2022 BMW i4 M50 prototype first drive review: This EV can hustle
A brief drive through Malibu reveals a lot to like about BMW's range-topping i4 EV.
Steven EwingFormer managing editor
Steven Ewing spent his childhood reading car magazines, making his career as an automotive journalist an absolute dream job. After getting his foot in the door at Automobile while he was still a teenager, Ewing found homes on the mastheads at Winding Road magazine, Autoblog and Motor1.com before joining the CNET team in 2018. He has also served on the World Car Awards jury. Ewing grew up ingrained in the car culture of Detroit -- the Motor City -- before eventually moving to Los Angeles. In his free time, Ewing loves to cook, binge trash TV and play the drums.
When I published this story the first time around, there wasn't much I could say about how the BMW i4 drives. But now that BMW's officially pulled the wraps off its new EV, I can finally confirm: it's good. Like, really good. Whether cruising down the Pacific Coast Highway or slinking along the tight, twisty roads in the Santa Monica Mountains, the i4 delivers excellent power and poise. It's more entertaining than an M440i Coupe without the ultrastiff trade-offs of an M4 Competition. It's quick and balanced, and I'm super into it.
BMW will offer the single-motor, rear-wheel-drive i4 eDrive40 and the dual-motor, all-wheel-drive i4 M50 in the US, both of which use an 83.9-kilowatt-hour battery. The prototype tested here is the hotter M50, complete with 536 horsepower, 586 pound-feet of torque and a claimed 0-to-60-mph time of 3.9 seconds. Stomp the accelerator and you'll get the same kick-you-in-the-chest drama that makes high-power EV launches so thrilling, and the i4 comes standard with Launch Control, to make flooring it off the line a seamless procedure. Yes, a Tesla Model 3 is quicker, but BMW says the i4 can deliver repeat hard launches with no loss of performance -- something Elon Musk's EVs can't always do.
Compared with the standard i4 eDrive40, the M50 has an electronically adjustable adaptive suspension, larger antiroll bars, an additional strut tower brace and M Sport brakes. It has a quicker steering ratio, too: 14.1:1 compared with 15.5:1 in the eDrive40. I haven't been the biggest fan of BMW's steering in recent years, and the i4 reminds me a lot of the M3 sedan I tested earlier this year -- extremely quick to react and wonderfully weighted, yet still pretty numb. The i4's wheel feels heavier in action than what I remember from the Audi RS E-Tron GT, at least, but for now, the Porsche Taycan definitely takes the cake for EV steering feel. Even the Polestar 2 bests the BMW ever so slightly here.
The i4 is effectively an electric version of the upcoming 4 Series Gran Coupe, and I'm guessing it weighs somewhere just south of 5,000 pounds. (BMW didn't release an official weight spec.) That is to say, this isn't a small or light car, yet it has no problem going fast along tight mountain roads. The i4's EV architecture definitely helps, with a low center of gravity thanks to battery packs in the middle of the car's floor. A wide stance and summer rubber aid with grip, as well -- the prototype you see here wears staggered 255/35 front and 285/30 rear Pirelli P-Zero tires, wrapping 20-inch wheels.
All i4s have the same lift-related shock system that debuted in the new 3 Series sedan, which helps with body movement while cornering, especially over changing road surfaces. The M50 gets a stiffer tune, natch, but all i4s come standard with a rear air suspension with self-leveling tech. There's no sloppy understeer or oversteer while pushing hard in and out of corners, the i4's centralized mass keeping the chassis stable and planted in turns. I hesitate to call the i4 nimble, simply because of its noticeable heft, but this is a seriously agile machine. With a BMW engineer leading the way in an M2 Competition, my i4 had no trouble keeping up while negotiating tight hairpins on winding mountain roads.
Like all EVs, the i4 largely relies on regenerative braking to slow down, and the transition between this energy recuperation and the mechanical brakes is seamless. There's an adaptive regen system that uses navigation data and works with the driver-assistance systems to adjust the regenerative braking levels on the go. If you're using the full-speed adaptive cruise control, for example, the i4 will slow down with regen rather than with the mechanical brakes. Driver-selectable Low, Medium and High settings can also be dialed in, with that last one offering a true one-pedal experience.
Along with the iX SUV, the i4 will have one of BMW's first implementations of iDrive 8. This updated infotainment tech offers bolder graphics and a more intuitive menu structure, as well as improved natural-language voice controls, 5G connectivity, over-the-air updates and other features. I didn't get a chance to really dig in and play with this tech, but the few inputs I made during my drive were met with immediate response, and visually speaking, going from iDrive 7 to iDrive 8 is like trading out your old Dell laptop for a new MacBook Pro.
What's extra cool about iDrive 8 is that it's shown on two screens housed on one massive, curved display. There's a 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster directly in front of the driver and a 14.9-inch display to the right. The transition between the screens and negative space is seamless, for a really clean look. Expect this setup to make its way throughout the BMW range over the next few years.
The 4 in the i4's name is this EV's link to BMW's broader 4 Series range of cars. With its low-slung, four-door shape, it's no secret the i4 previews the general design direction of the upcoming 4 Series Gran Coupe, huge grille and all. The overall proportions are about the same as a 4 Series coupe, though the four-door i4 is a bit longer. And hey, since the rear uses a liftback design, it's easy to access the trunk and fold the rear seats flat to accommodate longer items.
Inside, the connection to the 4 Series will be apparent, with a familiar cabin layout. Sure, the i4 will have that massive iDrive display, but the center console, doors, steering wheel and vehicle controls will all mimic those of the gas-powered 4 Series range. Considering the M440i Coupe's interior is already pretty great, that bodes well for the i4.
Coming next year
When the i4 goes on sale in early 2022, it'll be priced from $56,395 for the eDrive40, including $995 for destination but excluding any federal or local tax rebates. The more powerful M50, meanwhile, will start at $66,895.
Obviously, the i4 will face some incredibly stiff competition when it launches, not only from the likes of Tesla, but from vehicles like the Hyundai Ioniq 5, Kia EV6 and Polestar 2. It stands to reason the i4 will also be a tough sell alongside the new BMW iX, what with its more attractive interior and US customers' insatiable appetites for all things SUV. Still, a brief drive in this i4 prototype reveals on-road manners Polestar and Tesla can't match, giving the BMW a real competitive edge for folks who prioritize driving enjoyment.
2022 BMW i4 eDrive40 and M50 bring electric power and new infotainment tech