BMW i4 eDrive 40 M-Sport Review
Come in Tesla, your time is up. BMW has beaten you fair and square.
There’s absolutely no denying that Tesla formed the EV market as it is today, with their combination of big range and their incredible Supercharger network they have been the default for those who want a new family sized EV. But as a new manufacturer they’ve been plagued with quality issues, the interiors are minimalist to the point of putting off a lot of people and their styling is inoffensive at best, bland at worst. But the established manufacturers have been beavering away in the background and we’ve already seen some exceptional cars come out of this – VW has their ID.3, Hyundai the Ioniq5 and Audi have their Q4 e-tron. But the new kid on the block comes from BMW and after spending the day driving one, the best compliment I can give it is that it’s a really good BMW, that also happens to be electric.
You see there are two ways to create an EV – a ground-up design with a pure EV platform, or effectively use an internal combustion engine (ICE) platform converted to have an EV powertrain. Now the former yields a better car as it can take advantages of the better packaging an EV can have (more on that in the BMW iX review), but manufacturers have had a tendency to try and style their ground-up EVs in a new and ‘funky’ way marking them out as different. Whereas if you base your EV on a normal ICE car, Joe Public only has to mentally contend with moving to electric power, instead of embracing the whole EV culture and shouting ‘look at me’ with their kooky electric car.
And this is where the BMW i4 comes in. If you’ve seen the latest 4-Series Gran Coupe, the i4 will seem somewhat familiar, and that’s because they share a basic body-in-white. So what you have is a 3-Series sized car with a more sloping roofline, the more aggressive nose from the 4-Series and crucially – a hatchback rear. As mentioned in my previous BMW M3 Competition review, the new BMW ‘beaver’s teeth’ grille is now spreading across the ranges and in reality, especially in toned-down i4 guise, is quite inoffensive in person with a UK number plate on the front. For the i4 it doesn’t need the cooling either, so it’s mostly blanked off, housing the forward facing cameras and radar.
The looks really are one of the i4’s killer blows, as to most people it just looks like any other BMW with very few cues to the powertrain underneath. If you opt for the base ‘Sport’ trim there are blue trim bits around the outside, but this M-Sport model forgoes those and is trimmed exactly the same as say, a 420i Gran Coupe M-Sport. Only when you get to the rear and find a diffuser with no tailpipes do you realise there’s something different. Upfront there are slim sleek headlights and large black areas to make it look more sporty, while the side profile (one of the best features) shows a shallow glasshouse and BMW’s classic long-bonnet athletic stance.
But if the outside is great, the interior is even better. The seats are from the 3/4-Series and look great and are supremely comfortable and supportive. This is where you find companies like BMW really excel over Tesla – their years of experience in the simple ergonomic things. In the centre console there’s the usual iDrive controller and a traditional gear selector lever as you’d find in any automatic ICE BMW. But move forward to the dash and it’s where things all change, as the i4 uses BMW’s latest 8th-Generation iDrive infotainment system and as such has one, long sweeping display angled towards the driver. It comprises a 12.3” display ahead of the driver, but seamlessly runs into the 14.9” main infotainment display which houses all the controls, with most of the buttons removed.
I’ve been very vocal about my disdain for the removal of buttons, but the new BMW system has managed to do it properly, with decent shortcuts and navigation through menus so it doesn’t seem like a backwards step. The test car I had was heavily optioned too, with the excellent head-up display and all the tech you could want (and some you probably don’t). In the rear there isn’t as much headroom as in the 3-Series, but I sat behind the driver’s seat in my driving position and had enough head and leg room – and I’m 6ft3. As mentioned earlier, the killer feature though is that it’s a hatchback, with a huge 470 litre boot, extendable to 1290 litres when you fold the seats down. For me this really takes the fight to the Tesla Model 3 which is a saloon with a pretty small boot opening, the i4 is just massively more practical for anyone who regularly needs to carry pushchairs, bikes, anything large really.
The i4 comes with two powertrain options currently – at the top sits the i4 M50 which has dual motors making it AWD and 544hp, which means 0-62mph takes just 3.9 seconds. But the car that will sit on most driveways is the eDrive 40, driven here in M-Sport trim. The 40 is rear wheel drive with a single motor and produces 340hp and 430Nm of torque – still enough for a 5.7 second dash to 62mph despite the 2150kg curb weight. Consider that this is EV power too, so is a totally linear surge from standstill and feels far quicker than the numbers suggest. There is an 80.7kWh battery which means the WLTP range is 352 miles – that’s a very big number. In my day driving, the real-world estimate (confirmed by the BMW techs looking after these press cars) is around 300 miles. I had an efficiency of an average 4.3 miles/kWh during my time driving which is impressive. That’s broadly similar to the Model 3 Long Range which has 360 mile WLTP range and 310 mile real-world range.
