The electric equivalent to the BMW 3 Series offers serious punch in M50 guise.

The BMW i4 was the third electric car launched globally by BMW during 2021, following on from the big iX3 and iX SUVs. However, the i4 could well be BMW’s most important EV to date, as it’s not only a zero-emissions alternative to the brand’s popular 3 Series sedan, but also a direct rival to the Polestar 2 and Tesla Model 3.

BMW based the i4 on the combustion-engined 4 Series Gran Coupe, so it has plenty of visual presence, but also blends in nicely with the rest of the line-up – unlike the BMW iX, which sticks out no matter what you park it next to. The otherwise-understated design is somewhat disrupted by enormous ‘kidney’ grilles, however.

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Both the eDrive40 and top-of-the-range M50 versions of the i4 use an 81kWh battery, which provides enough power for ranges of 520km and 465km respectively. You can recharge the i4 at up to 205kW…if you can find a fast enough rapid charger. If you do, topping up the 81kWh battery from 10-80 per cent will take around 30 minutes; you can add 164km of range to the eDrive40 in 10 minutes, or 140km to the M50 in the same time. More people are likely to charge at home, though, and the i4 is capable of AC charging at up to 11kW, which will replenish the battery in eight-and-a-half hours. Using a more common 7.4kW home wallbox, it’ll take around 13 hours to fully replenish the battery.

The i4 is driven by BMW’s fifth-generation eDrive electric motors, with the entry-level eDrive40 producing a healthy 250kW from its single rear-mounted motor. The all-wheel-drive M50 range-topper is the first electric M performance model, pumping out 400kW and 795Nm of torque courtesy of its dual-motor setup.

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The 0-100km/h sprint takes just 3.9 seconds in the M50, or a still-brisk 5.7 seconds in the eDrive40. Putting your foot down in the M50 in particular catapults you forward without hesitation. In fact, you’ll need to make sure you have a firm grip on the steering wheel when you deploy all 400kW, as it writhes in your hands, thanks in part to the 430Nm of torque being sent through the wheels.

In the wet, a good deal of patience with the throttle is required, as the potent powertrain can make the M50 a bit of a handful. The car uses its brakes to control wheelspin, but can become unsettled when coming out of tight corners searching for traction. Things are a bit more sedate in the eDrive40, but its 250kW is still more than enough for any everyday driving situation.

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Behind the wheel, a low driving position makes the i4 feel hunkered-down, while a low centre of gravity gives it an athletic feel, despite weighing over two tonnes. Both models change direction well and feature precise, confidence-inspiring steering. However, whether you’re in Comfort or Sport mode, the steering has a detached, synthetic feel to it; you need to concentrate to notice any feedback coming through.

When you’re not driving with such purpose, refinement in the i4 is excellent. Wind and tyre noise are kept at bay, making the electric sedan a pleasant cruiser. Performance remains strong at higher speeds, which is perfect for overtaking. Standard air suspension also means the i4 is unperturbed by harsher road surfaces, especially in Comfort mode. The mass is less tightly controlled in this case, however.

Near-flawless build quality and logical, driver-orientated layouts have been a hallmark of BMWs for many years and the i4 doesn’t deviate from that template. If you’re used to slotting into the driver’s seat of a BMW and it feeling ‘just right’ straight away, you shouldn’t be disappointed here.

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The layout of the i4’s cabin will be very familiar to any current 3 or 4 Series owner. Build quality is excellent, and the dashboard design is clean and minimalistic – dominated by a large curved display panel that features both a 12.3-inch driver’s screen and a 14.9-inch infotainment display.

The infotainment system doesn’t disappoint, with crisp graphics and a responsive user interface. You can tap the central touchscreen to navigate through menus and functions, but the i4 also features the familiar iDrive rotary dial. Whichever method you use, it can be difficult to navigate the array of icons and sub-menus on the screen while driving, however.

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The i4 is neither frustratingly impractical nor vastly spacious. Its five-door coupe body makes it more versatile than a regular four-door saloon, but its rakish roofline means boot space isn’t comparable to what you get in one of BMW’s Touring wagons.

While boot space is only slightly affected by the i4’s batteries and there’s a good amount of kneeroom for even taller passengers in the rear, the battery does eat into foot space for those in the back. Its presence creates quite a large central hump and a narrow middle seat in the rear, so the i4 isn’t great for carrying three passengers in the back. Two adults will sit happily there, though.

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In total, the i4 boasts a healthy 470 litres of boot space – which is only 10 down on the petrol-engined 4 Series Gran Coupe’s figure and better than the luggage capacity of key rivals the Tesla Model 3 and Polestar 2 – which combine the numbers for their front and rear load areas. The i4 has no under-bonnet storage, however: all you’ll find there is a large plastic panel covering a swathe of electrical components. The rear seats do fold down, though, creating a total capacity of 1290 litres.

The range-topping i40 M50 starts from $124,900 before on-road costs, which is $35k more than the Tesla Model 3 Performance it competes with, yet the Tesla undercuts the BMW’s 0-100km/h time by nearly a second and can cover more driving range on a charge. But it’s the superb cabin in the BMW, and the driving experience when you’re not just hurtling forward in a straight line should appeal to those shopping at the potent end of the EV market.

Overall, the i4’s superb refinement, build quality, excellent infotainment setup and rapid-charging capability, combined with a less hefty price tag and claimed range make the electric BMW sedan a compelling package that has the potential to tempt a good many people away from a Tesla or Polestar.


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About Author

Alex Rae

Alex Rae brings almost two decades’ experience, previously working at publications including Wheels, WhichCar, Drive/Fairfax,, AMC, Just Cars, and more.

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