BMW i4 M50 2022 walkaround review and reaction

In the bad old days of EVs — B.M., perhaps, for “Before Musk” — automakers’ plug-ins were cobbled together and compromised. Companies took existing ICE models, and stuffed them with bulky, primitive batteries wherever they could, including cargo areas. The result was compliance-car dreck like the Toyota RAV4 EV; or models like a Volkswagen e-Golf, a solid driver rendered moot by sub-100-mile driving range that got even worse on winter-jacket mornings. The 2022 BMW i4 is not that car, despite sharing the bones of a 4 Series Gran Coupe. From starship-baiting performance and fast-charging acumen to a competitive price, the i4 — like the equally magical Ford F-150 Lightning — upends old engineering assumptions. E.g., that an EV based on a modified ICE platform couldn’t be great, simply by dint of those shared genes. Or, that an EV built on a stand-alone electric architecture must be de facto superior, again by dint of that purportedly uncompromised approach. (See the Volkswagen ID.4, that generically styled dud of the ongoing electric revolution, for evidence to the contrary). Unlike some luxury competitors, BMW is hedging its bets. BMW’s optimistic forecast is that 50% of global sales can be EVs by 2030; especially if its future, EV-only “Neue Klasse” architecture takes off, beginning around 2025. In the mean time, BMW is utilizing a platform that can accommodate ICE or PHEV powertrains, a development that raised some industry eyebrows. BMW, which must sell cars in 140 countries — including markets that will surely be slower to transition to electricity — has refused to be boxed in and declare a date for swearing off fossil-fueled cars. “We’ve gotten some flak for not committing to that,” said BMW spokesman Tom Plucinsky. “We think, and we’ve said, that the market worldwide will eventually go electric, and Neue Klasse is the next step towards that. But in the shorter term, we need the flexibility.” There are certainly some pros of stand-alone electric architectures, including on the brilliant-driving BMW iX. BMW acknowledges the i4 pays some penalties for platform sharing, including a curb weight that sneaks over 5,000 pounds in i4 M50 guise (there’s also the eDrive40 entry model). But the i4/Gran Coupe’s “CLAR” architecture — its central floor now updated to house higher-density batteries — brings its own advantages. The idea traces to 2015 and the first CLAR-based model, the 7 Series: A versatile, mixed-materials approach (including carbon fiber) that could support ICE, PHEV or full EVs. Critically, all three can be built on a single assembly line, giving BMW instant flexibility as consumer tastes change, gas prices swing or regulatory winds blow. Customers clamoring for EVs? Crank ‘em up. ICE models holding their own? Ditto. “When you have a plant dedicated to a specific car, if it really catches on, you’re limited in how many you can produce,” Plucinksy says. “Or, you’re below factory capacity and not as efficient. “10 years is a very short time in automotive terms, with our seven-year product cycles. There are things you just can’t just turn around and change.” Makes sense, especially given the rampant unpredictability of our world in 2022. Another advantage: If an automaker can build every powertrain in a single factory, on a shared platform, it can spread costs and revenues around — helping to nurture or subsidize EVs as the growing baby of the family — without unduly starving the mature, revenue-generating side of the business. I’m a need-for-speed driver, so the i4 makes the choice easy for me. As with the Lightning, driving the i4 M50 elicited this reaction: Why would anyone want the gasoline version? Like a Lightning, Rivian or Lucid Air, the 536-horsepower i4 M50 rewires your brain for expectations of performance. Picture a 382-horsepower M440i Gran Coupe — already a potent sports sedan — only insanely faster, quieter and smoother. Picture the pace of a 503-hp M3 or M4 Competition (and faster for passing), but less flinty and hyperactive, for thousands of dollars less. All that comes in a familiar, fluid 4 Series GC shape, with a rich interior, just-right seats, new iDrive 8.0 infotainment (with dramatic Curved Screen displays and massive head-up display), and versatile hidden-hatchback layout. It’s so good that even the grille’s bloated kidneys — like a codpiece for some cheesy German metal band — elicit a “whaddaya gonna do?” shrug. The closed, plastic-shielded grille integrates a 10-position air flap to reduce drag. For more visit #bmw #bmwi4 #bmwi4m50

Video Transcript

GREG RASA: Hey there. It's Greg Rasa for Autoblog. I wanted to show you particularly the inside of this BMW i4 M50. But I want to show you a little bit of the outside first. This has got some nice anthracite colored bits of trim and 20 inch M wheels and, of course, that grille. I guess I'm kind of getting used to it after a week. But, man, it's really there. Hard to miss.

One thing I wanted to show you on the I4-- because it's an EV that's based on an internal combustion platform, it doesn't have a frunk. And it does have the largest plastic engine cover you'll ever see. Nothing to see here, folks.

OK. I wanted to move to the inside of this BMW I4 and give you a sense of the cabin and the technology. Moving left to right, I just want to say I really like how BMW handles lighting controls. I was in a tunnel the other day. And so many cars did not have their headlights on. I think that they twiddle away from the stem control auto setting and don't even realize it. So this is much more apparent.

What's not super apparent are the controls for the adaptive-- the driver assist systems. But you spend a little time with this, and you figure it out. It's not a super big problem. I'm not a real big fan of the BMW instrument cluster. That's a common opinion I think. I don't think the gauges are very readable. I mean, stylistically, I guess they're OK. But I'd just rather have regular gauges.

This is the version of it that puts the gauges the closest together. In other variations of this display, they spread out and there's more territory in the middle. But it gets to the point where a lot of that is hidden behind the steering wheel to me. So I really prefer it clustered a little more tightly. And I prefer having the electrical usage information in the middle screen.

We're parked right now. So it's telling me how many kilowatt hours per hour being consumed sitting here with the air conditioner on. When you're underway, this is showing you miles per kilowatt hour. And the performance yesterday was 3.0 miles per kilowatt hour. I took a drive 164 miles on the highway. I did about 70 miles an hour the whole way and had 33% battery remaining with 91 miles of range remaining.

So taken together, that's much better than the EPA rating of 227 miles for this car. It was beating that at 70 miles an hour. So I was very impressed. Put it on a trickle charger last night. Picked up 10% of battery charge. I think the car stopped charging in the middle of the night. And I'm not sure why that happened. The big draw in this car is the BMW curved display, which of course, is two displays cobbled together to look like a big one. And it's pretty dramatic. It's a good look.

This is the home display for the infotainment. You can also highlight any one thing. I really liked having the map as the full display. You could see for miles in any direction. And it's a good look. But the other stuff, you can adjust which widgets show up in the lineup based on a pretty long menu. And it's a menu that even includes a drive recorder. So that's kind of cool.

You can control this by touch screen. Or you can use the traditional BMW iDrive controller, which I think is the way to go when you're underway. Drive modes are conveniently located here. I was in a comfort mode all of yesterday. There's a lot of region in comfort mode. It's practically one-pedal driving. And whatever mode you're in if you, give it some gas, metaphorical gas, the car really responds. It's got 500-plus horsepower. And it shows.

The rest of the interior is a nice Harman Kardon sound system. And this color is called cognac leatherette. It's pretty nice. Black headliner. That is also nice. All in all, a pretty good look. If an EV can be a grand tourer, I think this is it. It was a nice car to take a road trip in. And it performed really well. BMW i4 M50.