It wears the illustrious ‘M’ badge, but does BMW’s first purely electrified performance car – the i4 M50 – live up to the motorsport brand?

Words: Shane O’ Donoghue Twitter: Shane_O_D

Many will assume that BMW designed the 4 Series Gran Coupé and then handed it over to its i department for electrification. However, the opposite is true. Only once the electric components were accommodated was the car’s shape signed off. Whats underneath the i4 M50 is substantially different, but the body is shared between the electric and combustion-engined models.

i4 m50

The design shares much with the 4 Series Coupé and Convertible, notably at the front. There, the controversial upright version of the kidney grille has been blanked off for the i4 and restyled, while the front bumper has very few air openings.

Unique flush door handles and an air breather detail aft of the front wheels that is integrated with the side sills differentiate the i4. At the rear, with no exhaust outlets, BMWs designers took the opportunity to restyle the bumper to further help with the airflow.

The design of the high-performance version is enhanced with more aggressive-looking bumpers, grey and gloss-black detailing and a neat little lip spoiler at the rear. Buyers in South Africa get 19-inch alloys as standard, with the option to upgrade to 20s, and, interestingly, the i4 doesnt get the little wheel arch extensions at the rear shown here unless you go for the bigger wheels. I wouldnt want the car without them.

i4 m50

A glance at the specs indicates that it will live up to such presence. Theres an electric motor on each axle, supplying up to 400 kW and 795 Nm of torque. Those are huge numbers. By way of reminder, the M3 Competitions engine produces 375 kW and 650 Nm. Sure, the i4 M50 weighs a lot more. Still, it should be no surprise that the 0-100km/h time is dispatched in an M3-equalling 3.9 seconds.

The all-wheel-drive traction of a motor on each axle is augmented by BMWs near-actuator wheel slip limitationfeature. At the same time, launch control shows off the advantage of maximum torque from a standstill. Its astoundingly quick in a straight line.

This is accompanied by a raucous digital sound inside the cabin that rises in intensity, in line with the acceleration. The sound profile changes with the driving modes, so its unobtrusive in the Comfort setting and arguably too loud in Sport mode. We found it entertaining to start with but quite annoying on a long journey. Theres much customisation in the system available, thankfully.

Despite the electric powertrain, the interior of the i4 is relatively conventional. It has the same seating layout as the rest of the 4 Series line-up and mostly the same centre console. Blue accents catch your eye, but the most significant difference is found on the dashboard, as the i4 gets the same curved glass display design that debuted on the iX model.

In front of the driver is a 12.3-inch screen for the instruments and a massive 14.9-inch touchscreen to the side. Thanks to anti-reflective glass, it looks good even in bright sunshine, and the graphics are crisp. Powering it all is BMW Operating System 8.

Though the front doors are shorter than in the 4 Series Coupé, the cabin feels the same. Those taller in stature may find the rear door openings a little tight for comfort, but once in, theres sufficient space in the outer two seats for adults. There are three seatbelts, but the raised centre seat is clearly for only occasional use. The seatbacks split and fold to create a long, flat floor if the standard 470 litres of boot space isnt enough.

Press the blue button to start it up, and youre greeted with a unique electronic sound to tell you the car is ready to go. The drive selector appears normal, though it has a new ‘B’ option, which allows the driver to enhance the regenerative braking effect, meaning you barely need to touch the brake pedal in heavy traffic.

“The M50 is a serious performance car, regardless of what powers it”

The i4 has an integrated braking system designed to offer a consistent brake pedal feel, whether the deceleration is induced by regenerative braking or the hydraulic circuit. It works well enough. The braking power is strong, and we didnt really notice that the pedal felt any different than in any other BMW.

Likewise with the steering. The M50 gets a variable ratio system, which helps with manoeuvrability at low speeds and through tight corners while preventing any nervousness at a faster pace. Its well-weighted, helping to disguise the cars mass when entering a bend, but not at the expense of some feedback. A low centre of gravity helps offset the disadvantage of the extra weight through a sequence of quick direction changes, where the i4 really flows.

This model comes with adaptive damping, too, and even on the 20-inch rims and in its sportiest setting, it never felt too firm or rigid for road use. Likewise, while incredibly fast and accomplished through the corners, the i4 M50 never feels as edgy or challenging as an M3 can. Its more polished than that, making swift progress without fuss. That doesnt mean its no fun, but we cant see many owners taking this car on track, for example. Despite the looks and M badge, this car would make a great daily driver. Its smooth and quiet and comfortable when you want it to be.

i4 m50

The usable energy capacity of the battery pack is quoted as 80.7 kWh, while the range possible on a charge is up to 510 km, depending on specification. Naturally, that will also depend on how and where you drive it.

Electric cars make the most sense if you can charge them up at home overnight, but if you do have to use the public charging network in the i4 M50, it can do so at up to 205 kW at a suitable rapid charger, which means a 10-80 per cent charge in approximately 31 minutes.

i4 M50

In terms of pricing, the i4 M50 isnt cheap. Pricing starts at R1 600 000. That makes it more expensive than any other 4 Series Gran Coupé, but then again, theres no doubting its position in the line-up. It surpasses the M440i xDrive in terms of performance.

If you want an electric BMW, theres no doubt that the i4 will make the transition from petrol power an easy one. Its a polished creation that looks, feels and drives as a BMW should. The M50 is a serious performance car, regardless of what powers it, if not quite the full-on M car the badge might suggest it is.

i4 m50

KEY FIGURES

  • Price: R1 600 000
  • Battery capacity: 80.7 kWh
  • Engine: twin electric motors
  • Transmission: 1-spd AT
  • Driven wheels: 4
  • Power: 400 kW
  • Torque: 795 Nm
  • 0-100 km/h: 3.9 seconds
  • Top speed: 225 km/h
  • Power consumption: 22.5 kWh/100 km
  • Range: 510 km
  • CO2: 0 g/km