Since I’m contributing to BMWBLOG, and maybe you’ve read some of my submissions before, you probably could’ve guessed that I’m a huge BMW enthusiast. You might not have known that I also work at a BMW store. Because of these two traits, I often find myself amidst an internal debate regarding the direction of the company.
When the i4 and iX were announced, I was begrudgingly accepting. After hearing of BMW’s product roadmap for the next decade or so, I was having a bit of an identity crisis. How could the manufacturer that gave us the symphonic S85 V10, or timeless coupes like the E46 M3, abandon that to chase the electrification of its entire fleet? A couple of grill-refreshes later, and I was convinced the company I loved so much was gone for good.
BMW i4 and iX
Then, some of my lucky colleagues started getting seat time in the i4 and iX. Time after time, the praise ranged from “pretty good” to “literally the most amazing car I’ve ever driven”. There was bias in some of these impressions, but no one really had anything bad to say about the car. I began to get slightly optimistic.
But it was only when I finally received notification that our “display model” i4 was enroute to our store that I started to really get excited. I realized these first forays into the electric car world are incredibly important for BMW and will likely dictate the next 10-15 years of product planning. I reminded myself of my uncertainty about the newest M3 and M4 – and how after driving them, realizing that despite their looks they were fiercely capable cars that still communicated BMW DNA.
Our San Remo Green over Cognac SensaTec BMW i4 eDrive40 arrived, and early one morning, I took it for a nice drive. My first impression of the car was good – the car looks great, just like the 4 Series Gran Coupe its based on. The interior was astonishingly “normal” feeling. If you’ve been in a BMW made in the last three or four years, you’ll feel right at home in the cabin of the i4. The iDrive 8 screen is the most noticeable difference, and it’s a vast improvement over iDrive 7. Aside from that, the layout and switchgear are mostly identical to any other BMW on the market.
Lots of new tech
I started out driving the car in its default settings. The brake regeneration was set to “Adaptive” and was very intuitive – not aggressive, but you could feel it doing its thing in heavy traffic. The idea behind the “Adaptive” mode is to use data from the car’s surroundings and provide appropriate levels of regeneration.
On the open road, the car will coast like a normal ICE vehicle, whereas in heavy traffic regeneration will be more noticeable as it accounts for the cars in front of it. Pushing the shifter the left – as you would if you were changing the transmission to Sport shifting mode in an ICE car – will put the car in “B” mode.
I presume this stands for “Braking”, as it cranks the brake regen to the most aggressive setting and allows for true “one pedal driving”. Having driven the i3 and some other electric cars, I wasn’t bothered by the aggressive regen, but did put the car back into Adaptive for the rest of the drive.
iDrive 8 is more of an evolution over iDrive 7 than a revolution; the menus are largely similar and voice commands still work the same way. The iDrive controller retains all its previous functionality, but you probably won’t use it much because iDrive 8 is drastically more responsive. It’s lightning quick, and is still the best in the business as far as I’m concerned.
In terms of learning curve, I would say it’s much easier to get used to than the jump from iDrive 6 to iDrive 7. I’m annoyed by climate controls being only accessible in the screen, and I think it could’ve been implemented better. It’s a little confusing and I still don’t see any advantage over traditional buttons for this use, but it is what it is. The good thing is that adjusting temperature – arguably the most important part – is extremely straightforward as it can be done from the main menu.
Now, on to actually driving the car. Just like the interior, the most immediately striking thing about the i4 is how “normal” it drives. If you haven’t driven an electric vehicle before, the typical electric vehicle things will surprise you – lack of ignition and engine noise and immediate power on tap being the most immediately obvious.
Power, by the way, is immediate, plentiful, and almost certainly underrated from the factory. BMW claims 335 horsepower and 317 pound-feet of torque, both of which feel about 30 or 40 shy of their true numbers. Of course, the fact that they’re available at every speed helps those numbers feel a lot more real, but the i4 eDrive40 felt every bit as quick as my 382 horsepower M340i xDrive daily driver. Which would be quite a feat, with less power (on paper) and about 600 extra pounds of weight.
A Heavy Electric Vehicle
Oh yeah, weight. The four-letter word when it comes to “performance” EVs. The BMW i4 eDrive40 is not exempt from this criticism; it feels heavy. Loading up the vehicle in turns leaves no confusion that the vehicle is not a sportscar. But it isn’t painfully obvious if you aren’t pushing the car’s limit, and the low center of gravity coupled with on-demand torque do a good enough job of masking the heft.
It should also be noted that our car was not equipped with any M Sport goodies and had 18” wheels with Bridgestone Turanzas. While not exactly the performance tires of my dreams, I can understand why this car would be equipped with them – they’re quiet and ride great, accentuating the daily-driver qualities the i4 does best. Those 18” wheels aren’t terrible looking, and perhaps most importantly, they also provide the best range.
290 miles of “real” range
Range is probably the biggest conversation starter with EV owners or prospective EV owners. And I’m happy to report that so far, no complaints. We charged our BMW i4 eDrive40 once to around 100% when it landed, and after some test drives of mixed driving styles and mostly city, we’re tracking about 290 miles.
The EPA estimate is 301, which seems a bit low considering our test drives have largely been very “spirited” and have been primarily conducted in medium-density traffic. I suspect we’ll be able to do considerably more than the EPA estimate if we were to loop the city at the speed limit, but we also have ideal temperatures. I’ll be monitoring the range closely going forward.
BMW has not lost their way
While far from perfect, the BMW i4 eDrive40 has proven to me that BMW has not lost their way. The steering isn’t very communicative, the car feels heavy, and I wish the gauges were a little more conventional. The lack of a “frunk” is irksome but understandable, and I still don’t get why physical climate control buttons needed to be deleted. But within the first few minutes of my first drive of this car, I couldn’t help myself. I smiled, and out loud, mused: “this really is the future”.
For better and for worse.