A press release that crossed our desk earlier this year from a U.K. company called Scrap Car Comparison that conducted a psychological study of 2,000 motorists and found that both BMW owners and electric-car drivers had the highest likelihoods of displaying psychopathic tendencies among all vehicle brands and types.
By that yardstick, the new-for-2022 full-electric BMW i4, especially in its red-hot M50 trim, is double indemnity. Perhaps those interested in owning one should get an expert’s clearance before taking the wheel, considering how—pardon the expression—insanely good the i4 M50 we recently tested is in virtually every respect.
Subsequent arguments aside, we’d consider it to be the high-tech zero-emissions successor to the iconic internal combustion M3 as the reigning performance champ among sports sedans.
For starters, the i4 (along with the x4 crossover SUV) takes over the spot in the automaker’s line that was occupied by the quirky i3 that led the brand’s electric charge from 2013 to 2021. However, it’s far less eccentric looking, being based on BMW’s compact 4 Series four-door Gran Coupe. It retains that model’s sleek exterior profile that’s accentuated (for better or worse) by a large and toothy front grille that is otherwise unnecessary in an electric-powered vehicle. An available Shadowline Package adds gloss black exterior accents.
The i4’s elegant cabin follows the “less is more” approach to design, with clean lines, top-quality materials, and a pair of widescreen displays that are conjoined to create one large and sweeping panel. There are a couple of analog controls for audio volume and climate control, though most commands are instituted through the latest version of BMW’s iDrive system or the myriad redundant controls on the steering wheel. While the system can be updated over the air, it requires a steep learning curve to master, though commands can be entered by touch, gesture, or a rotary controller on the center console.
The front seats are especially comfortable and are supportive without being too snug on the tush for full-figured motorists. Back seat room, as is typically the case among compacts of any kind, is tight, with the electric i4 affording less cargo space in the trunk than the gas-fueled 4 Series models. Unlike many other electric cars, however, the i4 does not come with a second cargo hold up front where the gas engine would otherwise be housed. Faux leather upholstery and power front seats are standard, with bona fide leather, heated and ventilated front seats, and a heated steering wheel optional.
As attractive as the i4 may be, its electric propulsion system is the real star. The standard eDrive40 packs a single electric motor array that generates 335 horsepower, while the M50 we drove adds a second motor for all-wheel drive and to bring the output up to a galloping 536 horses. Being an electric vehicle, the i4 puts 100 percent of that power to the pavement instantaneously and continuously via a single-gear transmission for rocket-like thrust. While the car is otherwise isolated from road and tire noise, acceleration is accompanied by a subtle electronic “whirrrr” for effect. Just tapping the accelerator shoots the car out of a proverbial cannon and pushes passengers deep into their seat cushions, which is something that never gets old.
BMW says the i4 M50 can make the sprint from 0-60 in a rapid 3.7 seconds (5.5 ticks for the eDrive40), and in truth it feels a lot quicker than that. For those keeping score, those 0-60 times are comparable to a Tesla Model 3 in its base and Performance trims.
The car’s 83.9-kWh lithium-ion battery pack is good for up to 301 miles of operating range on a charge in the base i4 and 270 miles in the M50 (depending on the ambient temperature and other factors), which should be more than enough for most owners. The i4’s battery pack can be fully replenished in around nine hours via a 240-volt Level 2 home charger, and can add around 100 miles of range per 10 minutes when tethered to a Level 3 DC fast charging. The base model is EPA-rated at the equivalent of 109 mpg (99 with 19-inch wheels), with the M50 at 96 mpg (80 with 20-inch wheels).
The BMW i4 is not only fast and frugal, it’s also nimble, while maintaining an appropriately smooth ride. Having its large battery pack situated underneath the vehicle helps achieve a low center of gravity, which aids its handling abilities. It onto sweeping highway on- and off-ramps tenaciously at speed and is fun to toss around through quick switchback curves.
The M50, ups the ante with an adaptive suspension that deftly balances ride and handling attributes whether it’s set in Eco, Comfort, or Sport driving modes. If the MINI Cooper is said to afford go-kart-like handling, the i4’s can more appropriately be described as bobsled-like, given the speed at which it can hold onto twisty roads. Some may find the steering to lack sufficient feedback to the driver through the steering wheel, and while that may have some merit, it’s also a complaint we’ve heard leveled at successive BMW vehicle generations since the advent of electric power steering.
As with other battery-powered cars and hybrids, the i4 features regenerative braking that recovers power that’s otherwise lost to deceleration and stopping to help maintain a charge. It’s especially grippy when the shift lever is set to “B mode” and affords true “one-pedal” driving that enables adept motorists to bring the vehicle to a complete stop at moderate speeds just by modulating the accelerator pedal. Driving with maximum regen activated can help extend the life of pads and other system components considerably.
The i4 comes standard with several key driver-assist safety features, but not as many as are included with some far less costly rides. A programmable head-up instrumentation display, adaptive cruise control with traffic jam assist, lane keeping, and reverse emergency braking are among its many options.
What’s it cost? The BMW i4 starts out at a hefty $55,400 for the eDrive40, which is around $10,000 more than the gas-fueled 430i Gran Coupe; it’s also $7,000 higher than a standard Tesla Model 3. The all-wheel drive i4 M50 we tested carried an MSRP of $65,900, which represents a similar markup over the 440i. However, unlike Teslas, the BMW remains eligible for the one-time $7,500 federal tax credit granted to most EV buyers, which tends to even the playing field with regard to cost.
A full slate of options, including four separate packages, wireless device charging, a premium Harmon Kardon audio system, and a head-up display brought the sticker price of our M50 tester up to $76,670, including the destination charge.
That’s certainly not cheap, but the i4 delivers a truly satisfying motoring experience, whether one prefers a more comfort- or performance-minded ride. As a bonus, like most EVs it can be cheaper to run and maintain than a comparable gas-powered ride, and produces zero tailpipe emissions in the bargain. Despite the odds otherwise, that helps make this BMW a singularly “sane” ride.