Tough as it might be to look at the BMW i4 Concept and not just focus on that prominent grille, I promise, there's a ton of important and very cool stuff to take in here. The boldly styled concept officially debuted on Monday during , and previews the all-electric i4 that'll go into production in 2021. But that's just the beginning.
In addition to the i4 itself, this concept previews the shape of the next 4 Series Gran Coupe; I'm told the two cars' silhouettes are practically identical. As for the electric i4, lead designer Kai Langer tells me this concept is "85% close" to what you'll see on the road in 2021.
I think the car looks best in profile view, though to be fair, this is also its least-controversial -- let's call it "safest" -- vantage point. I like the fast roofline and the cutout five-spoke wheels, and the long dash-to-axle ratio is a classically beautiful bit of rear-wheel-drive design. The concept uses camera side mirrors, which may or may not go into production. After all, while this tech is legal in some parts of the world, it's still not allowed on US roads.
Around back, despite the rakish roof, the i4 isn't a hatchback. There's a standard-sized trunk, flanked on either side by large taillights that are reminiscent of what you'll find on the new. Below the bumper, two huge diffusers give the appearance of what you might find on a gas-powered car, yet like the back page of a college entrance exam, this space is intentionally left blank.
"We found a way to reimagine things that people expect from a car being sporty," Langer says. "On normal cars, people expect a different amount of exhausts in the back, and we have to interpret that in a new way because we don't have exhausts and we don't need them." Langer also points out that, "from an aero point of view, from an efficiency point of view, this could be way better."
Finally, let's talk about that face. It's... something. Yeah, the huge grille makes the car look like a squinting chipmunk, and I really wish this wasn't the new face of BMW, but it isn't all bad. The slim headlights don't have clear lens covers, and I love the 3D shape. No, the i4 won't come to production like this, but hey, I can dream.
As for the schnoz, there's at least a bit of function to that, uh, form. BMW calls the black grille panels an "intelligent surface," as all of the car's radars and sensors are cleanly housed within these panels. A normal grille is necessary if you have an engine, to let cool air in, but here, Langer says, "it becomes a different kind of function."
Oh, there's one neat little detail on the i4's face you might not immediately notice: the badge. The i4 Concept gets a new version of the iconic BMW Roundel logo, with all of the black parts of the badge instead replaced by clear. BMW won't confirm if this detail will make its way to the production i4, though Langer tells me it's an interesting way BMW could differentiate its electric cars from their gas-powered counterparts.
Stepping inside, the i4's most promising bit of design is perhaps the cabin layout. The cockpit is super clean and neatly organized, with only a few key styling elements breaking up the various surfaces -- "less highlights, but very bold ones," Langer says. The gold finish is a way to bring the exterior color inside, and it's mimicked with a warm, yellow-ish ambient light set behind the huge, curved display.
This long, curved screen is "the logical next step" for infotainment and vehicle system displays, Langer says, "placing all the needs of driver and co-driver in one surface." Users can choose from three display settings -- sorry, "experience modes" -- which alter the colors and themes of the two screens, as well as the ambient lighting. "Core" is what you see in these photos, with the bronze accents and similarly colored lighting. "Sport" moves the display's widgets closer together and pulls up vehicle data graphics, as well as turning the interior red. "Efficient" gives you prominent access to the i4's charge level and range, and actually shows what the vehicle's sensors are seeing in the outside world. It's unclear exactly how much of this will make it to production, but the curved display itself is absolutely a safe bet.
The rest of the interior is made up of sustainable materials, with great fabrics on the seats and doors. Rear seat room seems appropriate for a car of this size, too.
As for what powers the i4, none of the data has changed from what. The i4 will ride on BMW's new modular platform that can support gasoline, hybrid and fully electric powertrains; it will be built in Munich on the same line where BMW will produce the standard 3 Series and 4 Series models.
At launch, the production i4 will have an 80-kilowatt-hour battery, making about 530 horsepower. Accelerating to 60 mph will take roughly four seconds, and the car's top speed will be about 125 mph. Oh, and it'll sound super cool, too, thanks to a unique EV driving soundtrack recorded by Grammy winner Hans Zimmer.
The i4 will use what BMW calls its "Generation 5" battery packs, which are stronger and better able to handle DC fast charging. On a 150-kW charger, the i4 should be able to hit an 80% state of charge in about 35 minutes, which isn't bad at all. As for the all-important range, BMW is still sticking to a 373-mile estimate for the 80-kW version, under the European WLTP testing cycle. Remember, the US EPA test is much more strict, so expect a final range number well below 373 miles.
All told, this is more than just a concept car. This is our best look yet at the production i4, the new 4 Series Gran Coupe and many of the new interior design elements that will be coming to BMW's next round of products. Yes, the grille is a bit off-putting. But the rest of the i4 looks really promising.
Originally published March 2.