The new i4 M50 electric Gran Coupe has arrived on local soil and it’s here to redefine what high-performance BMWs mean.
With its four doors, large boot, sub-4-second acceleration time, and starting price of R1,600,000 – the i4 is competing against nothing in particular in the electric vehicle (EV) segment, but also everything at the same time.
There are currently no EVs in the South African market that offers all that the i4 does in one package, a point made clear by BMW, which makes it a daunting newcomer in this category.
We put the i4 M50 to the test at the xDrive Park in Midrand earlier this month and it took mere seconds to realize that in qunintessential German fashion, this manufacturer wasn’t joking.
Its new electric super-coupe truly is one hell of a car.
Best of BMW
The i4 M50 is presented as an emissions-free alternative to the M440i xDrive Gran Coupe, it even shares the same body only with ground clearance coming in at a lower 125mm.
However, it’s not so much a rival to the 440i as it is to the halo M4 Competition Coupe.
The i4 produces much more power than this high-performance M car – 440kW/795Nm vs 375kW/650Nm – and matches its 0-100km/h time of 3.9 seconds, all while offering the ease-of-use that four doors bring.
It blends the best of BMW, which is driving dynamics and style, with the best of electric technologies, instant torque and breakneck acceleration.
This already makes for a driving sensation like few others, but where piloting the i4 goes from exciting to euphoric is when the IconicSounds audio starts pumping into the cabin.
The legendary composer Hans Zimmer, who worked with BMW to produce these sounds, has managed to create a mystifying melody that sounds violently beautiful growing louder and more immersive as the speedometer ticks on.
It provides a sensation comparable to that of sitting in a screaming V8, while on the outside it is completely noiseless except for the hum of tyres on tarmac.
Though IconicSounds is not so much mechanical in nature, also not clearly digitally made like in most other EVs, it’s something distinct and perfectly crafted for what it’s supposed to do – enhance the moment.
Few words were exchanged between myself and my co-driver in the super EV and the radio was turned off immediately so that we could be fully engulfed by Zimmer’s brilliance. About the only other time this has happened before was when I drove a supercharged Jaguar F-Pace SVR, inarguably one of the best-sounding cars in the world.
That was only the sounds, though, and the electric BMW has a lot more going for it.
It tips the scales at 2,215kg with no passengers inside, but it throws this around like a bodybuilding gymnast. It was not until a fellow member of the media made a vocal point about how light the i4 feels on its feet that I remembered this is an EV after all and there is a heavy battery bolted to its chassis.
Still, the i4’s driving characteristics are on par with the best of the best in the M stable and with scalpel-like precision, it cuts through corners and bends like it’s being chased. Although with a top speed of 225km/h that’s attainable rather quickly, there’s a slim chance anything else will catch up.
Case in point, this Gran Coupe currently holds the record for the fastest EV to conquer the Simola Hillclimb in Knysna after it bolted through the 1.9km route in a staggering 49.231 seconds at an average speed of 138.937km/h.
BMW said it has always been a leading automaker when it comes to driving dynamics and exterior styling, but that its cabins have now also caught up with the rest of the world.
As typical with the marque, the passenger cell is highly driver-centric and all the buttons and controls are right where you expect them to be, operating without a hitch.
BMW’s i-badged vehicles are endowed with “shy tech”, which is the company’s way of saying it has moved the bulk of the tactile buttons onto the control display and now only the most critical of in-cabin operations can be performed through the physical press of a switch.
The good news is that the latest iDrive 8 operating system which facilitates it all is expansive and intuitive, and the design of the user interface is dynamic and unique to the brand and fits well with the forward-looking spirit of these EVs.
Altogether these elements lend the cabin a more up-to-date look than that of older BMWs, while still making it lovely to be in and easy to use.
The stark differences between the new and old BMW became clear when I got into an iX3 after the i4, as the dual-screen setup and older software skin gave the iX3 a noticeably previous-generation aesthetic.
We didn’t get much time to play with the gadgets of the i4 in between launch controls – which are as easy as putting your foot on the brake, jamming the accelerator, and letting go of the brake – but alongside its premium price tag comes the most cutting-edge technologies at BMW’s disposal including over 40 driver assistance systems as standard, so chances are slim you’d be left wanting more.
The greener M4
The new i4 M50 is an M4 for buyers who still want premium features, mindblowing performance, hallucinogenic sounds, a lower price, and fewer trips to the filling station. And let’s face it, it’s not like an M4 Competition will give you much more than 500km of driving on one tank, either, but it will surely cost more to fill up.
As for the long road, BMW said its flagship iX SUV, which shares many mechanical similarities with the Gran Coupe including their Gen5 electric underpinnings, was recently the first EV to complete the trip from Cape Town to Johannesburg in under 20 hours.
As such, the i4 with its 510km range, or the iX with its 650km, may also deserve a spot on your shortlist if you want to start dabbling with battery-powered road trips.
The i4’s stunning looks, whiplash-inducing acceleration, and relatively competitive pricing makes it one car even the biggest of EV antagonists will struggle to dislike, and we are excited to see how it will be received by the South African people.