Electrek review: BMW i4 eDrive40 is a low-effort but still very enjoyable experience

The BMW i4 eDrive40 delivered to my door by BMW looks almost indistinguishable from a 4-series internal combustion engine vehicle. It even has what appear to be exhaust pipes in the rear.

I imagine the pitch for this car at a Bavarian BMW headquarters was something like:

Look, Tesla is eating our lunch, just making an EV version of the Series 4 to take on the Model 3. It will take almost no effort, we’ll just rip out the ICE components and add a battery and power to the motors. It will barely appear on the balance sheet. How bad could that be?

Still, somehow it’s still a very compelling EV, and I’d say much better than the Series 4 it masquerades as. It’s even better than the Model 3 in many ways…

First the specifications of the BMW i4 eDrive40:

  • Engine: 335 horsepower and 317 lb-ft of torque, rear-wheel drive
    (M50 version is AWD 536hp)
  • Battery: 81kWh
  • Charge: 11 kW AC, 190 kW CCS L3, 109 miles in 10 minutes
  • Range: 301 Miles but <240 appears
  • Weight: 4,800 lbs.

BMW’s experience in electric vehicles

BMW launched its “i” sub-brand in 2011 under “Project i”, and launched the prototype and purpose-built i3 the same year. It sold the BMW i3, built from the ground up as an electric vehicle, from 2013. It also launched the i8 super sport 2-seater plug-in hybrid soon after.

BMW periodically updated the i3 with a REX hybrid petrol engine, more range and more power, but it never really escaped compliant car status. It was phased out earlier this year when sales of the i4, iX and i7 electric vehicles began. Note: BMW, with its partners in China, is now selling a different i3 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 BMW 4 Series. It has the same beavertooth grille up front, the same huge hood, the same rear end, including what looks like exhaust ducts at first glance.

Fake exhaust pipes! Offensive?

Even the charging port is where the gas tank door is. It has an F#%$ driveshaft tunnel essentially making 5th-seat legroom non-existent. Odd.

As an EV purist, this is all painful to watch. As a car enthusiast, it doesn’t look bad, although I’m not in love with the gray color version I received.

Functionally, however, it’s a problem. The 4 Series needs a huge hood 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 biggest frunk in the world?

BMW i4 Frunk
then. a lot. wasted. space

No, it’s a poorly packaged set of electronics that spans the front third of the car – lots of curbs are visible too. There’s even a big gaping hole that could have been a medium sized frunk. The perfect place to put charging cables and secure storage for purses, backpacks and valuables when parked in a dodgy neighborhood.

This big waste of space up front means there’s less room in the cabin and trunk than there could be. Compared to the Model 3 with a small hood – which is mostly frunk storage – it’s a stark contrast.

This means that the front seats are less spacious and the rear seats are sized like a smaller car class. Sitting in the back seat for me (5’11”) with reasonable legroom, my head hits the roof. I can slouch a bit and be fine in a comfortable, well-appointed rear seating area. However, someone taller than me might have some trepidation about sitting in the back.

BMW i4 headroom
Rear headroom isn’t great

The aforementioned phantom driveshaft tunnel makes rear legroom almost non-existent for the 5th passenger and prevents laying large objects flat on the ground, such as a skateboard or snowboard.

The rear space isn’t horrible and it feels deep, but since everything is pushed back by the front hood, it’s slightly smaller than it might be.

BMW i4 is a BMW

While I was upset with the layout of the car, the quality of the vehicle and ride was phenomenal.

Coming from a set of Teslas that sound like I’m 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 big screen CarPlay/Android Auto projection, especially with the maps. BMW calls this setup iDrive 8 – and it works via a large 14.9-inch curved touchscreen seamlessly integrated into a 12.3-inch digital dashboard. The seats are comfortable and in particular the adjustable side comfort is something to behold. It is absolutely a driver’s car.

BMW’s ride is legendary, and the fact that they’ve perfected it with combustion vehicles and now have a smoother, quieter, faster drivetrain is almost unfair. Road noise is almost non-existent. The turns are solid and…fun. The i4 practically begs you to squeal the wheels. This car feels over-engineered in many ways, and the driver is incentivized to push the limits.

While the i4 weighs over 1000 pounds more than gas versions of this car, that weight is in the batteries and low to the ground, so handling I think is improved. But he doesn’t feel nimble.

BMW i4 eDrive40 vs. Tesla Model 3

The only two mid-size electric premium sedans on the market are the Tesla Model 3 and the BMW i4. The i4 is only available in the 4-door “Gran Coupe” version, compared to the 4-series petrol cars which are also available in 2-door coupe and convertible configurations. A convertible EV could have been really cool here.

BMWi4

I happen to own a Tesla Model 3 RWD in early 2018 as a daily driver for four years, so having another luxury/sport electric sedan to drive is a real eye-opener.

One thing I found interesting about the i4 which is similar to my Tesla Model 3: the i4 doesn’t come close to the stated range. In fact, the car never told me I had 230-240 miles, even though the stated range is over 300 miles. I wasn’t driving particularly wildly, even though it was hot and I had the air conditioning on quite high this week. To be fair, my model 3 is the same way. It says I have a range of 300 miles, but if I map something over 200 miles, the computer tells me to turn off the compressor. Realistically, I can usually do 250 miles if the weather is right and I’m not driving like crazy.

100% charge equals 229 miles?

I didn’t take the i4 on a DC fast charger because others have and have gotten the nearly 200kW of charging that BMW says you can get. Perhaps most importantly, the charging curve allows riders to travel over 100 miles in 10 minutes. The road trip will be similar to a Model 3, as long as there are decent charging options along the way.

Electrek’s Grasp

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’s fast, handles like a real sports car, and is smooth and quiet. It has decent battery life and fast charging.

If you compare a Model 3 to this, the Model 3 will 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 relatively lackluster. Plus, if you’re 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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