BMW finds its mojo again with the $55,400 i4 electric sedan

Remember when the BMW 3 Series was the byword for a sporty-slash-luxurious sedan? With an image bolstered by halo cars like the M3, the small BMW four-door was the car to have, particularly if you enjoyed driving. But for the last few years, it has felt like BMW has been missing some of its mojo. The German company built up early expertise in electrification but failed to capitalize on it, ceding a lot of ground to Tesla’s Model 3 electric sedan as BMW instead built a bewildering array of crossovers with ever-larger kidney grilles.

BMW got a new CEO and an order to amp up the electrification effort in 2019, and now the results of that project are right around the corner. Obviously, a lot will depend on how the car drives, but BMW just brought one of its new electric i4s to Washington, DC, and after having a good poke around, I can say that Bavarian Motor Works has its groove back.

My thesis can be boiled down pretty simply: the car looks good, the specs look good, and the price looks good.

Many words have already been written about controversially styled BMWs, so I’ll keep it brief and simply note that today’s monstrosity is often tomorrow’s dearly loved classic. You get used to the massive grille pretty quickly when you see it in person. (Perhaps calling it a grille is a misnomer; it mostly serves to hide the forward-looking sensors required for the advanced driver assistance systems.)

Apart from the grille, the i4 eDrive 40 looks like a normal BMW 4 Series Gran Coupe, i.e., the five-door fastback.(Yes, I started off discussing the 3 Series, but BMW complicated things. After saying that the two-door 3 Series would henceforth be called the 4 Series, the company decided to release a five-door 4 Series, called the Gran Coupe.)

There are some electric vehicle-specific styling cues. The alloy wheels have as disc-like a surface as brake cooling will permit. The blue strake along each side is now characteristic of an electrically propelled BMW, and more blue accents on the rear bumper call out the fact that there are no exhaust pipes here. And the door handles—which otherwise work just like typical car door handles—are flush with the side, a clear indicator that minimizing drag was important. (The drag coefficient is a highly respectable 0.24 for those keeping score.)

The i4’s sense of normality continues when you open a door and see that the car has a normal interior with the usual controls for the infotainment and turn signals (which are installed as standard). There’s even a standard amount of room for the rear seat passengers.

The “it’s a normal BMW” theme continues when you consider the powertrain specs. For the i4 eDrive40, that means a single 335 hp (250 kW) electric motor driving the rear wheels, like many recent 3 and 4 Series cars. BMW’s middle name is “motor,” and the company is proud of its latest electric motor unit, which packages the control electronics and one-speed transmission in a compact module. Unlike many other EVs, it uses no permanent magnets—and therefore no rare earth elements.

Supply chain considerations extend to the battery pack; BMW sources the cobalt and lithium for its cell suppliers for peace of mind. It’s BMW’s fifth-generation battery, and the automaker says that energy density at the cell level is 40 percent greater than in the current i3. The pack consists of four modules of 72 cells and another three modules of 12 cells, for a total capacity of 83.9 kWh, of which 81.5 kWh is usable.

300 miles of range, sub-$56,000 price

That capacity should provide sufficient energy to travel 300 miles (482 km) before recharge, BMW estimates. (An official EPA range estimate will be calculated closer to the start of i4 deliveries in early 2022.) Recharging should take 31 minutes (to 80 percent state of charge) with a 200 kW DC fast charger; it will take eight hours to get to 100 percent SoC via a level 2 AC charger.

Which brings me to the final point in my argument—the price. At a starting price of $55,400 (before any federal or local tax incentives), the i4 eDrive 40 is about the same price as—or maybe a little cheaper than—a BMW M440i Gran Coupe, which should offer equivalent performance with a helping of climate guilt. The i4 is also not much more expensive than the current i3, despite offering far greater range and utility. And if 335 hp is too tame, there’s a $69,900 i4 M50, which adds a motor for the front axle, boosting output to 536 hp (400 kW)—well in excess of the brand-new M3 and M4.

BMW says it expects to start deliveries of the 2022 i4 in the first quarter of 2022.

Listing image by Jonathan Gitlin

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