Words: Calvin Chan
Photography: Calvin Chan
Published: April 4, 2022
Remember the ActiveHybrid models that BMW tinkered with back in 2012? What about the i3, a carbon-fibre tub rolling on skinny wagon wheels, or the i8 with its flashy scissor doors and three-cylinder engine pulled out of a MINI Cooper? Well, that was all BMW foreplay because now they have finally built a proper, all-electric sedan to appeal to the masses. This is the BMW i4 M50, and it’s one of the most engaging and exciting EVs we have driven this year.
The i4 is based on the 4 Series Gran Coupe. As such, it’s got the same basic silhouette, massive kidney grills up front, flush door handles, and a hatchback trunk, though the latter is so neatly integrated into the roofline that you wouldn’t know it’s a hatchback until you press the button.
There are two trims available, eDrive40 (rear-wheel drive, 482 km range, $54,990) and the performance-oriented M50 (all-wheel drive, 435 km range, $72,990) that we have on test. In fact, the i4 M50 is the first electric vehicle to come from the M brand. Note that they don’t put the ‘-i’ suffix at the end anymore.
Both models are equipped with an 84 kWh lithium ion battery but the M50i carries one electric motor on each axle that provides an AWD setup. Overall output is a healthy 536 hp and 586 lb-ft of torque. Range? The M50 should clock in at 435 km on a full battery, which is 47 km less than the eDrive40. Still, find a DC fast charger and it will juice up from 10-80% in 31 minutes, more than enough time to drain the bladder and grab a cup of coffee.
To further put that range into perspective, the i4 M50 ranks quite well against the Audi e-tron Sportback (351 km), Porsche Taycan 4S (320 km), and Volvo C40 Recharge (334 km), offers the same range as the Ford Mustang Mach-E AWD (435 km), but ultimately falls short of the Tesla Model 3 Performance (507 km).
What’s the real-world range on a brisky spring day in Toronto? When we picked up our M50, it came with a 95% charge and an estimate of just 341 km, but the more we drove it on quiet suburban roads, turned off the heated seats and dialed back the air conditioning, 90% gave us a more reasonable 371 km. Extrapolating that estimate to 100% would net us a theoretical 408 km. Not quite the claim of 435 km but still more than expected. We didn’t run it from 100% to bone dry but by the time 10% rang on the gauges, we had gone 368 km on a full charge.
But is the i4 M50 a true M vehicle? It’s got an army of M badges, so that’s a good sign. The M50 will also scoot from 0-100 km/h in a swift 3.9 seconds, the same as a rear-wheel drive BMW M3, though four-tenths of a second off of the all-wheel drive M4 Competition. Still, the i4 M50 feels every bit as quick as its output suggests, and there’s a fluidity and gentleness to the way it accelerates. It’s not a hang-on-tight kind of rollercoaster ride, but more of a gentle waft into unholy speeds that you wouldn’t dare admit.
Both i4 models come standard with a rear air suspension, but the M50 is further equipped with an adaptive sport suspension, variable steering, and stronger M Sport brakes. Many of the exterior elements are finished in Cerium Grey, and optional 20-inch wheels are available though ours wore 19-inch winter rubbers. Its profile is aggressive, though the ride height appears to be slightly higher than a regular, fire-burning M440i Gran Coupe, probably to make room for those batteries hidden in its underbelly.
The i4 M50 sounds exactly like what we think an electric M vehicle should. That’s because artificial electric noises are piped into the cabin but before you raise your eyebrows, just know that every other EV does this too - Porsche Taycan, Ford Mustang Mach-E GT, you name it. The noises will change depending on the selected driving mode, and the notes are especially spaceship-like in Sport Mode. And if you feel like the M50’s deep, heart-wrenching, soulful tones belong in the soundtrack of Inception, Interstellar, or Dunkirk, that is because Hans Zimmer composed it.
