2022 BMW i4 First Ride Review: A Fast EV That's Too Conventional

The new BMW i4 M50 is BMW's electric performance car. It's definitely a performer, though has also certainly leaned in a traditional direction.

BMW i4 M50
BMW

BMW’s slogan is “sheer driving pleasure.” It implies that if you’re buying a BMW, the car is meant to be something you want to drive, not just a runaround that does what you need it to. It’s about delivering the kind of driving experience you think about all the time you’re not doing it. (Whether BMW has ever actually delivered that for you depends on what you like.) And with my best, objective reviewer hat on, I can say the 2022 BMW i4 M50 does what it says on the tin: It’s a genuine performance, M-line BMW—only electric. 

If you’re a fan of M-line performance BMWs, then this will hit the brief, no question. It's just that it might be too cautiously close to replicating the combustion performance experience in a way that leaves it strangely soulless by not leaning into what it actually is. This is a car with a single-minded agenda. It wants to show that BMW’s electric future doesn’t mean giving up on the performance vehicles people love the brand for.

2022 BMW i4 M50: By the Numbers:

  • i4 eDrive40 base price (M50 as tested): $56,395 ($66,895)
  • Powertrain: 81.5-kWh battery | dual-motor | 1-speed transmission | all-wheel drive
  • Horsepower: 536
  • Torque: 586 lb-ft
  • 0-60: 3.7 seconds
  • Top speed: 130 to 140 mph
  • Range: Up to 245 miles
  • Curb weight: 5,018 pounds
  • Cargo volume: 10 cubic feet
  • Seating capacity: 5
  • Quick take: An all-electric performance car that's very serious about its performance. Maybe a bit too serious.
BMW

The i4 is one of BMW's "gran coupes," which means it's a four-door sedan. As a big, executive car, it stays true to the 4 Series, and to make it feel like the authentic experience, it’s got driving dynamics that have been as carefully engineered to replicate sporty ICE-driving as you’d expect. But in fact, maybe it just tries a bit too hard.

As another full disclosure: Similar to the iX, I didn’t actually drive the i4, either, because of my brain injury that decided to give me a seizure the morning of our test drives. Thankfully, BMW was really accommodating about it so I spent plenty of time in the car anyway, which is why this is also called "first ride," not first drive.

The Basics

Alongside the iX, BMW also launched the i4, and together, the two represent the German automaker's first, honest crack at delivering mass-appeal EVs. The i3 was a bit of a fringe-car, there for those whose lifestyles worked with its size, but these two are the real deal. Built on the highly versatile CLAR platform, the i4 shares its architecture with the current 4 Series, iX, and Toyota Supra.

Without knowing anything about it, you'd be none the wiser that the i4 lacks an internal combustion engine. It looks like a five-seater, four-door 4 Series, and therein that normalcy lies its appeal. It wears the by-now-familiar grille and has your typical 4 Series sporty touches such as sleekly shaped windows, taillights, and headlights. Two trims of i40 are available: the rear-wheel-drive i4 eDrive40 with a claimed 335 horsepower, and the all-wheel-drive i4 M50, good for a claimed 536 hp. The latter, which is what BMW gave me to test out, represents the automaker's first all-electric performance car. 

BMW

I’m not gonna try and persuade you on the grille; you either like it or you don’t (I think it makes it look angry, which is fine). But I do have to raise an issue with the air intakes on either side. These don’t need to be there. It’s an EV. But they're just another thing that preserves the look of a car that it isn’t and what's more, they're like lil plastic bowtie bits that make the i4 look a bit like Doctor Robotnik. This is a thought that, once you’ve had, you can’t stop having. 

Inside, it's pretty standard BMW-fare, too, except for the addition of the massive curved display that now acts as the digital driver information cluster and primary infotainment screen.

BMW

When I first saw the i4, it kind of reminded me of a '90s Ford Escort because the Portimao Blue paint made the sculpted body look almost plasticky. But being in the car, I changed my mind on it because it was actually a great color to look out over the hood with. And boy, that’s important because there is so much hood. Even though electric motors take up less room than an engine, the design philosophy on the i4 was clearly to keep it as absolutely true to the “iconic shape of the 4 series” as possible. 

BMW

What are you keeping in there?

After the test drive, I asked the lead designer what the logic was on giving the thing so much front. She said it was absolutely about wanting to keep it authentic to the 4 Series, to really make it a gran coupe. But I don’t know what’s in there apart from maybe ballast, because the area isn't being used as a front trunk. It’s just a lot of space that doesn’t really serve a purpose beyond the aesthetic. Well, maybe if you want to lie down on the hood, I guess.

Dynamics

The i4 M50 feels really powerful. That part's done well. It feels mean and like you can bully other cars off the road—like a true BMW driver. 

Whenever the accelerator went down you knew about it, and in Sport mode—which, like the iX, I honestly don't know why you'd ever switch off because it's so obviously superior to the others—the suspension stiffens enough to make easing through the Bavarian countryside feel a little bit like misbehaving. It's exactly the kind of quality I like in a car that, externally at least, looks like it doesn't want to do any misbehaving at all. 

