A new electric vehicle that lifelong BMW fans can embrace

The i4 excels on the road without trading comfort for competency

BMW i4
    
Year: 2022
Fuel: Electric

We always knew the empire would strike back.

There was a time BMW was at the vanguard of the electric revolution. Its i3 boasted a cutting-edge electric powertrain and revolutionary carbon fibre bodyframe. Grand plans were intimated for an entire fleet of EVs bearing the i sub-brand moniker. Money was set aside for investment in innovative start-ups. The Bavarians were ready for revolution.

At the 2013 launch of the i3, BMW's development chief Herbert Deiss announced that the premium car giant had "completely redesigned mobility".

Then something went awry. Plans were shelved. Deiss continued his drive towards an electric future, but from 2015 it was at the wheel of the VW Group.


In the last decade at BMW, we’ve seen flashes of that innovative spirit that drove the i3, but in general the Germans seemed to be spinning their wheels at the crossroads, unable to commit to any one future direction. To compensate, they let the designers go wild and make ever bolder styling to distract from the lack of bold decisions under the creased metal.

A case in point is in the cabin: while others opted for touchscreen controls, BMWs came with a clutter of touchscreen controls, knobs, voice activation, touchpad and iDrive dials. They even offered gesture control that wasn’t ready to leave the tech lab. It was as if no one was brave enough to make a call on one tech approach and commit to it.

Thankfully things are starting to change. The i range is back on the road. First came the iX SUV and now a car with the evident lineage links between BMW’s past and its future.

This is an EV that lifelong BMW fans can embrace. It’s a ‘proper’ BMW, from its proportions right down to the rear-wheel drive format.

Identifiable silhouette

In "Brooklyn grey", our test car – from its silhouette to overworked kidney grilles – is easily identified as a BMW, even from a distance. Its look is derived from the 4 Series and it shows. There are touches of 3 Series about it, and it seems deceptively smaller than its 4.8 metres, which is longer than its direct rivals.

That length adds practicality to the five-door coupe, giving it a bigger boot than rivals, while also offering decent rear seat legroom, albeit rather lower to the ground than many have become accustomed to in this age of the SUV.

The exterior styling is as divisive as the rest of BMW's fleet right now: overworked with crease lines and dents. Then there's that grille. Yet in the right colour this car still looks a treat. And after all, its rivals aren't exactly poster pin-ups. Tesla's Model 3 is a bulbous blob. The Polestar 2, newly arrived in Ireland, boasts clean lines but is still bulky, revealing crossover ambitions. It's only when you splash the cash for an Audi e-tron GT that heads will really start to turn.

Sitting behind the wheel, BMW’s tech still seems cluttered compared with the minimalist approach taken by newcomers such as Tesla and Polestar. Yet it feels the more complete package, again offering an easier transition for motorists making the move to electric.

It’s on the road, though, that the i4 excels.

Acceleration on electric cars is generally brutally direct, a straight-line surge towards the horizon. It's great fun, but it's not very sophisticated, and not always the most practical approach. That's fine for American drag races, but in Europe motoring life is complicated with corners and bends. That's where the ability to accelerate and steer becomes important. And it's where the BMW has the beating of its rivals. Don't get me wrong, this BMW is quick off the line. A 0-100km/h of 5.4 seconds is impressive, but it's the balance through the bends that is this car's real boon.

Perhaps it’s a result of regular weeks wallowing along in crossovers and SUVs, but when you get into a car that subtly sweeps through the twists and turns of an Irish back road, you rekindle a love for driving.

The i4 doesn’t trade comfort for this competency either. As you’re closer to the ground, it doesn’t pitch you into the bends, while at the same time it’s not too harshly sprung.

The BMW boasts a battery pack with 81kWh of usable power, claiming a range of up to 589km under the official WLTP testing regime. That’s more than rivals such as the Polestar 2 (440km to 540km) and the rear-wheel drive or performance versions of Tesla’s Model 3.

In reality, you should hit 400km on a full charge, even with a mix of motorway and heavy throttle driving. Stick it on the latest 150kW chargers and the battery will go from 10 per cent to 80 per cent in about 40 minutes.

Dual motor

It’s worth declaring that my comparison with the Polestar 2 is only based on a modicum of time behind its wheel. Even then it impressed, particularly as the entry model single motor carries a price tag of €49,500 after the SEAI grant. However, for driving fun you need to opt for the dual motor version, and at €61,990 that pushes you right into the i4 wheelhouse.

That's also in the realm of the rear-wheel drive Tesla Model 3, which starts at €61,091.

The i4 is a few thousand euro more than these two – starting at €63,560 – but for that you get a more accomplished car. There is none of the rattles that confound Model 3 owners, while there’s a mix of practicality with an overall a sense of superior build quality.

But the greatest allure of the i4 is in its driving prowess. The beauty of this BMW is that it’s not just a great EV, it’s a great car in general.

At €63,560 (or €65,404 in M Sport spec as tested here) the i4 isn’t in the mainstream price bracket and once you start ticking a few boxes on the options list the that figure starts to soar. But there are plenty of well-heeled executives looking to move to electric and they simply can’t let this car go untested. And if you’re thinking of following the flock into SUVs then I beseech you to stop and take a spin in this i4 before you do. Ideally on a road with decent bends. There is no way you will match this car’s cornering prowess and driving pleasure in an electric crossover at this price.

Lowdown: BMW i4 edrive40 M Sport

Power: Single e-motor putting out 340hp through the rear wheels powered by a lithium-ion battery pack holding a usable charge of 81kWh

0-100km/h: 5.7 seconds.

Range: Up to 589km (WLTP)

Price: €65,404 (starts at €63,660 for Sport)

Our rating: 4/5

Verdict: A 'proper' BMW that happens to be electric – the new benchmark

Michael McAleer

Michael McAleer

Michael McAleer is Motoring Editor, Innovation Editor and an Assistant Business Editor at The Irish Times