It had to happen. BMW finally aimed its electric vehicle development efforts in a direction that should attract the attention of brand loyalists as well as Tesla Model 3 owners with a wandering eye. The Bavarians have gone and built an electric 4-series Gran Coupe called the i4. It’s as close as we’re likely to get to an electric 3-series, which is probably for the best seeing as how the name i3 was previously assigned to an IKEA-furnished pod on skinny wagon wheels. Alloy wagon wheels, but still.
Besides, the Gran Coupe makes a better EV candidate than a traditional sedan because it has four doors plus a hatchback that doesn’t come across as one until you pop the hatch and watch the liftgate rise up. Its longer roofline is a boon to rear-seat roominess and luggage space, which is important because the 81.5-kWh battery pack gives the single-motor rear-drive i4 eDrive40 301 miles of EPA-rated range that makes road trips an attractive proposition. Rated range drops to 227 miles, though, for the version tested here: the dual-motor i4 M50 on its optional 20-inch Pirelli P Zero PZ4 Elect summer tires. That’s still a respectable amount for folks who reside in the Sunbelt, but those who occupy colder, snowier climes might think otherwise unless they have a gas-powered winter beater.
But dwelling on such practicalities misses the larger point: The i4 M50’s dual electric motors team up for a combined 536 horsepower and 586 pound-feet of torque that allow it to embarrass an M3. These are unique “current-excited” AC synchronous motors, which forgo the usual rare-earth permanent magnets and instead use brushes to supply DC battery current to energize the rotor’s copper lobes and create a magnetic field. All other EVs use brushless motors, but BMW was motivated to avoid the cost, supply-chain uncertainties, and environmental mining concerns that come with sourcing rare-earth magnets, and it found a way to make brushes work in an automotive application. This approach also gives the engineers an extra knob to turn, as the power electronics can continuously alter the strength of this unique rotor’s magnetic field.
It, um, seems to work. Our test car laid down a 3.3-second sprint to 60 mph that pips the rear-drive M3 Competition we tested by 0.2 second. In a 5-to-60-mph rolling start, where neither car can use launch control, the instant torque and direct drive of the M50’s dual electric motors get the job done in just 3.5 seconds, while the M3 Competition’s twin-turbocharged 3.0-liter inline-six takes time to build boost, requiring a full second longer to hit the mark. Same goes for the 30-to-50- and 50-to-70-mph passing tests, where the M50’s neck-wrenching 1.5- and 2.0-second times leave the M3 Competition and its 2.4- and 2.7-second efforts in its wake. The M3 Competition does get itself sorted near the end of the quarter-mile, however, where it edges the M50’s impressive run of 11.7 seconds at 120 mph by 0.1 second and 4 mph. This is doubtless down to the M50’s 5063-pound curb weight, which outweighs the M3 Competition by a full 1243 pounds—otherwise known as the payload rating of a 2022 Ram 1500 HFE Quad Cab pickup.
That extra truckload of weight does not hold back the M50 when the road turns from straight to sinuous. It’s all centralized battery mass lying under the floor, so the resulting lower center of gravity results in precious little body roll. The M50 changes directions quite willingly, and its brutal acceleration blurs the scenery and truncates the straightaways as you lunge toward the next braking point. Strong lift-throttle regen starts the slowing process as soon as you back off the accelerator, and by the time you transfer your foot to the brakes (which can stop from 70 mph on their own in 154 feet), it becomes a matter of adding pedal to balance the car. The result is a very fluid and engaging way to hustle the M50 through bends with nary a whiff of understeer. Its 0.97 g of lateral grip exceeds that of the M340i by 0.1 g, but it can’t quite match the M3 Competition’s 1.03 g’s on account of all that extra weight.
Through it all, the one thing that holds the M50 back from greatness is the somewhat antiseptic feel of its steering. Response is accurate as all get-out, and the steering-wheel rim itself feels satisfyingly chunky and tactile, but there isn’t enough road feel to help you subconsciously judge the proper amount of lock to dial in when you tackle a given corner. Also, the Sport mode you’ll want to be in at this point comes with a spacey Tron-esque interior soundscape that’s as dorky as you’re probably imagining. Sorry, Hans Zimmer. It’s just not the same as the growl of a V-8 or the song of a turbocharged six.
Back in town, the M50 morphs into a highly agreeable daily driver, thanks in part to expertly tuned adaptive dampers that take a credible step toward smoothness when you set them in Comfort mode. The expanse of the optional curved screens and head-up display does a great job of rendering instrumentation and your connected smartphone’s Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, and the iDrive controller and its menus seem to have come into their own.
When all was said and done, our nearly 500 miles of aggressive mountain, noncombative suburban, and typical freeway driving amounted to 83 MPGe combined, which compares favorably to the 80 MPGe found on our aggressively optioned M50’s window sticker. Still, this level of consumption isn’t anything to write home about, and the i4’s speedy 200-kW DC fast-charge rate, while decent, looks middling next to the capabilities of the Hyundai Ioniq 5 and the Kia EV6.
Perhaps the best part of all of this is the price, which is something we don’t often say when talking about EVs. While our fully optioned test sample came in at $76,670 (before any tax credits), it’s hard to ignore how the i4 M50’s base price of $66,895 comes in $7100 lower than an M3 Competition. Sure, a base Tesla Model 3 Performance is some $6455 cheaper than the M50, but that $7500 tax credit is no longer available to buyers of the Model 3.
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