BMW i4 hatchback review - electric cars can be fun
“BMW’s first all-electric compact executive model almost does it all and proves electric cars can indeed be fun to drive”
- Classy interior
- Great handling
- Impressive range
- No front boot
- Confusing infotainment
Verdict - is the BMW i4 a good car?
The BMW 4 Series is a brilliant handling car, so when the Munich-based brand fitted it with heavy batteries and electric motors, we were worried that it might lose much of its lustre. Thankfully, BMW has worked its magic to make the i4 one of the best electric cars to drive. With punchy performance, a strong electric range and a great interior, the BMW i4 is a car with very few compromises – if you don’t mind its rather controversial styling, that is. In short, the i4 is our Best Company Car for 2023 and is more than capable of fending off rivals from Tesla and Polestar.
BMW i4 models, specs and alternatives
The BMW i4 is a vital new model for the brand because it represents the first all-electric model intended to win over buyers of its core BMW 3 Series and BMW 4 Series models. Not only that but it also locks horns with the Tesla Model 3, Polestar 2 and the Hyundai Ioniq 6, while also giving BMW a headstart on Mercedes and Audi in the compact executive electric car class.
Similar in proportions to the BMW 4 Series Gran Coupe, the i4 gets four doors and a hatchback, but still looks low and sporty. In M Sport and M50 guise, it's also fairly muscular, with jutting bumpers, deep side skirts and a rear bumper diffuser in place of tailpipes.
At launch, buyers can choose from one of three powertrain setups. New for 2023, the entry-level i4 eDrive35 gets a 282bhp electric motor, rear-wheel-drive and a 67kWh (usable) battery for a range of up to 299 miles on a single charge. Next, the i4 eDrive40 gets a more powerful 335bhp motor, along with a larger 81kWh battery for a 367-mile range and a 0-62mph time of just 5.7 seconds.
Finally, the high-performance M50 is the first electric car from BMW’s M division and gets another electric motor for the front wheels, for a combined total of 537bhp. This reduces range to 316 miles but also cuts 0-62mph to 3.9 seconds.
Aside from the M50 which can almost be considered a separate model in and of itself, the eDrive35 and eDrive40 can be specified in either Sport or M Sport trim. As you’d expect from a premium German car starting from around £50,000, standard equipment is strong even for the base-level Sport. All cars get BMW’s iDrive 8 infotainment setup – we’ll explore this later – as well as LED headlights, Sensatec faux-leather upholstery, heated front seats, climate control and a reversing camera. M Sport adds a racier bodykit, leather upholstery, electrically adjusting and memory seats, privacy glass, wireless phone charging and a head-up display.
Safety is commendable, thanks to a wide range of standard and optional features that make the i4 safer and easier to drive. However, the BMW i4 just missed out on top marks in Euro NCAP testing, scoring a total of four out of a possible five stars.
One thing worth considering is price, as the BMW i4 is quite a bit more expensive than rivals. Top versions of the rival Polestar 2 can be had from under £50,000 – a price point that the BMW starts at – while the entry-level Tesla Model 3 starts from around £43,000. It’s up to you to decide whether the i4’s promise of a sporty drive and the BMW badge demands such a premium, though.
Range, charging & running costs
While electric cars now have more range than ever, range anxiety is still something that plagues the mind of many EV buyers. Thankfully, even the entry-level BMW i4 eDrive 35 offers enough range for most buyers as it’s able to travel up to 299 miles on a single charge, thanks to a 67kWh battery pack. Of course, this figure is highly dependent on spec – M Sport cars offer slightly less range (288 miles) due to bigger wheels and a more aggressive bodykit – as well as how you drive, as frequent hard acceleration and high motorway speeds will quickly take their toll on your level of charge.
If you plan on doing longer journeys frequently, we recommend stepping up to the eDrive40 with its larger 81kWh battery. Clearly designed to take on the Tesla Model 3 Long Range, this model can manage an impressive range of up to 367 miles – although this is still considerably less than what’s offered by the Tesla.
With an extra motor and a lot more power, the i4 M50 sees the official range drop to 316 miles, which is still an impressive figure. During our test drive of this model, we began with 90% charge, giving an indicated range of 232 miles. After 91 miles of mixed driving, the battery had already dropped to 44% with 112 miles remaining.
Find a powerful enough public rapid charger, and the i4’s battery can be replenished from 10-80% in around half an hour thanks to most versions having a DC charging speed of 205kW. That’s a little slower in the eDrive35 at 180kW, but the smaller battery means the same top-up will be delivered in roughly the same time. A home wallbox takes around 13 hours to charge the larger battery from empty to 100%. A home charging cable, public charging cable and BMW Charging Card for use on the public network are included with the car.
Every i4 will be exempt from VED (road tax) until 2025, which will be a significant cost saving, avoiding the surcharge usually levied against cars costing more than £40,000. Business drivers will form a big part of the i4's audience – as they have for the Model 3 – thanks to its minimal Benefit-in-Kind (BiK) tax liability. Insurance is expensive, however, particularly for the M50 with its searing performance. On a lighter note, i4 owners will also be able to drive into cities with low emissions zones without paying.
