The upcoming electric 2022 BMW i4 likely will have many asking: What exactly makes a BMW a BMW? With no internal-combustion engine under its hood, is the i4’s Bimmer-ness defined by its handling, its engineering, or perhaps its grille? To get a better grasp of that concept and to see some of what we can expect when the i4 goes on sale early 2022, BMW allowed us a brief drive in a final-development mule in the canyons around Malibu, California.
Although BMW wouldn’t confirm the particular specification of the prototype we drove, we’d guess it’s the more powerful of the two i4 variants, the M Performance i4 M50. We arrived at this conclusion because, unlike the standard eDrive40 version that will be rear-wheel drive only, we could feel the prototype’s additional front motor helping to pull us out of tight corners. The verve with which our test car accelerated also was more in line with the M50’s 536 horsepower and 586 pound-feet of torque output, rather than the eDrive40’s 335 horses and 317 pound-feet of torque. BMW quotes a believable zero-to-62-mph time of 3.9 seconds for the roughly 5000-pound M50 and 5.7 seconds for the eDrive40.
The numbers that might matter more to EV buyers are the estimated 300-mile range for the single-motor eDrive40 and 245 miles for the dual-motor M50 from the 81.5-kWh battery. BMW claims the 11.0-kW onboard charger can refill the battery from empty in eight hours when connected to a properly equipped wall charger. Find a fast-charge DC hookup and the lithium-ion pack will accept a 200-kW charge and will add a claimed 90 miles in 10 minutes.
Largely based on the 3- and 4-series, the i4’s 188.3-inch length is a few inches longer than a 3-series sedan and the 112.8-inch wheelbase is fractionally longer. BMW claims the M50’s center of gravity is 1.3 inches lower than the 3-series and 2.1 inches lower in the eDrive40, something we picked up on as we chased a BMW development engineer around undulating switchbacks. The i4 showed little body roll and a fair amount of compliance to the suspension’s motions in Normal and Comfort drive modes. In the more aggressive Sport and Sport+ settings, the heavy i4 danced with an agility similar to that of a 3-series. All i4s feature front coil springs and rear self-leveling air springs, with the M50 adding adaptive dampers. The electrically assisted steering is a bit quiet on feedback but always precise in its responses, regardless of the selected driving mode.
Like it or not, regenerative braking is becoming a defining feature for EVs. In the i4 prototype, the strength of its regen feels akin to the deceleration you get when you lift off the throttle in a conventional manual-transmission vehicle, which is to say it’s fairly strong but not quite a one-pedal-driving setup. BMW says you’ll be able to tune the amount of the regenerative braking to suit your tastes as well as turn the feature off entirely. Step on the i4’s left pedal and the brake-by-wire system transitions from regen to clamping the rotors at all four corners in an all but imperceptible manner. You really have to go out of your way to sense it.
Beyond its handling and performance, the i4’s quiet interior should bolster its potential as a soothing daily driver. That this quality was noticeable in a prototype is impressive, what with its camouflage wrapping producing an uptick in wind noise. Plus, there was an entire rack of test equipment in the expansive cargo area that made its own symphony of humming electronic sounds. In production trim, the i4 should be quite quiet indeed.
What little of the interior we could see beneath the camouflage draperies appeared upscale in terms of material and design. All should be familiar to existing BMW customers, nothing too out there in either form or material. A 12.3-inch instrument cluster displays the gauges and driver-pertinent information, while a 14.9-inch screen shows the infotainment controls. The glare-resistant screens are beautiful with crisp shapes and text and deep, saturated, and high-contrast color. Although I only had a double handful of minutes to tap through it, BMW’s latest user interface is simple, clear, and easy to use. Again, all should be either familiar or intuitive to those familiar with BMW’s non-electric cars.
There’s even a fair amount of rear-seat legroom and headroom in the i4, despite the fastback design. With the driver’s seat adjusted for my own 6-foot-2-inch frame, I was able to (barely) fit comfortably in the rear seat immediately behind. I wouldn’t want to take a road trip that way, but I’d gladly ride across town. Behind the rear seats (which can be laid down for even more cargo space) is the cargo area, which itself lies under a hatch-style rear liftgate, not unlike BMW’s GT vehicles. The result is a large and easy-to-access cargo area. Ah, the practical wonders of hatchbacks.
In all, the i4 seems to be exactly what it ought to be: a BMW that is electric. Unlike the i3, which wore its early adopter nerd pride on its bodywork, with the exception of its massive 4-series-style grille the conservatively styled i4 represents the arrival of the electric car at the mainstream of modern performance luxury. It shows us how far along the electric game has moved toward the mainstream now that brands such as BMW are taking it seriously. In that sense, the i4 just might, like the 3-series before it, become a benchmark for the electric sports-sedan segment. And what could be more BMW than that?
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