The BMW i4 Is Nothing More than an Electric 4 Series

·4 min read
Photo credit: Mack Hogan
Photo credit: Mack Hogan

Two roads diverged in a wood and BMW took ’em both. One is the mission statement EV, a bespoke-platform one-off signaling a categoric shift in the brand’s direction. The other is business as usual, an established platform with an established design, electric propulsion its only distinguishing factor. The former is the BMW iX. This is the latter, the i4 M50.

There’s no mystery concerning which philosophy is generally the most compelling. EVs require compromises, extra financial outlay, and recalibrations to the owner’s thinking. Selling a gas car, but electric, fails to generate the excitement necessary to overcome those hurdles. Mach-Es and Taycans and Teslas and the iX throw out the script, and they’re better for it. This time, BMW argues, it’s different.

This is the first time, the engineers and product team are proud to point out, that an M badge is appearing on an electric vehicle. The “Ultimate Electric Driving Machine,” they say. Just don’t mistake it for a true M car. Those familiar with BMW nomenclature know that if a two-digit number comes after the M, it’s an in-between step. That places the i4 M50 alongside the M440i Gran Coupe, not the M4. Crucially, it also gives BMW wiggle room. Because despite the tricolor badging, the i4 is not designed to handle the racetrack. Bring up that point and everyone at BMW becomes more than willing to point out that the i4 M50 is not a real M car.

So be it, but it still goes like one. The M50 develops 536 horsepower. More staggering is the torque: 586 lb-ft. Stationary to 60 is a sub-four-second affair. Few gas cars can match its eagerness, the torque available from zero and stretching into triple-digit speeds on the autobahn. Traffic held the car back before the limiter could, but with an open road ahead it’s good for 139 mph. Spaceship noises direct from Hans Zimmer accompany the rush, a gimmick I had dismissed as absurd right up until I heard the light-speed woosh.

Photo credit: Mack Hogan
Photo credit: Mack Hogan

As a highway missile and a traffic-passing fiend, the i4 lives up to its badge. It carries the same composed urgency of an Alpina, the same endurance that made the BMW roundel a symbol of autobahn excellence. Turn on the adaptive cruise and recline into the hushed cabin and you’ll be good for 245 miles of EPA-estimated range, a number at once acceptable and mundane. $65,900 to start. All in line with what you’d expect, no more no less.

Photo credit: Mack Hogan
Photo credit: Mack Hogan

In many ways, that’s the story of the i4. As the iX tries to give you a future worth dreaming, the i4 packages the EV drivetrain into a familiar waking-life package. The interior, though now equipped with a new generation of iDrive, is familiar. There’s no exotic design flourish to draw your focus, no particularly daring material choice, just a design not far removed from any BMW of the current millennium. It’s user-friendly, safe, a nod to the current BMW customer. BMW's next-gen electric drivetrain takes up space under the floor and under the hood, lending no frunk or extra space but delivering a lower center of gravity than a standard gas car. Advancement, but well within the comfort zone.

Photo credit: Mack Hogan
Photo credit: Mack Hogan

Even the driving experience stays within that safe area. The electric drivetrain is of course new. But anyone who has driven a 3 or 4 Series will recognize the dynamics. Steering is precise, well weighted, and devoid of feel. The front end attacks corners with the same unbelievable bite as the new M3 and M4, with the xDrive shuffling power to provide smooth and stable power on corner exit. And despite that all-wheel-drive system, the i4 M50 is still decidedly rear-biased in feel and operation. Steering with the throttle is possible, but the immediacy of the powertrain makes driving smoothly without assists a learning experience.

Those who love the current generation of BMW performance products will find much of this familiar and charming. Frankly, we’re not those people. Despite their undeniable merits, cars like the current M3, M4, 3 Series, and M8 seem like technical masterpieces that do almost nothing to appeal emotionally. The i4 is more of the same. Once the novelty of the electric powertrain wears off, it brings less theater and tactile feedback to the driving experience than even the already sterile all-wheel-drive M4.

Photo credit: Mack Hogan
Photo credit: Mack Hogan

Where it shines is as a daily driver and highway cruiser. It’s a quiet, comfortable, tech-forward machine well suited to occasional back-road romps and two-lane passing maneuvers. A BMW 4 Series, but electric. BMW customers looking for something familiar that slots into their lives won’t be let down. But if you’ve got your eye on what’s next, what’s new, and what could be, you might be better served elsewhere.

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