BMW’s new i4 electric sport sedan is an EV star

On Oct. 11, BMW reported that third-quarter sales were up 8.7% from a year earlier. This surpassed sales by No. 2 Lexus for the first nine months of 2021, positioning BMW to claim the title of most luxury cars sold in the U.S. this year. Audi, Mercedes-Benz, and Porsche all reported sales declines for the quarter.

So I can’t help but think that the 2022 BMW i4, an all-electric car due in showrooms early next year, is arriving at a good time for the Munich-based automaker. BMW’s first-ever electric sport sedan, I predict, will propel that wave of enthusiasm with its svelte design, exceptional interior technologies, robust driving capability, and confidence-inspiring battery life.

While it took longer to arrive than the EV sedans that were already for sale from Audi and Porsche, BMW’s entree into the luxury EV segment presents an enticing new option for forward-thinking BMW consumers, who were previously forced to spend their money elsewhere—just so long as they can look past that buck-toothed front grille.

A Solid Sport Sedan

Since I discussed BMW’s rodent-jawed mug in my review of the electric iX SUV on Sept. 29, I’ll forgo a repeat here. You should know that it looks far worse in photos than in person. And here’s a secret: You can’t see the grille from behind the wheel, anyway.

Behind the wheel is where I first felt excited to be driving an i4 on a recent trip through Bavaria. The lightning surge of the motors, the tight feel of the steering wheel as it communicated with BMW’s all-wheel-drive, and the responsiveness of the suspension are what gripped me as I barreled down the autobahn outside Munich.

The i4 M50 boasts adaptive sport-tuned suspension with individually configured springs and shocks that make the car feel springy and light; the variable sport steering felt responsive and nimble as I accelerated and wove through traffic.

With 3.7 seconds to go from zero to 60 mph and top speed of 140 mph, it’s not as fast as the best versions of the (more expensive) Porsche Taycan or the Tesla Model S. (Far from it, in fact: Those two get to 60 in well under 3 seconds, and top speeds of the the higher-powered versions are 161 mph and 200 mph, respectively.) Still, it’s fast enough, even a hair’s width faster than the Audi eTron GT. I took it to 120 mph or so—those kilometer-to-mile conversions are tough in the moment, officer—and it stayed as stable as a brain surgeon’s hands. A launch-control function, engaged with the push of a button in its setting, allows the driver to accelerate with optimal traction and torque when the gas pedal is floored.

As much as I loved the driving, I was also impressed when I first saw the four-door’s short front nose, slim pillars, doors with frameless windows, and roofline flowing smoothly into the hatchback rear. This is a good-looking car. M Sport brakes and M light-alloy wheels up to 20 inches in diameter (with mixed-size tire options) make it look even more eager to hit the road. The i4 stands more than two inches lower than the BMW 3-Series sedan, another indication of its prizefighter-like capability. But none of this is groundbreaking. These flourishes maintain the pillars of traditional BMW design: sleek, athletic, well-balanced. Friends could be forgiven for not recognizing the i4 as something fresh if you were to park it in your driveway and seek opinions.

BMW will be selling two versions of the i4—the $55,400 i4 eDrive40 and the $65,900 i4 M50. I was in the i4 M50, of course, which is the one to be in when you want more power and don’t need quite as much range. (The rear-wheel-drive i4 eDrive40 gets 335 horsepower with 300 miles of range; the all-wheel-drive i4 M50 gets 536 horsepower with 245 miles of range.)

I’m told both i4 models will include a separate rear air suspension, which has an automatic self-leveling feature that kept me constant and sharp as I gained altitude winding toward Austria. The i4 revealed little body pitch and roll as I curled through the foothills of Bavaria’s already snow-dusted Alps. I loved how the low hum of the motors was quiet enough, even as I blasted around corners, not to disturb grazing herds of what were surely—to judge from their fat, caramel-colored hides and contented expressions—the country’s finest bovines.

A Clean, Safe, Simple Space

Both versions of the i4 offer BMW’s new-generation infotainment system, a vast improvement over the outdated equipment in previous models. The newly designed low instrument panel looks elegant in its relative simplicity; a 12.3-inch information display behind the steering wheel and a 14.9-inch control display effectively merge into a single unit of anti-reflective glass angled slightly toward the driver. I like this because drivers operating cars should control things related to driving, not passengers—and certainly not their cell phones.

Sport seats for five and a sports steering wheel with multifunction buttons come standard in the i4. Acoustic glazing on the windshield to minimize road noise, an automatically dimming rear-view mirror, heated exterior mirrors, and a 3.6-square-foot glass slide/tilt sunroof all come standard. Interior filters purify the cabin air with “nano-fleece” and layers of carbon materials that block super-fine dust particles and micro-bacterial particles and allergens from entering. A pre-heating/pre-conditioning function allowed the interior to be purified even before I got inside—not that I could tell a difference in my one-day test, but the placebo effect felt great. Even with the windows up to guard me from Germany’s crisp autumnal breezes, the whole thing felt like a fresh-air cocoon.

Over all, the well-considered surfaces, quality materials, and precision of craftsmanship inside the i4 are one obvious way BMW differentiates itself from startups such as Tesla when it comes to making electric vehicles. It is impossible to replicate more than a century of German manufacturing in a few years’ time; the fit and finish of interior cabins in the electric vehicles coming from Audi, Porsche, and now BMW is one way it shows.

Charging Is the Last Step

So the car drives great and looks fine. But I wish I had more time with the i4 in order to properly run it into the ground. (I drove it over more than 100 miles of autobahn and tiny mountain hill climbs and didn’t drain half of the battery’s life.) Real-life battery capacity, charging networks, and the time needed to charge are the grounds on which truly dominant electric vehicles will soon emerge.

BMW says the i4 will charge to nearly 90 miles of range in just 10 minutes on a DC fast charger. Using a slower-charging L2 charger, the car will charge from empty to full driving range in fewer than eight hours. Those stats, if they prove accurate, better those of the Taycan.

The best option is to charge the vehicle at home, and yes, BMW sells L2 chargers for that, though they are not fast chargers. (“I can’t tell you when or if we will [sell DC fast chargers]. I am not aware of any auto manufacturers currently offering one,” a BMW spokesperson told me.) Otherwise, the i4 can charge on stations powered by EVgo, the largest public fast-charging network in the U.S. and the first to be powered by 100% renewable energy. A special mobile phone app shows drivers the real-time status of its 800 fast chargers countrywide. EVgo also partners with other charging networks that offer 38,000 L2 chargers, offering a further option.

Until we have more extensive, more convenient, better-maintained charging networks for electric vehicles, the bar to having fun with EVs are the network and charging duration. BMW’s i4 owners may have to get creative, but I doubt charging will prove much of a hinderance for those already inclined to bite into the new BMW-flavored EV.

All things considered, this i4 doesn’t eclipse the EVs we already have from the likes of Audi and Porsche. But if those rival brands aren’t careful, BMW’s third-quarter triumph could prove to be more than a blip.

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