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The full-electric BMW i4 is essentially a 4 Series Gran Coupe four-door liftback sedan without a tailpipe. From the curbside, it is indistinguishable from its combustion-powered siblings. Unlike the iX, which screams "weird electric SUV!" with its avant garde design, the i4 flies under the radar. The 2023 BMW i4 M50 builds on this formula with a more powerful dual-motor electric powertrain and M Sport handling. The M50 may not quite be an electric M car, but with better whisper-silent performance, it's possibly the best Q car in BMW's lineup.
Up front, the i4 features a unique grille with the same self-healing tech found on the iX SUV. Small rock chips and scratches disappear from the glossy surface after a few warm days or a few minutes exposed to a hair dryer. Break out the measuring tape and you'll note that the i4 M50 is 0.2-inch taller than the M440i with a 0.1-inch wider front track -- barely any difference at all. That sounds simple enough, but is actually quite remarkable considering BMW has crammed an 83.9-kWh battery into the low-slung, coupe-like silhouette.
The battery lives under the i4's floor, which costs it a bit of cabin space but, again, not too much. The biggest changes are 0.4-inch less headroom (36.6 inches) and 0.7-inch less legroom (34.2 inches) on the second row and a cut to 10 cubic feet of trunk capacity (down from 16.6 cubes) due a loss of space under the load floor. Space above the floor is nearly identical and the i4 M50 retains its 40/20/40 split-folding rear seat, so most owners probably wouldn't notice when loading items into the power liftback.
The i4 even uses the same fuel door as the combustion-powered 4 Series -- look closely and you can even see the spot where the gas cap goes when filling -- but instead of a filler neck, there's a combined charging system port. Connected to an 11-kilowatt AC charger (Level 2), the 80.7-kWh of usable capacity (the rest is reserved) is restored in around 8.25 hours. At a 200-kW DC fast charger, the battery can be rapidly charged from 10 to 80% full optimally in around 31 minutes. That charge time syncs nicely with the two years of complimentary 30-min charging sessions with Electrify America that BMW includes for new i4 owners. Of course, there are faster-charging EVs around, but until 200-kW-plus stations are much more common, the BMW's quick enough.
Sadly, the i4 has no front trunk -- usually a nice bonus feature on purpose-built electric vehicles -- so you'll have to store the portable charging cable in the trunk. However, unlike BMW's iX SUV, the Gran Coupe's hood can be opened by the owner. Though, there's not much under there to see besides a gigantic plastic cover hiding the electric hardware and two filler caps for wiper fluid and coolant.
The M50 performance variant of the i4 comes standard with 19-inch double-spoke M wheels, but my example upgrades to 20-inch wheels with staggered high-performance Pirelli P Zero tires -- 255/35 R20 in the front with 285/30 R20 rears. This change affects the look of the sedan, its handling and, more importantly, the range. On the standard 19s, owners can expect up to 270 miles of range per charge. With the stickier, heavier 20-inch wheels and tires, that estimate drops to 227 miles. That's still a comfortable amount of range for commuting and a bit of B-road fun, but frequent road-trippers looking to roam further should consider the less powerful, 282- to 301-mile i4 eDrive40 configuration.
During my week of testing the i4 M50 on the 20-inch wheels, I never charged past 80%, recharged once well before empty to test charging speed, and spent most of my time in Sport mode. After around 175 miles traveled in total, the trip computer reported an average of 2.6 miles per kWh used, slightly better than the EPA's converted estimate of 2.4 miles per kWh.
The i4 M50 upgrades to a dual-motor xDrive electric all-wheel drive setup. Powering the front axle is a 190-kilowatt motor; the rear wheels share a 230-kW unit. Total output climbs to 536 hp, which is a fair bit more than the eDrive40's 335 hp. The four-door coupe will scramble from 0 to 60 mph in just 3.7 seconds with its Sport Boost mode taking full advantage of the 586 pound-feet of instantaneous torque.
Going from 0 to 60 in 3.7 seconds looks good on paper, but the way the i4 M50 effortlessly surges forward as you roll onto the accelerator has to be experienced to truly be appreciated. It's a totally different sort of thrill ride than even the M4 Competition xDrive Coupe's 3.4-second sprint. There's no drama, no wheelspin or even much sound at all, save for the whoosh of the wind and rumble of the tires -- only pure, eye-popping acceleration as the i4 M50 rockets forward like a bullet train.
Silent by default, the M50 features M-specific versions of BMW's Iconic Sounds -- generated sound played through the cabin speakers in concert with acceleration or deceleration. I'm usually not a fan of fake engine noise, but I found the M50's Sport sound theme to be a pleasant, surprisingly engaging rendition of a futuristic combustion engine. Designed by film composer Hans Zimmer and BMW Creative Sound Director Renzo Vitale, the system makes use of overlapping Shepard tones to create a sense of constantly rising urgency as the i4 builds speed.
