Goodwood Test: BMW i4 M50 2022 Review
Car companies seem to be adopting two different approaches to selling EVs to car buyers. The first is to go futuristic (or at least retro futuristic) to make sure that the car stands out amongst the traditional internal combustion engine (ICE) fare by looking Jetson-esque. The second is to normalise the EV experience, offering largely identical ICE and battery electric vehicles (BEV) side-by-side in the showroom.
BMW jumped in early with the former, creating the i3 and i8 that are beloved by their early adopter owners even if there are frustratingly few of them. Having learned some engineering (and perhaps marketing) lessons, BMW is now taking the other tack with the recent iX3 and new i4, which even becomes the first BEV to wear the sainted ‘M’ badge signifying Bavaria’s best. So, does it stack up?
- Hugely quick in a straight line
- Mostly maintains BMW’s fine driving characteristics
- Also acts as sensible family transport
We don't like
- Struggles with body control on tighter roads
- Enjoying the performance quickly eats up range
- Too heavy to be a true M car
Speaking of normalising the EV experience, the i4 in all its flavours shares the same CLAR platform which underpins the ICE 3 Series and 4 Series although the wheelbase has been stretched 5mm and the front and rear tracks are a smidge wider. So very little surprise then that the i4 is almost identical in appearance to the 4 Series Gran Coupe (we unfortunately don’t have the space here to explain BMW’s naming and product differentiation strategy).
Apart from the controversial treatment of the double kidney grille – which has grown on us with familiarity and is here replaced with textured plastic shielding – that is largely a good thing. The Gran Coupe is a handsome car with a sense of sleek length and disguises its hatchback as a booted saloon rear end. The battery pack bolted into the floor does make it a taller car than its ICE brethren, a fact somewhat disguised by the black lower cladding but obvious when you park them side-by-side. The car, sporting a brightly fetching Frozen Portimao satin blue paintjob certainly garnered a lot of positive attention even when parked up at our Classic Car Sunday Breakfast Club.
Performance and Handling
The i4 currently comes in three states of ‘tune’ with different motor configurations for rear or all-wheel drive but sharing the same 83.9kWh battery pack. The i4 M50 we are enjoying is currently top of the tree for both the i4 and BMW’s BEV range as whole, offering 544PS (400kW) and very nearly 800Nm (590lb ft) of torque split between both axles via a synchronous electric motor on each. Range is claimed at 266 miles (429km) in mixed driving but we experienced a significant drop while enjoying the M50’s performance. And there is plenty of that; even without the Sport Boost mode which puts full power and torque at your disposal for up to ten seconds, there is plenty enough to bounce your bonce off the headrest both from rest and in what used to be called the ‘in gear’ benchmarks of 30-50mph and 50-70mph.
That battery pack does add more than a tonne of weight however and, regardless of how well it helps torsional rigidity, a 2,215kg all up weight is going to tell on performance. The 0-62mph is quoted at 3.9 seconds, nearly a second off what some testers have managed to wring out of an M3 Competition Xdrive. Nevertheless, it is still plenty enough to have you arriving at a corner much quicker than expected where you will find that BMW has managed to replicate a decent pedal feel and fuss-free shedding of speed. The company also claims that its adaptive regenerative braking programme means that 90 per cent of the time slowing down won’t require the use of the brakes at all. It works well with none of the unexpected lurch that some systems inflict on passengers.
On larger, faster roads the i4 disguises its weight well, helped by well judged steering and plenty of grip from both front and rear axles, allowing the driver to set a smooth rhythm. Extra bracing underneath and the swapping of the rear steel springs for air bags helps keep the extra mass under control for the most part. As the roads get tighter, twistier and rougher, however, the tonnage starts to tell. As with most BEVs on steel rather than air springs, the extra mass can occasionally cause some unpleasant pitching post-corner or over broken surfaces. On the whole the i4 is not a million miles away from the benchmark Porsche Taycan.
As with the exterior, the interior of the i4 is heavy on the 4 Series Gran Coupe inspiration with the obvious exception of the instrument panel and centre screen. Where these were two separate items in the ICE car, these have been replaced with one XL touchscreen that sweeps across from in front of the driver to just shy of the front seat passenger. The portion visible through the steering wheel hosts the expected speed indicator on the left and mirrored on the right a power meter, both rendered digitally in a style reminiscent of a particularly upmarket X-Wing.
The rest is reassuringly and familiarly BMW from the excellent seats which avoid the undignified excessive bolstering of the M3 and M4 (although only offering driver lumbar adjustment as part of an option pack is a bit irksome) to the materials selection and how they have been fitted and finished. We did find the front footwells to be rather cramped however both due to the raised floor atop the battery pack and a particularly wide transmission tunnel, although who knows what it is transmitting. There is decent family room in the rear seats but headroom might be tight under the swooping roofline while the hatchback-accessed boot is cavernous. We do wish manufacturers would find somewhere to properly store charging cables other than cargo nets. As the i4 shares architecture with ICE models there is no frunk.
Technology and Features
Now in its eighth generation and with 20-odd years of development under its belt, BMW’s iDrive is undoubtedly one of the best Human Machine Interfaces (HMI) on the market. Paired with the large, clear and crisp screen makes for an intuitive experience, aided by sensible menu structures. We would still prefer physical controls for the HVAC system – diving into menus to switch on heated seats is annoying – and the return of the numbered shortcut buttons BMW used to favour but also accept that the plethora of options available, even just in choice of DAB stations available means that touchscreens are here to stay.
The i4 has all the expected options in terms of driver aids, including a stability control system that is integrated into the electric motors and can respond ten times quicker then one fitted to an ICE car. The battery pack is also 20 per cent denser than an i3’s and can charge at speeds of up to 205kW, the fastest for a BEV BMW so far. One potentially divisive addition is a soundtrack provided by Hans Zimmerman that can be accessed in the two sport modes. It isn’t quite as high-tech in its soundscape as that in the Porsche Taycan but we liked it and found it to be a useful way to gauge speed like a conventional engine note. It’s a shame it can’t be accessed in the lesser Comfort or Eco driving modes.
Let’s get this out of the way up front; the i40 M50 is not a full ‘M’ car as they are currently positioned and understood. At getting on for two and a half tonnes with passengers on board it never could be and it is perhaps unfair to try and bracket it with an M3 saloon. BMW themselves don’t produce an M4 Gran Coupe, saying the demand isn’t there, instead offering the M440i which is a much fairer benchmark for the M50. Regard it as a large and versatile upmarket family car with a surfeit of power and a reasonably useful range – a BEV M440i alternative essentially – and it makes a lot of sense. We can’t help wondering however whether a lower echelon i4 with rear-wheel-drive and a couple of hundred horsepower less might offer more.
This score is an average based on aggregated reviews from trusted and verified sources.
Two AC synchronous permanent magnet electric motors
794Nm (586lb ft)
Single-speed automatic, all-wheel-drive
Reviewed by Henry Biggs