If electric motoring denotes pedestrian speeds, woolly dynamics and bland styling then BMW’s shiny new i4 aims to change that. Not only is this Grand Coupé the German brand’s first battery-powered sports car, it also marks the first time the revered ‘M’ badge has adorned an EV in its fifty-year history.
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SENSIBLE OR SACRILEGE?
There was a time when BMW’s ‘M’ cars barrelled down a country road or along a motorway with a V10, V8 or straight-six engine up top – but as readers of this piece will know, times and tastes are changing. The challenge boffins at M Division faced with the M50 – the car that sits above the ‘40 Sport’ and the ‘40 M Sport’ in the i4 line-up – was making sure it was worthy of the famous blue, purple and red M logo. The on-paper stats look very promising and are certainly a match for any ICE performance coupé such as the Audi RS5, or the Mercedes-AMG C63 S. Peak power from the 80.7kWh battery is 537bhp, 0-62mph is ticked off in 3.9 seconds and while not as high as its German counterparts, the top speed is not exactly slow at 139mph. And to make life that little bit easier, the M50 is an all-wheel-drive affair.
FOUR-WHEEL-DRIVE YOU SAY?
To arrive at such an eye-popping bhp figure – not to mention a ludicrous 586lb ft of torque – an e-motor rests on the front axle and a second, more potent, e-motor powers the rear wheels. In order to increase efficiency and range the M50 is rear-drive biased but once the onboard computer detects aggressive throttle inputs the front wheels join the action. The added assistance from the Pirelli rubber is welcome as acceleration is merciless – even in power-capped ‘Comfort’ mode. Select ‘Sport Boost’ and a seriously potent machine is immediately transformed into one that strikes you as being much, much faster than the manufacturer’s quoted power figure. The car does squirm a little on damp roads and extra care is called for once full-on rain arrives, but when the conditions are bone dry you feel the tyres pawing hard at the Tarmac as you’re vaulted, with unrelenting force, towards the horizon.
IT MONSTERS CORNERS
Straight-line performance is not in question and those concerned the heavy battery might dilute the M50’s dynamic qualities need not worry. From behind the wheel this is a properly sorted car. OK, the artificial Hans Zimmer soundtrack is tacky and means the child inside you who wants people to know just how special this car is never will as there’s no exhaust pipes and no joyous soundtrack. Aside from that, there is a lot to like. The way in which the car changes direction – helped along by the low centre of gravity because of the under-floor battery arrangement – is a point in case. The M50 is quick to respond to inputs as these are applied through a precise steering set-up that makes it simple to find your place on the road. A mechanical limited-slip differential isn’t included, so the brakes – which make slowing down easy, and can regenerate energy through the two e-motors at rates of up to 195kW – are used to marshal wheelspin. The calibration is not entirely fool proof but a patient approach allows for neater progress.
A RECIPE FOR SUCCESS
Drive modes can be called up via a trio of shortcut buttons on the lower console, where the rotary dial for scrolling through sub-menus is also found. Once you have made your selection it’s time delve into the new ‘iDrive 8’ infotainment system – a 14.9-inch centre screen that seamlessly merges with the 12.3-inch digital instrument panel. With a few haptic taps, you can tailor these modes to suit your preferences. ‘Comfort’ and ‘Sport’ are your go-to choices because these allow, amongst other things, the suspension’s active dampers to be stiffened or slackened. You won’t find anything ground-breaking here as rivals offer much the same thing but what does impress is how adept the M50’s chassis is at handling gnarly surfaces. Air suspension at the rear plays an integral role here to ensure the car is unruffled even on the optional 20-inch wheels fitted to our test car. Refinement is excellent, too. The e-motors are eerily quiet, wind noise is virtually non-existent and the same goes for tyre roar inside the car.
A BEAUTIFULLY APPOINTED CABIN
Speaking of the inside, the M50’s cabin is faultless in the ways that matter. Build quality is exceptional, the dash has an elegant design, and the attention to detail is a step on from the strengths of previous ‘M’ cars. The expansive, curved digital screen is a work of art if a tad menu heavy, and the level of detail on the chairs, with their blue stitching and blue, purple and red ribbing on the seat fronts, add to the sense of occasion. The same applies to the lacquered carbon fibre trim on the lower console that is repeated on the passenger side of the dash, not to mention the ambient lighting and lashings of silver. But spare a thought for those in the back if you must because not only is it tight, it’s also pretty gloomy.
PROS & CONS
+ Driving dynamics are on point
+ Official range is very impressive
+ Infotainment sets the benchmark
– The performance comes at a price
– You don’t get 537bhp all the time
– Rear is cramped and claustrophobic
CHARGING: A basic expectation of a Grand Coupé is to be able to travel long distances without any interruption and the i4 M50 looks to have that covered given its claimed 318-mile range. Connecting it up to a 210kW rapid charger should get you from 10% to 80% in half-an-hour, with 87-miles of range possible in 10 minutes. Resorting to a home charger requires eight hours to totally replenish the cells.
STYLING: The M50’s appearance is broadly similar to the regular 4 Series, except the car’s gloss black kidney grille is closed off and air curtains occupy the space at either side of the front bumper. Blue ‘M’ branded brake pads, subtle wheel arch extensions, a boot lid spoiler and rear bumper diffuser all mark this particular car out. 20-inch wheels cost £1,350 and carbon fibre body trim pieces add an extra £2,450.
INTERIOR: The curved screen is another perfect example of BMW pushing the technological boundaries with the M50. It has augmented reality sat-nav, 5G connectivity and the ability to feed into the car’s regenerative braking by pre-warning the system of junctions or steep descents. M Division sport seats, ambient lighting, automatic climate control and a reversing camera all come as standard on the M50.
PRACTICALITY: Knee knocking and shoulder rubbing is an inevitability with three adults seated across the rear bench; access to the back can prove tricky as well. At 470-litres, the M50’s boot gives up only 10-litres to the regular 4 Series despite the introduction of a rear-mounted e-motor. Lifting the boot floor, which isn’t height adjustable, reveals a compartment where the charge cables can be stowed.
Price: £76,600 (as tested)
Battery/motor: 80.7kWh/Two e-motors
Power/torque: 537bhp/586lb ft
Transmission: Single-speed automatic, four-wheel-drive
0-62mph: 3.9 seconds
Top speed: 140mph