BMW i4 eDrive M Sport: So good it should be their new staple product
I’ve driven an awful lot of electric cars in recent months, and they’ve all worked well. Some are more efficient than others, some better looking, many quite good fun, all expensive for what they are – and all, at least in use, are very green. They are basically excellent products, if you leave aside the money side of things. There’s only one, however, that feels “just right” as what you might call a driver’s car.
With the same weary sense of inevitability I feel on seeing Erling Haaland advance towards another team’s goal, I have to say it’s a BMW. The BMW i4, in fact, which is so good that it should turn out to be their new staple product, eclipsing the 3-series. In its way, something of a turning point. Why so?
First off, this feels just like a properly sorted BMW should feel, with the balance just right, fully at home on the road and with just the right kind of progressive power delivery. You don’t feel so much like you’re in charge of a washing machine on wheels, which is in fact rather how its BMW sibling, the iX3, feels. There’s a sense of fun and driver involvement that is extremely difficult to engineer, even with old-school internal combustion engine units, but it’s something that BMW have usually been very good at. With the i4 they have excelled themselves.
BMW i4 eDrive M Sport
Price: £63,975 (as tested, range starts at £49,995)
Propulsion: Single electric motor, powered by 80.7kWh battery
Power (hp): 335
Top speed (mph): 118
0-60 (seconds): 5.7
Economy (Wh/mile): 300
Range (miles): circa 290
CO2 emissions: 0
It’s quite an intangible feeling of everything being set up just right, but you know it when you experience it – the suspension set-up, the traditional rear drive, the weighted steering feel, the stability, the confidence it inspires. Even with 317lb-ft of torque, the i4 avoids that neck-breaking thump of power you often get with less sophisticated electric propulsion set-ups when you put your foot down. It’s all very civilised: man and machine in perfect harmony, as they used to say.
Aside from the Curse of the Were-Rabbit front grille, a stylistic falling common to all contemporary BMW’s, the i4 is a pleasing-looking creation, hovering somewhere between handsome and conventional. The finish is as good as you’d expect – which is to say, really quite flawless, to a degree that commands respect. My test car had fashionable solid-grey paintwork, but the little touches of chrome, piano black and M-Sport badging brightened it up a bit. The same goes for the interior, with its tasteful damask leather seats.
There’s the usual big touchscreens, but BMW have persevered with the i-drive controller – a big jam-jar-lid-shaped dial on the central console. It feels rather safer to use than slogging through menus on the move (which should frankly be illegal). The steering-wheel controls are most handy, and coupled with the head-up display, which gives a floating readout as if projected onto the road ahead, make the car about as safe in that respect as it can be.
Best of all, they’ve retained a proper knob for the radio. I expect that, in time, manufacturers such as BMW will offer, at extra cost naturally, an option whereby customers can choose to have their cars fitted with old-fashioned dials and buttons, doing away with the misguided craze for touchscreens for good. I look forward to that.
I thought the hatchback design was sensible, given that battery packs inevitably eat up some luggage and passenger space so you need to make the most versatile use of what’s left. Indeed, while the i4 feels like you’re magnificently in control in the front of the cabin, adults in the rear will find things a little cramped. Even BMW can’t let you have your cake and eat it, and those batteries do have to go somewhere.
I reckon the non-premium i4 I tried, with its rear-drive arrangement, is an even more “authentic” BMW than the four-wheel-drive M50 version they also offer, which has an absurd 536 horsepower that requires all-wheel drive and even more complex software to plant itself onto the tarmac with the assistance of all the available wheels. But it does sound fun.
More than most manufacturers, BMW are entering the electric age with some aplomb. Those who thought they’d “lost it” with the esoteric i8 electric supercar and the batty-looking but innovative little i3 have been confounded. That century and more they spent making petrol and diesel cars, and everything from Isetta bubble cars in the 1950s to their Minis and Rolls-Royce limousines today, hasn’t been wasted. Like the i4, that’s quite comforting.