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The BMW i4 eDrive40 delivered to my door by BMW looks almost indiscernible from a 4-series internal combustion engine vehicle. It even has what appear to be exhaust pipes out the back.
I imagine the pitch for this car in some Bavarian BMW corporate office was something like:
Look, Tesla is eating our lunch, let’s please just make an EV version of the 4 series to take on the Model 3. It will take almost no effort, we’ll just rip out the ICE components and throw in a battery and some electric motors. It will barely appear on the balance sheet. How bad could that be?
Yet somehow this is still a very compelling EV, and I’d argue a lot better than the 4-series it is masquerading as. It is even better than the Model 3 in a bunch of ways…
First the BMW i4 eDrive40 specs:
- Motor: 335-hp and 317 lb-ft of torque, rear wheel drive
(M50 version is AWD 536hp)
- Battery: 81 kWh
- Charging: 11 kW AC, 190kW CCS L3, 109 miles in 10 mins
- Range: 301 Miles but <240 shows up
- Weight: 4800lb
BMW’s Background in EVs
BMW debuted its “i” sub-brand in 2011 under “Project i,” and debuted the prototype and purpose built i3 the same year. It sold the BMW i3, built from the ground up as an EV, starting in 2013. It also launched the plug-in hybrid i8 super sports 2-seater soon after.
BMW periodically updated the i3 with a REX hybrid gas motor, more range, and more power, but it never really escaped compliance car status. It was wound down earlier this year as i4, iX, and i7 EV sales started. Note: BMW with its partners in China, sells a different i3 now that looks more like a 3-series sedan.
BMW i4 is a 4-series
The first thing I noticed when the car was dropped off was how much it looked like a standard 4-series BMW. It has the same beaver tooth grille in the front, the same huge bonnet, the same rear end, including what look like ducts for exhaust upon first glance.
Even the charge port is where the gas tank door is. It has a F#%$ driveshaft tunnel basically making the 5th seat legroom nonexistent. Uncanny.
As an EV purist, all of this is painful to look at. As a car enthusiast it doesn’t look bad, though I’m not in love with the gray color version I received.
Functionally, however, this is a problem. The 4-series needs a huge bonnet to house a big internal combustion engine. This particular i4 only has a rear electric motor, which is an order of magnitude smaller than an ICE and lives between the rear wheels.
So is this going to be the world’s largest frunk?
No, it is a poorly-packed set of electronics that span the front third of the car – lots of pavement visible as well. There’s even a big gaping hole that could have been a medium sized frunk. The perfect place to put some charge cables and secure storage for purses, backpacks, and valuables when parked in a questionable neighborhood.
That big waste of space in the front means that there’s less room in the cabin and the trunk than there could be. Compared to the Model 3 with a small bonnet – which is mostly frunk storage – this is a stark contrast.
This means the front seats are less roomy, and the rear seats are sized like a smaller class of car. Sitting in the back seat for me (5’11”) with reasonable legroom, my head touches the roof. I can slouch a little and be fine in an otherwise comfortable and well appointed rear seating area. However, someone taller than me might have some trepidation about sitting in the rear.
The aforementioned ghost driveshaft tunnel makes the rear legroom almost nonexistent for the 5th passenger and prevents laying big things flat on the floor, like a skateboard or a snowboard.
The rear space isn’t horrible and it feels deep, but since everything is pushed back by the front bonnet, it is slightly smaller than it could be.
BMW i4 is a BMW
While I was upset about the layout of the car, the quality of the vehicle and drive were phenomenal.
Coming from a set of Teslas that sound like I am slamming the silverware drawer every time I close the door, the i4 felt solid all around. The interior is very nice, and I love the widescreen CarPlay/Android Auto projection – particularly with maps. BMW calls this setup iDrive 8 – and it operates through a large, curved 14.9-inch touchscreen seamlessly integrated with a 12.3-inch digital instrument panel. Seats are comfortable and particularly the adjustable lateral snugness is something to behold. This is absolutely a driver’s car.
BMW’s ride is legendary, and the fact that they perfected it with combustion vehicles and now have a smoother, quieter, and faster drivetrain is almost unfair. Road noise is almost nonexistent. Turns are solid and… fun. The i4 is practically begging you to squeal the wheels. This car feels over-engineered in lots of ways, and the driver is baited to push the limits.
While the i4 is over 1000lbs heavier than the gas versions of this car, that weight is batteries and low to the ground so handling, I think, is improved. But it doesn’t feel nimble.
BMW i4 eDrive40 vs. Tesla Model 3
About the only two electric mid-sized premium sedans on the market are the Tesla Model 3 and the BMW i4. The i4 only comes in the “Gran Coupe” 4-door trim, vs the 4-series gas cars that also come in a 2-door coup and convertible configuration. A convertible EV might have been really cool here.
I just so happen to own an early 2018 RWD Tesla Model 3 as my daily driver for four years, so having another electric luxury/sport sedan to drive is a real eye opener.
One thing I found interesting in the i4 which is similar to my Tesla Model 3: The i4 doesn’t get anywhere near the stated range. In fact, the car only ever told me I had 230-240 miles, even though the stated range is over 300 miles. I wasn’t driving particularly crazily, though it was hot and I had the AC on quite high this week. To be fair, my Model 3 is the same way. It says I have 300 miles of range, but if I map to anything over 200 miles away, the computer tells me a need to make a supercharger stop. Realistically, I can usually go 250 miles if the weather is decent and I don’t drive crazy.
I didn’t take the i4 to a DC fast charger because others have and have gotten the almost 200kW of charging BMW says you can get. Perhaps more importantly, the charge curve allows drivers to over 100 miles in 10 minutes. Road tripping will be similar to a Model 3, as long as there are decent charging options along the way.
I’m obviously conflicted here. On the one hand, this is a glorified EV conversion of a 4 series. On the other hand, in many ways, it works! In my opinion, the i4 is a much better car overall than any 4 series. It is fast, handles like a true sports car, and is smooth and quiet. It has decent range and speedy charging.
If you are comparing a Model 3 to this, the Model 3 is going to be faster and a much better packaged vehicle, both smaller and with more passenger/people room. However, the Model 3 has tons of road noise, quality issues, and the suspension is lackluster comparatively. Also if you are an Android Auto/CarPlay fan, BMW has you covered.
So overall, I think I’d probably still take the Model 3, but for many, the BMW i4 eDrive40 will make a lot of sense.
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