When the noises are muted, the i4 offers one of the most silent and well insulated cabins in an EV. Press the go-fast pedal and there’s barely a whiff of battery whine or tire squeal. Props to BMW for not forgetting that this may be a performance sedan, but a luxury offering first and foremost. Coming straight out of the Hyundai Ioniq 5, the i4 immediately feels zestier and more eager to put rubber to the ground. The M50 is about 150 kg heavier than the eDrive40i because of that extra motor and internals, and aside from the anesthetized steering, the i4 M50 loves to hustle. A darty front nose and a low center of gravity means it provokes you to drive fast, corner harder, and let the tremendous grip pave the way forward. Body roll isn’t as minimal as in the Taycan, but it stays relatively flat when taking corners at higher speeds. If BMW could find a way to make the steering as lively as a Taycan’s, then they would have one of the best performing EV sedans on the market.
Three levels of braking regeneration are available, though there is no dedicated button or paddle shifters for them, so you have to dive into the display menu to access it. BMW instead offers an Adaptive Mode for the brake regen, which automatically detects obstacles in front, throttle levels, and surroundings, and adjusts the amount of regen needed on the fly. It works quite well too. When cruising to a red light stop and there are cars in front, the i4 would switch to maximum regen, while coasting at higher speeds on the highway would use the least amount of regen to keep the rolling resistance minimal.
Inside the i4 is standard BMW fare except for the unique blue-trimmed elements around the steering wheel logo, gear shifter, and start button, reminding you that this BMW doesn’t burn fuel. Those wishing for the snazziest, fanciest, and most theatrical of cabin designs will be left disappointed. BMW has instead stuck with their tried and true formula of hard buttons and dials, and a rotary dial to control the infotainment. Function over form, and we would take this ergonomically sound arrangement over any of those fingerprint-laden touchscreens that seem to plague every other EV these days.
Be that as it may, BMW have one foot out the door - they have exiled those ‘1-8’ shortcut buttons on the center stack. Same goes for the HVAC controls, which can only be digitally accessed now via the touchscreen. Shame, as we don’t think keeping them as hard buttons and dials would have messed up the fluidity of the design. At least it works better than the Golf’s.
That said, the new dual-display mounted on the dashboard definitely stands out, and both are merged under one single panel, giving it a clean, seamless look. The left-side instrument cluster is much higher definition than the one currently being used in the 4 Series, and is much clearer and more concise than before. We also noticed it was less prone to washing out under heavy sunlight.
That extended roofline in this fastback sedan pays dividends to rear seat headroom but the sloped shape means it’s still not enough for my six-foot figure to find comfortable. My head nudges right into the headliner, and my knees are equally as cramped, shoved right into the front seatback. The hatchback liftgate means cargo storage is exceptional and along with the flexible electric range, adds to the i4’s road trip capability. That said, unlike some other EVs there is no front trunk storage, so what you see in the cabin is what you get.
The BMW i4 M50 doesn’t change the game as far as electric vehicles are concerned but it’s a monumental step for the brand. The i4 is one of the most complete, well-packaged, and usable EVs that BMW has ever produced, and though it has made some sacrifices in terms of interior ergonomics for the sake of digital real estate, it still remains user-friendly and easy to drive. If its upcoming iterations can continue to blaze the path forward with the same kind of athletic handling, electric range, and craftsmanship, then BMW has a beaming future ahead.
Model: 2022 BMW i4 M50
Paint Type: Portimao Blue
Base Price: $72,990
Price as Tested: $87,035
Length/Width/Height (mm): 4,787 / 1,886 / 1,448
Curb weight (kg): 2,276
Powertrain: 84 kWh lithium ion battery, two electric synchronous AC motors
Horsepower: 536 hp
Torque: 586 lb-ft
Transmission: Single-speed transmission
Engine & Drive Configuration: Front engine, AWD
Claimed Range: 435 km
Observed Range: 402 km
Tires: 19-inch wheels