Electric motor, drive & performance
A lot is expected of the i4 because not only is it the manufacturer's most focused electric car to date but it's essentially a battery-powered version of its legendary 3 and 4 Series models. As a result, BMW clearly knew the car had to be good to drive.
Despite the car’s weight (over two tonnes), the weight distribution is 50:50 and the i4's battery has given it a very low centre of gravity. The axles have been widened compared with those of the 3 Series, too. The result is that the i4 instantly feels lighter than anticipated, staying flat in corners and feeling well-balanced.
The steering is a key ingredient, as it's both precise and natural enough to allow the driver to accurately place the car and build confidence in the i4. It isn't especially communicative, however, so it can be tricky to judge exactly how much grip the front tyres have.
The air suspension fitted in top models provides a smooth ride in its Comfort setting and refinement is excellent. Near-silent electric motors and an impressive lack of wind- and tyre noise make the i4 a very relaxing car, even at motorway speeds.
Sitting at the pinnacle of the i4 lineup, the M50 produces 537bhp, thanks to front and rear electric motors. It's enough thrust to get the i4 from 0-62mph in 3.9 seconds, and under full power the M50 hunkers down on its wheels and shoots forwards with startling pace. With no mechanical limited-slip differential and a 2.3-tonne bulk, the car can start to lose its composure if you accelerate too aggressively out of a slow corner, so it responds better to a more relaxed approach.
While the M50 will give a BMW M4 a run for its money, at least in a straight line, most buyers will be more than satisfied with the entry-level eDrive35 model. With a single motor and rear-wheel-drive, it has 282bhp and gets from 0-62mph in a not-insignificant six seconds. A more-powerful eDrive40 model is also offered with a bigger battery and a more powerful 335bhp motor, cutting the 0-62mph sprint down to just 5.7 seconds. Both feel more than rapid enough to suit most tastes, and even make the M50 seem a bit unnecessary.
Interior & comfort
The i4’s interior layout won't look too unfamiliar to BMW 3 Series and 4 Series owners, and it has the same excellent build quality, with brushed metal finishes, leather and even carbon fibre trim in one of our test cars. The big change is the infotainment setup, which features a sweeping display combining a 12.3-inch instrument panel and 14.9-inch media screen in a single curved panel, floating above the dash.
These are powered by the brand's iDrive 8 software, with tech including 5G connectivity, augmented reality sat-nav and an Intelligent Personal Assistant. The display itself offers sharp graphics and rich colours, plus the sheer processing power means it responds just as quickly as the latest smartphones. While drivers can configure the home screen to their liking via a variety of widgets, we found the array of sub-menus tricky to navigate while driving; a similar thing can be said for the climate controls, which occupy the bottom of the screen, rather than being operated via physical dials.
Practicality & boot space
The i4 is around the same size as the BMW 4 Series Gran Coupe but its all-electric nature does mean there are some differences inside. Front passengers can get nice and low, giving the car a sporty feel, but the floor-mounted battery means there isn't as much footwell space for rear passengers. Knee room still isn't too bad for taller passengers but they may find it a bit uncomfortable for long trips.
Boot capacity impresses, with 470 litres of volume that's just 10 litres down on the 4 Series Gran Coupe. The Polestar 2 has a smaller 405-litre boot but unlike the i4 it also has a 35-litre 'frunk' under the bonnet. Both the i4 and the Polestar 2 have a hatchback opening, making it easier to load bulky items than the saloon-style boot lid of the Tesla Model 3 or Hyundai Ioniq 6.
Reliability & safety
While BMW might not be such an obvious player in the electric car market, it has been building EVs and hybrid models for quite a number of years, including the BMW i3 which launched in 2013. The fact its eDrive electric technology is now its fifth generation should prove reassuring for buyers and we expect the car to prove extremely robust. BMW may even be hoping its EVs will give its reputation a boost, as it currently sits in a middling 16th place out of 29 manufacturers in our Driver Power owner satisfaction survey.
The i4 is available with around 40 driver assistance features to make it safer and easier to drive and park. It's fitted with a reversing camera and Parking Assistant as standard, while the optional Driving Assistant Professional adds adaptive cruise control that can stop and start the car in heavy traffic. It can also help steer the car in its lane, reduce the likelihood of side and rear collisions and help prevent accidental speeding. However, all of this technology and equipment wasn’t enough to earn the i4 top marks in tough Euro NCAP safety tests. The BMW was awarded four out of a possible five stars after missing out on some critical points in the crash avoidance categories.
Which Is Best?
- Name210kW eDrive35 Sport 70kWh 5dr Auto
- Gearbox typeAuto
- Name250kW eDrive40 Sport 83.9kWh 5dr Auto
- Gearbox typeAuto
- Name400kW M50 83.9kWh 5dr Auto
- Gearbox typeAuto