If you want to charge your i4, it will do 10-80% at a 150kW DC fast charger in just over half an hour, so in the time you go into the services, have a ‘comfort break’, a coffee and a bite to eat you’ll have easily added another 200 miles. If you use Ionity, that charge would cost you around £40 to ‘fill up’ which is still less than petrol or diesel. And it’s worth noting that DC rapid charging isn’t the norm, most people charge overnight at home (assuming you have off-street parking). Charging at home from a normal 7.4kW charge point will take 13hrs, which most cars are sat for every night anyway and should cost £5-6 so it’s definitely worth avoiding rapids if you can.
But this is a BMW, so does it live up to the ‘Ultimate Driving Machine’ tagline? Well, yes frankly. As I mentioned at the start of the article, this is great BMW that just happens to run on electrons. To start with the driving position is spot-on perfect, you sit low and have that lovely steering wheel ahead of you, long bonnet stretching out and even half-decent visibility. Hit the start button and there’s the briefest of whirs, then silence. Pull the lever back into D and away you go, with an auto-like creep and just the sound of crunching tarmac to accompany the movement. When you accelerate for the first time, any new EV really does still surprise with the linear shove you gets in the chest, which doesn’t relent until you give up and realise you might lose your licence. From 30-60mph – overtaking speeds (and a metric far more important than 0-62) you’ll find yourself past any traffic with barely any fuss, noise or stress. This aspect of an EV really doesn’t get old.
In comfort mode there is a coast function, where if you let off the accelerator the car effectively decouples and coasts along, handy on motorways and great for range. You can knock the lever across into ‘B’ mode too which adds in a healthy chunk of regenerative braking. This is how I choose to drive EVs normally as you can add a good few miles of range simply by harvesting your deceleration and in most situations you don’t even need to touch the brake pedal – true one-pedal driving. The ride on the optional 19” wheels is fine too, well damped and comfortable on all but the very worst road surfaces – they also don’t affect the range either which is a bonus. The 20” wheels chop 49 miles off the range, so in my opinion these are best avoided.
What you get in this i4 over say the Model 3 Long Range is properly setup handling. The steering is direct and you get feedback from the road surface, you can balance the car on the throttle mid-corner and if you put it in Sport Boost mode and turn off the traction control keen drivers can even get it to step out sideways. Speaking of Sport Boost, that changes the whole car, becoming more focused and agile, the dials go red and you get a sportier noise from BMW’s ‘Sound of Motion’ artificial noise generator (with sounds created by Hans Zimmer no less). This can be turned down, but I honestly quite liked it and gave a differentiation between the normal and Sportier modes. Grip levels were very impressive for a RWD car too, it was 8 degrees and damp out and never felt that the rear end was going to lose grip.
So it’s fair to say that I quite liked the i4. I should add that I am a fan of the Tesla Model 3 and if you’re doing big miles every day they’re still the best option with Tesla’s Supercharger network. But for 90% of the population looking for a new family car EV, the i4 is head and shoulders above the rest. The i4 eDrive40 M-Sport costs £53,405 which is a little more than the equivalent Model 3 Long Range, but that price difference would increase when you start ticking the BMW options boxes. I do feel it’s a better, more premium product though so a price premium is justified.
I always try to find negatives when reviewing cars, but in the context of a family car I really struggled to find anything to complain about. So much so that I’m now 100% certain that an i4 eDrive40 M-Sport will be replacing my own Octavia vRS in 2023 when the current lease is up. It’s everything I wanted it to be and more.
I did also drive the i4 M50 for a shorter period on the day and thankfully all it did was cement my feelings that the 40 is the better car. Sure, there’s a lot more performance, it’s got that giggle-inducing shove that you find in the Tesla Model 3 Performance and the like, but that gets old very quickly and you’re left with a car that costs £11k more than the 40, has less range and doesn’t look any different. I thought the AWD would make a big difference, but given how well planted the RWD car was I wouldn’t miss it. If you must have the fastest i4, then you won’t be disappointed with the M50, just steer clear of the 20” wheels…