BMW i4: An eye-opening EV
The BMW i4 is an all-electric premium experience. (Photo: Rory Daley)

Some things are best done with direct comparison, and the fight between the internal combustion engine and electric power can be best experienced in the 2023 BMW i4, an all-electric version of the brand's ubiquitous 4 Series sedan. Funny enough, it doesn't go the way many would think.

Since the i4 is based on chassis developed to hold both gasoline and electric motors it's no surprise that the i4 looks like a 4 Series. Interestingly, it's not the coupé, but the Gran Coupé, giving it the four-door hatchback style.

Exterior-wise there's precious little to distinguish the i4 from its petrol-powered counterpart, only a solid front grill that does a good job of replicating the standard one, and a few blue accents here and there. One might even question the lack of exhaust tips, but the Germans have become so good at faux exhausts, or even hiding them, their non-appearance can pass for motoring normalcy.

The interior is typical BMW; well designed and rife with quality materials. What will draw all the attention is the massive dual screens that serve as instrumentation and infotainment. Otherwise, passengers will have every luxury they would have in a normal 4 Series.

The 4 Series is already refined; however, the lack of disruptive engine harmonics usually shows the weakness in a car designed to handle both propulsion types. Not the i4. It's whisper quiet with no engine to generate noise. This also seems to define the direction in which the car is tuned, the aforementioned luxury.

This is ultimately the major difference between the two cars. With an engine there's an emotional connection that draws out the sporty nature hidden within. As that no longer exists in the i4, the car now has a softer edge. There's still more than enough performance as the instant torque from the electric motors do their thing in silence and, despite the extra weight, there's still great body control, better than most cars, but against the ICE variant, its new disposition will be noticeable to the faithful of the Bavarian badge. With that in mind, the i4 can deliver on luxury car credentials higher up the BMW model range. It's not bad, just different, better yet, EV is the new luxury.

The i4 introduces a new term — infrastructure anxiety. The i4 is equipped with an 81 kWh battery. Range is estimated at 590km. This gives it plenty of range for daily around town use and out of town jaunts. The issue is charging, and not if a charger is available, as given the size of the i4's battery it's a lot to charge on the current infrastructure. At a 6 kWh public charger, the i4 took a pretty good 7 hours to maximum charge, 1.5 hours faster than the stated time for the OEM wall charger. BMW does quote 10-80 per cent charge in 31 minutes for DC fast charging, and the tested 75 minute to full using a 50 kWh public charger at a cost of $3,554 corroborates that.

The problem is 50 kWh public charging isn't exactly sand. On the charging network Auto used at the time of testing, which all went smoothly, there are only seven such chargers on their islandwide network. Thus the question is not that will the i4 have the range to get to said destination, but in the oft chance that it does need to be charged, is there a charger fast enough to do so. The key here is plan accordingly until the infrastructure catches up. Otherwise, by every other metric — bar the slight step down on the BMW sportiness ladder — the i4 is superior to its gasoline equivalent.

The interior is typical BMW; well designed and rife with qualitymaterials. (Photo: Rory Daley)
Always have a charging plan. (Photo: Rory Daley)
The BMW i4 is based on the 4 Series Gran Coupé body style. (Photo: Rory Daley)
BY RORY DALEY Auto writer

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