In addition to customizing the sound, I was also able to tweak the performance of the i4 M50 via drive and regeneration modes. The EV features Eco Pro, Sport Boost, Comfort and Individual drive modes, which are toggled directly via a dedicated physical buttons. There are also multiple regeneration modes starting with the default Adaptive setting that uses the distance to the car ahead, navigation data and the battery's state of charge to determine how much regen to apply every time the throttle is lifted. This should net you the most efficient energy recapture, but I found it inconsistent and, at worst, difficult to predict, not to mention jerky. I prefer to choose one of the static regen modes: low, medium or high. Disable low-speed creep in a menu to enable one-pedal driving where the i4 can slow to a stop without touching the brake pedal -- my favorite EV braking method overall.
The i4 M50 also features standard M Sport physical brakes that work well in tandem with the regeneration system during dynamic driving and hard stops. The rest of the handling department is manned by the standard Adaptive M Suspension with electronically controlled dampers and variable sport steering. BMW's engineers have nailed the M50's driving dynamics. The EV is about 850 pounds heavier than the M440i xDrive, and that weight makes itself apparent on switchbacks and serpentine mountain roads. Still, the chassis still feels well-balanced; the new 48:52 front-to-rear weight distribution is actually reversed relative to the slightly nose-heavy M440i, which makes the steering feel lighter and more playful, while retaining a nice fingertip feel. (At least, it does in Sport mode; the Comfort steering setting feels a bit numb and overly light for my taste.)
The i4 uses, essentially, the same iDrive 8.0 software and hardware as the iX but tucks that tech into the 4 Series' more conventional cockpit. That seemingly small difference makes the i4 M50 much easier to live with than its more highly designed, minimalist sibling. For starters, the i4 features many more physical buttons and knobs on its dashboard and center console. The console itself sits closer to the dash and steering wheel for an easier reach when it's time to, say, pop into Sport mode, and there's less overall reliance on the touchscreen for simple tasks.
There are still big, bright screens to enjoy. The i4 features the same 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster and curved 14.9-inch central touch display powered by its user-customizable iDrive software. As with the iX, I'm not a fan of the icon-heavy main menu with its grid of well over 30 little icons that can be difficult to navigate, scroll and precisely poke while driving. Thankfully, the icons can be reorganized for faster navigation and there's also a shortcut menu that can be populated with your eight most commonly used functions, accessible at any time via a swipe from the top of the screen. Alternative control methods -- including BMW's physical iDrive control wheel on the center console, "Hey BMW" hot-word voice input and search and air gestures -- give the driver even more flexibility and freedom from reaching over to the screen. Take the time to set it up to your needs and iDrive 8.0 becomes fairly easy to navigate, but that first week's learning curve is a steep one.
One of iDrive 8.0's biggest advantages is its always-on BMW Connected services and telematics data connection. This enables features like using your phone as a key, remotely monitoring the EV while charging or sending destinations to the car before hitting the road, but these advanced remote features -- as well as a number of in-vehicle features like intelligent voice assistant commands -- require a BMW User account and an active data subscription.
Alternatively, users can take advantage of standard Android Auto and Apple CarPlay connectivity to power their maps and media with their phone. Both technologies support wired and wireless connectivity and feature the latest generations of their respective fast pairing tech for more seamless setup. Around the cabin, passengers will find three USB Type-C charging ports (two on the second row and one in the center console), a single USB Type-A data port for media playback or phone connections and an optional wireless phone charger at the base of the dashboard.
BMW's standard suite of driver aid technologies persists here, inherited from the gasoline 4 Series. There's standard adaptive cruise control, lane-departure warning, blind-spot monitoring and forward collision warning with automatic city speed braking. Also standard are a rear-view camera and automatic high beams. The electric i4 also adds low-speed pedestrian protection external sound generation to the 4 Series' bag of tricks.
My example upgrades with a $700 Parking Assistance Package that adds a surround view camera, front and rear parking distance sensors and Parking Assistant Plus hands-free parallel and perpendicular parking assistance. Additionally, the box was checked for the $1,700 Driving Assistance Professional Package, which upgrades to lane-keeping steering assistance, adds a number of evasive and cross-traffic steering aid technologies and includes Traffic Jam Steering Assistant. This feature enables hands-free steering in low-speed (below 40 mph) traffic. It's a neat party trick, but considering the restrictive speed limitation -- which leads to almost constantly handing control back and forth in all but the most gridlocked jams -- I don't think it's worth the cost of entry.
The 2023 BMW i4 M50 starts at $68,295 including the $995 destination charge. That's $11,400 more than the i4 eDrive40 which many of CNET Cars' staff think is the sweeter spot in the lineup, with better value, excellent performance and better range, but it's hard to argue with more power and speed -- i4 M50 is a hoot and a half, so go ahead and treat yourself. That said, the BMW is also one of the priciest models in a class that includes the Tesla Model 3 Performance starting around $64,190 and the $58,800 Polestar 2 with Performance Pack, but the slightly larger i4 somewhat justifies its higher price with a higher level of luxury, fit and finish. With options and close to fully loaded, my example arrived wearing an $84,370 price tag.
Unlike the iX, the BMW i4 is not a purpose-built EV, so I expected the i4 to be full of compromises that come with cramming a big battery into an ICE platform. On the road, I was pleasantly surprised by how seamlessly and naturally the 4 Series Gran Coupe has handled the transition to full-electric. The i4 M50 is now my favorite version of this 4 Series chassis and one of the most fun electric cars I've driven this year.