Months after revealing its first new electric vehicle in nearly a decade, the iX SUV, BMW is ready to pull back the curtain on its next EV. The i4 electric sedan is the automaker’s electrified 4 Series, with up to 300 miles of range and starting at $55,400 for the low-spec model.
The i4 is built on the fifth generation of BMW’s eDrive EV platform, which combines the electric motors, power electronics, charging system, and high-voltage battery. The scalable architecture can be adjusted to accommodate vehicles of different sizes and utility — meaning it’s built on the same platform as the iX.
Together, the two EVs represent the tip of the spear in BMW’s belated effort to recapture its early sales momentum. BMW fans were disappointed that the automaker never made successors for the i3 or the i8 in the years since those cars were released. But the company is iterating on the underlying electric technology. Now, that next-gen tech will not only power the iX and the i4 sedan but also the China-made iX3 (which is now officially not destined for the US).
The i4, which will arrive stateside in the first quarter of 2022, should be enough to make up for those lost years. BMW is making two variants: the i4 eDrive40 with 335 horsepower, 0–60mph in 5.7 seconds, rear-wheel drive, and an estimated range up to 300 miles; and the i4 M50 with 536 horsepower, 0–60mph in 3.9 seconds, all-wheel drive, and an estimated range up to 240 miles. BMW says both range estimates are based on the EPA’s standard of testing, not the European WLTP.
The battery in the i4 is made up of four modules with 72 cells each and three 12-cell modules. BMW says that together they provide a net energy content of 83.9kWh gross and 81.5kWh net. That’s more than the iX’s 74kWh power pack, which provides up to 273 miles of range. The i4’s battery has 40 percent more energy density than the latest version of the i3. The 398-volt battery pack is capable of 200kW charging capacity for high-power DC charging, which BMW says should take 31 minutes to get from 10 percent to 80 percent charged.
The i4 will likely compete with the Tesla Model S, Mercedes-Benz EQS, Porsche Taycan, and Audi A6. And starting at $55,400 for the low-spec model and $65,900 for the performance model, BMW’s electric sedan will likely make a strong case for itself. It may not travel as far as the relaunched Model S or long-range Lucid Air, nor will it have the massive infotainment screen of the EQS, but the i4 is also more affordably priced than most luxury EVs. And BMW is still eligible for the $7,500 federal tax credit, further bolstering its case.
BMW is hoping its claims on sustainability and transparency will also help sell the i4. The automaker aims to reduce its carbon footprint for the i4 to the “lowest levels possible” through sustainable sourcing of the raw materials that go in the battery and the ethical recycling of the battery at the end of its life span.
Driving the i4 is likely to be really, really fun, especially the M50 variant, which BMW notes will be the first purely electric performance model from its M GmbH motorsport subsidiary. Of course, the sedan will have the near-instant torque and the low center of gravity that is typical of electric vehicles. A launch control feature that optimizes acceleration will enable the i4 M50 to easily sprint from zero to 60 mph in a little less than four seconds.
BMW also claims an ultra-low drag coefficient of 0.24 for the i4 eDrive40 and 0.25 for the i4 M50 — which is only slightly more than the Mercedes EQS with its record low aerodynamics.
The i4 will get the same curved display as the iX SUV: a 12.3-inch information display and 14.9-inch control display are embedded in a frameless, single-piece glass surface angled toward the driver. Naturally it will run on iDrive, the software and infotainment platform that has served as the centerpiece of the automaker’s in-car experience for the last 20 years.
The brain of this car will also be a significant improvement over past models. The i4’s onboard computer will be able to process 20 to 30 times the data volume of previous models, or around double the amount of data that was previously possible. This will enable a greater fusion of the vehicle’s sensors, which will help enable higher levels of driver assist.
BMW has said that the eighth version of iDrive that will be in the i4 and iX represents a “major step” toward fully autonomous vehicles, able to support both Level 2 and Level 3 autonomous driving systems.
Advanced driver assistance systems, defined as Level 2 by the Society of Automotive Engineers, include lane keeping, blind-spot detection, automatic emergency braking, and adaptive cruise control. Most major automakers include some version of advanced driver assistance in their vehicles today. Level 3 refers to highly automated driving, also called conditional automation, where the driver still needs to be able to take over the vehicle upon request.
In 2019, when it unveiled the iNEXT concept, BMW hinted that the vehicle would be outfitted with Level 3 autonomous driving, which means the car would perform 100 percent of the driving tasks under certain conditions, but that drivers would need to standby to take control when needed. That feature is absent from the i4 and iX, which is probably a wise move, considering the legal and regulatory morass surrounding Level 3 driving. BMW has said it expects both electric vehicles to support Level 2 “hands-free” highway driving, similar to GM’s Super Cruise and Ford’s BlueCruise features.
The front end of the vehicle features a unique take on BMW’s traditional kidney grille, which is just ornamental as it is completely blocked off. An active air flap control at the bottom of the grille can be adjusted in ten stages, allowing cooling air to be supplied to the drive system, battery, brakes, and air conditioning system in precise quantities.
BMW has a raft of new EVs coming out in the next few years, with the goal of achieving 50 percent of sales by 2030. The company is developing an all-electric version of its 5 Series and 7 Series sedans as well as its entry-level X1 SUV. Earlier this year, the company revealed the production iX3, the all-electric version of its top-selling X3 SUV. But the iX3 won’t be available in the US, only in Europe and China. When it comes out next year, the iX3 will pack a 74kWh battery pack, which should power the vehicle for up to 273 miles.
That means almost all of the German luxury automaker’s most popular cars will soon have all-electric variants. A fully electric version of the 3 Series, BMW’s most popular car in the US, has already been spotted in testing camouflage.
Still, one has to wonder what took BMW so long to enter its challenger in the luxury EV space. The answer may be in the i4’s complete design. Other European automakers like Jaguar, Audi and Mercedes-Benz have tested the waters with more tentative EVs. The i4, on the other hand, is BMW going all-in.