First drive: BMW i4 M50 xDrive prototype review

Here we go, then. After a rousing statement of intent from BMW chairman Oliver Zipse, the showing of a concept and the unveiling of the production model, we’ve finally got our hands on the new i4.

Based on the upcoming second-generation 4 Series Gran Coupé (alongside which it will be produced at BMW’s Munich factory from later this year), it joins the i3 hatchback, and iX3 and iX SUVs in a four-strong line-up of EVs from BMW’s i sub-brand.

It’s one of up to 12 electric models that BMW plans to be offering worldwide by 2023.

The four-wheel-drive M50 xDrive version driven here is one of two initial i4 models, the other being the rear-driven eDrive40. Together, they set out to challenge the likes of Tesla’s Model 3 and the Porsche Taycan, as well as the upcoming Audi A6 E-tron and Mercedes-Benz EQE in what’s shaping up as an intriguing contest for four-door superiority in the EV ranks.

As well as being part of BMW’s first-ever electric saloon offering, the range-topping i4 is also the first electric model from its M performance car division. That said, it’s described as an alternative to the M340i, rather than an electric equivalent of the M3 Competition. 

Unlike the iX, which sits on its own dedicated EV platform, the i4 is based on BMW’s familiar CLAR platform. This aluminium-and-steel structure has been extensively modified to accept an electric powertrain along with all its ancillaries, including a large battery bolted to the floorpan and a power electronics system that takes up much of the under-bonnet space.

Key styling elements of the i4 include its bold front grille, which is similar in size to that of the latest 4 Series but, without the need for engine cooling, has been blanked off. The i4 also receives unique detailing, with blue trim highlights matching those within the headlamps to immediately distinguish it as one of BMW’s electric models.

It gets a long bonnet, a heavily raked windscreen, frameless doors, flush external door handles and a high-set, notchback-style rear end. This hosts a small lip spoiler that’s part of quite an extensive range of M styling touches on the M50.

The traditional proportions may appeal to existing BMW customers, but to these eyes, it lacks the modernity that’s evident in the design of many recent dedicated EVs, including BMW’s own iX.

Advertisement

Advertisement

The M50 delivers exceptional performance and is genuinely captivating to drive, with the sort of handling traits that enthusiast drivers will appreciate, along with outstanding levels of ride refinement.

With a big battery, an energy-recuperation system that contributes handsomely to its range and high-power charging capability, it promises to prove a very creditable alternative to BMW’s traditional offerings when UK sales open in September.

BMW i4 M50 xDrive prototype specifications

Engine Two asynchronous electric motors Battery 400V, 80.7kWh, liquid-cooled, lithium ion Power 536bhp (in Sport Boost mode) Torque 586lb ft (in Sport Boost mode) Gearbox Single-speed, direct drive 0-62mph 3.9sec Top speed 140mph Economy 2.6-3.3 miles per kWh Range 317 miles CO2, tax band 0g/km, 1% Rivals Telsa Model 3, Porsche Taycan, Mercedes-Benz EQE