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Can this new mid-size EV still be a proper BMW to drive?
17in or 18in alloy wheels, Live Cockpit Plus, sport leather steering wheel, high-bloss black interior trim, black Alcantara/sensatec trim, reversing camera, Parking Assistant, automatic air conditioning, ambient lighting and LED lights front and back.
Sport, M Sport, M50
Launched late last year alongside the iX, where that Sports Activity Vehicle (SAV) courts controversy with its distinctive looks, the i4 is more conventional and is in the heartland of fleet, looking like an electric version of the 4 Series Gran Coupe.
The i4 follows BMW's latest big kidney grille look - and like the iX, they're almost sealed, because the air flow isn't needed with the electric motor. Elsewhere, there are unique bumpers, plus the tracks are wider (most obvious on the M-enhanced M50 range-topper). The batteries hidden in the floor equal a lower centre of gravity, although you can't tell from the outside.
Inside, the i4 is an attractive mix of new and nearly-new BMWs. The new being the large, curved display, that's made up of a 14.9in infotainment touchscreen and 12.3in driver display. And the nearly new being the lower half of the dash and the centre console. There are also BMWi blue highlights on the conventional gear shifter, start button and around the badging. Although the lack of physical buttons for the climate control is a backwards step in our opinion.
Like the 3 Series and 4 Series before it, space at the front is fine and the driving position is excellent. Legroom in the back of the i4 is more compromised, plus the curved roofline of the fastback shape eats into the available headroom. The i4's hatchback opens up to reveal a practically-shaped 470-litre boot.
It is available in 40 and M50 versions. The BMW i4 eDrive40 Sport and BMW i4 eDrive40 M Sport combine a 340hp electric motor with rear-wheel drive, giving a WLTP-calculated range of up to 365 miles.
The range-topping i4 M50 is also the performance model, developed by BMW M GmbH. It is equipped with electric motors at both the front and rear axle, with a combined maximum output of 544hp and M-specific chassis technology. Yet, despite the exceptional performance, it is still able to achieve up to 316 miles on the WLTP test cycle.
On top of the impressive performance and range of the i4, this BMW offers flexible charging options. Most notably, its Combined Charging Unit allows use of DC high-power charging stations with an output of up to 200kW. BMW is claiming 102 miles (i4 eDrive40) and 87 miles (i4 M50) of charge, being delivered in just ten minutes at chargers of this kind.
Early corporate demand for the i4 is surprisingly split fairly evenly between the two models. We drove the lighter, single motor 40 first. Performance is more than adequate and it still drives like an ICE-engined BMW, with responsive steering and engaging handling. It rides competently too - with almost none of the unsettling low speed ride issues that seems to bother other EVs. Even on 19in alloy wheels, the ride was comfortable in 'Comfort' mode and not too harsh in 'Sport'. The smartest feature in daily driving must be the regenerative braking, which is cleverly linked to the navigation and sensors used by the driver assistance systems, meaning the amount of recuperation is adapted to the road situation. It works really well on the road.
We also got to drive the i4 in full fat M50 form. Despite a massive hike in power, it's still as easy to drive and BMW-like as you'd want. Being a product breathed on by BMW M, you get bespoke adaptive M suspension with individually configured springs and dampers, specially designed anti-roll bars and an additional spring strut tower brace in the front end, along with variable sport steering and M Sport brakes. Surprisingly, despite this more overtly sporty set-up and 20in wheels, like the 40, the ride quality in 'Comfort' mode is impressively compliant. Sportily firm is the best description of the ride in the sportier modes, of which there are a few.
With more power than a petrol M4, the fully electric all-wheel drive system helps you get the incredible performance to the tarmac. You only get 476hp and 538lb ft of torque, unless you choose 'Sport Boost' mode, which is included on top of the expected Sports mode with the M50. Once you get used to the way the nose of the M50 lifts at the front momentarily when you stamp on the throttle in 'Sport Boost' mode, it's difficult for your brain to comprehend the levels of torque and performance you're experiencing. The only limits are your driving talent, your licence, and the traction control, which cuts the power perhaps too quickly in our opinion. Sadly, overall despite the power, the traction control and four-wheel drive leave you uninvolved in the driving experience - which is a shame.
Whichever i4 you choose, BMW has cleverly come up with the perfect car to move their traditional company car buyers into EVs. It should also be given serious consideration against the Tesla Model 3 and Polestar 2 too.