There are some boring modes for if you're tired of enjoying yourself. The "normal" mode is adaptable with your own driving assist preferences and smoothes the ride out completely in way that, I dunno, is appropriate for when you're transporting a several-tier cake or a nervous cat or something. Eco mode extends the range, as you'd expect. It's a useful mode; I can totally see myself flicking it on one day and, just like the same way my phone's been on power-saver for two years, not switching it off for ages because I kinda got used to it. The sheer rush of going back to Sport mode, like finally turning up my screen brightness, might even be worth the delayed gratification. 

But what's really nice about the i40 M50 is the suspension. You can make it boring if you want to, but huge amounts of work have gone into making it frisky, so don't be ungrateful. Zipping through alpine roads, it felt luxuriously fun and bullish, a purring monster of a thing that could bide its time waiting for the Autobahn and which didn't need sheer speed to impress with the handling. 

Halfway through writing this, still listening to my glistening hyperpop playlist from the iX review, I realized the vibes were off. I couldn’t write sensibly about a car like the i4 to 100 Gecs. So I put on a different one—still very much my own kind of thing—called DAD ROCK SUPREMACY and suddenly, to the dulcet tones of The Eagles, things felt like they made a lot more sense.

The interior of the i4 makes that clear. It’s very no-nonsense, covered in leather, with seats not going full-on bucket-sporty but just spooning you a little. It’s a good car to contemplate the likelihood of dying alone in, gently supported by the aesthetics of a business class jetliner.

BMW

I liked the massive line of sight out of the front of the car, which might seem like an absolute no-brainer but actually, cars are frickin' crowded these days. There’s no junk cluttering up the interior of the cabin and the touchscreen feels pleasantly unintrusive. The haptic control panel, which I enjoyed in the iX, has the same, reassuringly physical controls so I didn't need to look down at them to know what I was doing. There was also a ton of space and the car felt really comfy to spend a long time in.

Driver Assists

The (optional add-on) cruise control operates like the systems in other cars: following another car and speeding up or slowing down, and working out what the limit is by spotting speed marker signs. Software for it is localized by region—so you don’t have to worry about it having some sort of kilometers to miles panic—and you can always override the car with the slightest touch on the controls. 

One of the features I really liked—and several of my friends really hated when I told them about it—was that the car will pull away for you at a traffic light when it turns green. Now, I know damn-well what I’d use this for, which is when I stop at a red light and try and rummage for, like, my accreditation pass or something that has rolled down under the seat and the light will change just before I get it and I’m that guy who’s holding everyone up. It’s like an embarrassing green-light-stall saver.

On the other hand, I do also follow my friends' argument that it’s basically a "texting at red lights" enabler and that is, needless to say, bad. But what if we just behaved with this one, guys? We could stop being embarrassed at green lights. I need you all to pull together with me, here. 

Straight Outta Bavaria

The good news is there is nothing wrong with the car. There's loads to like about it—it's such a neat piece of machinery and it's very fast. Lots of people want a well-built, superbly engineered executive accessory that just happens to be electric so you can drive it into city centers. It looks like a proper car so you don't feel like some Silicon Valley nerd rocking up to a meeting. 

It just wasn't for me. It didn't make me unstoppably grin and think about ways I could get into horrible, excellent trouble with it. It goes massively out of its way to reassure you that on every level it's a stern car that you ought to take seriously. As a result, it didn't have the fun and flair that the iX did and I loved the tacky brashness of that car. The i4 M50 felt a little sadder somehow. Like it was desperately seeking approval where the iX couldn’t give a crap less what anyone thinks. The iX was about breaking free of expectations and this wasn't that.

If the iX surprised me by turning a mid-size SUV into a danger buddy I wanted to commit crimes with, the i4 M50 felt more like that friend who you know is so brilliant and funny but spends, like, every weekend doing some boring stuff she hates with her boyfriend's family because he does. There's a really cool car in there, I'm just rooting for it to break out.

Really, what the i4 M50 could do with is being a bit more itself. It’s not got a ton of identity, slotting so neatly into the 4 Series lineup that the question of why you’d buy this, specifically, doesn’t have a very easy answer other than "it's electric." If the i4 leaned into being an electric performance car a little harder, which it absolutely has the horsepower and equipment to do, then it’d probably be a lot more fun. Let me hear more amplified EV noise. Show me EV-specific design elements. Give me features that only EVs can that ICE cars can't by way of their design. Because by keeping the shape and look of a traditional combustion car, the i4 defeats the whole purpose of why anyone would bother to buy an EV performance 4 Series over a gasoline-drive performance 4 Series.

The coldly humorless interior and commitment to looking like an ICE gran coupe are, probably, a selling point. It is a capable electric car, engineered rather than ideated. And BMW is undoubtedly right that there’s a market for people who just want an EV that firmly tells you how sensible it is. But as a performance car, that can’t make it very exciting. And that's what performance cars are meant to do: excite. 

It comes down to different strokes for different folks, I suppose. There are inevitably people out there who want a fast and serious performance car that looks fast and serious. The BMW i4 M50 is that car, hanging with the Porsche Taycans and Tesla Model Ses of the world (though, at $66,895, it is priced more affordably). But then there are people like me, who want silliness and style in a rose-gold iX. Neither of these two BMWs run on a sip of gasoline but beyond that, the choice is yours. It just means more electrified options for us all.

Can't stop thinking about Doctor Robotnik now? Sorry. Tell me how he has visited you in dreams: hazel@thedrive.com.