First drive in the BMW i4 EV

BMW’s latest EV, the i4, will join the midsize segment in the form of a four-door gran coupé that will make its way to South Africa in the middle of the year.

The German car manufacturer says the i4 is the perfect quartet between driving dynamics, elegance, comfort and long-distance driving.

The Mail & Guardian was invited to Nice, France, to drive the i4, and i4 M50, which the company refers to as “the first purely electric performance car from BMW M”.

The i4 features BMW’s fifth generation eDrive technology with a new scalable architecture on its high voltage battery packs. It is now flatter with a higher energy density packed into the cells, thus reducing the number of components required. 

This makes it compact and flexible because of its modular design. In addition, it has a built-in heating and cooling system to optimise the battery ahead of fast charging. The system is now capable of up to 205kW of high-powered DC charging.

BMW AG 2022, For press and Social Media only

The i4 M50 all-wheel drive has a total output of 400kW and 795Nm of torque, is fitted with an 83.9kWh battery that has up to 521km of range (WLTP) and goes from 0-100km/h in 3.9 seconds, with a top speed of 225km/h. Claimed consumption is between 18 — 22.5kWh per 100km.

The i4 rear wheel drive has a total output of 250kW and 430Nm of torque, is fitted with the same 83.9kWh battery that has up to 590km of range (WLTP). It goes from 0-100km/h in 5.7 seconds, with a top speed of 190km/h. Claimed consumption is between 16.1 — 19.1kWh per 100km.

Standard features on the i4 M50 are adaptive M suspension, M sport brake, M aerodynamic package, M interior and M specific IconicSounds. 

BMW’s IconicSounds were created by Academy Award winner Hans Zimmer, to artificially generate sounds for the silent EV for different scenarios such as Start/Stop, Sport mode and to alert pedestrians when the vehicle is approaching at speeds of up to 20km/h.

BMW AG 2022, For press and Social Media only

The i4 runs on BMW’s operating system 8, introduced on the iX, and features a new curved display that combines a 14.9-inch driver control display with a 12.9-inch infotainment display. Although it could be seen as a huge distraction, BMW says the ergonomic display is angled towards the driver for a “dialogue-based interaction” using voice and touch.

The car’s OS is like a smartphone; the widget-based infotainment system lets the driver drag and drop shortcuts to personal preference. It also has a custom woke word for BMW’s Intelligent Personal Assistant, which is set to “Hey BMW” by default, although it kept triggering on the second leg of our drive without uttering a woke word.

It also supports free remote software upgrades and other improved functionality through the eSIM or the My BMW app. Previous factory fitted optional extras can also be purchased and downloaded from the BMW ConnectedDrive Store.

Android Auto and Apple CarPlay come standard but with deeper integration on the new iDrive system. The navigation on Apple CarPlay will now be shown on the driver control display, and not limited to the infotainment screen. If the vehicle has a Head-Up Display, it will also appear there.

BMW AG 2022, For press and Social Media only

Digital Key is now supported on Android, after debuting on the iPhone. It allows the driver to turn a smartphone into a car key with functions set to unlock, lock, and start the car. A digital master key needs to be created on the My BMW app.

As with the iX, the i4 has different driving modes that are clear to the driver based on the theme and colours displayed on the infotainment system. They are individual, set to the driver’s preference all round; sport, for dynamic driving and adjusted engine sounds; and efficient, for using the lowest possible energy consumption.

Driving around the south of France, we experienced heavy bumper-to-bumper traffic, long highway stretches and steep mountain passes, which allowed us to put all the driving modes to the test, including the new optional driver assistance features.

In what will eventually become a new normal, the car starts up in silence and lets you toggle between the modes at the touch of a button. It feels ergonomically designed and easy to navigate because of the large widgets on the display. I used the in-car navigation for the journey and made use of the digital cockpit, which displayed the directions, thereby not needing to interact with the infotainment display while driving.

BMW AG 2022, For press and Social Media only

I toggled between regular driving on D mode, and then one pedal driving on B mode, which has a high level of recuperation. If that setting feels a bit too aggressive, D mode allows you to choose a level of regenerative braking that is either high, medium, or low from the iDrive menu.

I put the new active cruise control to the test with automatic speed limit assist and route monitoring during peak morning traffic. The car used the speed it was set to and braked automatically several times based on the vehicles in front, without any intervention from me.

But there was a moment where I didn’t quite know if the vehicle would brake in time and so I reacted instinctively. In terms of the six levels of autonomous driving where level zero means there are no driver assistance systems, and level five where the vehicle needs no driver intervention, these functions are classified as level 2+ by BMW. South African legislation allows up to level 1.

After lunch, we got into the M50 with less than 60km of range left by the previous occupants, but fortunately it was a 35km drive to the nearest Ionity high-speed DC charger we were putting to the test. This called for efficient mode, which is ideal as the driver does not have to concentrate too hard on making the target with all systems operating at the lowest possible energy consumption by default.

BMW AG 2022, For press and Social Media only

To put the new 205kW charging speed capability to the test, the Ionity super-fast chargers based the speed on how empty the battery was and optimised it accordingly. Thus, we achieved higher speeds earlier on during the recharge, which dropped gradually as it picked up charge. A quick 20-minute stop to recharge provided us with over 300km of range, which was more than ideal for a less than 100km journey back to Nice.

In a local context, the i4 can be charged using an 11kW home wallbox charger within an hour and 36 minutes for a quick 100km of range. If a 50kW DC charger is used, it will take 21 minutes to gain 100km.

BMW South Africa has opened order books and is taking deposits for the i4, but pricing has not been confirmed. The i4 and i4 M50 will launch in the middle of the year, alongside the iX3, which shares the same fifth generation eDrive platform.Some features the M&G tested in France may not be available in South Africa for a while, but buying an EV right now remains a luxury. The jury is still out on whether South Africans will accept the i4 M50 as a vehicle worthy of the M badge.

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Nafisa Akabor
Nafisa Akabor

Nafisa Akabor is a freelance technology journalist.

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