckily, the change isn’t as drastic as on the latter, which went a bit too far in removing the pimples. Thus, thanks to the excellent voice recognition, gesture control and the navigation wheel, finding your bearings in the many features remains quite easy.
In addition to its lack of fantasy behind the wheel (a judgment that must be tempered by the fact that we drove non-final prototypes), the BMW i4 can also be criticized for a pretentious price. The M50 version tested was thus displayed at €71,650 excluding options, compared to the €59,990 claimed for a Tesla Model 3 Performance… Which is therefore displayed at almost the same price as the least expensive i4 (€59,700), much less powerful and less generous equipment. It is therefore not with this model, which is moreover rather homogeneous, that the Bavarian manufacturer will break the hegemony of Elon Musk.
- Lightning resumptions
- Decent battery life
- Embedded technology
- sensitive mass
- Unamusing behavior
- Excessive tariff
- Improvable engine management
- Road behavior4/5
- Presentation quality4/5
- Practical aspects4/5