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2022 BMW i4 M50

Matt Bubbers/The Globe and Mail

We’ve been waiting for a showdown like this. The 2022 BMW i4, which arrives early next year, is the company’s first electric sedan. Yes, it’s coming 10 years after Tesla’s first one, but put that fact aside because it seems the crew in Munich has actually managed to create a car to rival Silicon Valley’s most popular EVs.

On a speed-limitless section of German Autobahn, the BMW i4 blasts off from 120 km/h at the merest flex of your right foot and shoots past other cars like they’re standing still. The BMW leaves nothing in its wake, no pollution, no noise, only the utter shock of other drivers left to wonder what kind of UFO just whizzed past. In the cabin, all is calm. The data on the flashy new widescreen dashboard display confirms that yes, we’re already doing 190 km/h, now 210. A sound like a mashup of alien spaceship and the growl of a classic BMW straight-six plays through the speakers, rising with the acceleration.

In the foothills of the Alps, on a treacherously-narrow serpentine road bordered by a sheer drop on one side and towering trees on the other, the i4 proves it’s not just good in a straight line. The view out windshield plays in fast-forward. Electric cars are quick, but this one handles like it was made by people who actually enjoy driving.

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Accelerating through a hairpin using just a fraction of the 536 horsepower available, the rear tires push the nose toward the corner’s apex and the car whips around like it’s tied to a tree. You can hear all four tires scrambling for grip. It’s not the sound of squealing rubber, more of a fine-grained noise like sandpaper on wood that lets you know dual-motor all-wheel drive system is getting the absolute maximum from each tire. There’s a sense of balance between front and rear axles that you can play with mid-corner. The stronger rear motor means mild oversteer is always available, but it never feels like the tires will break traction at any sane pace. This isn’t a drift-happy track-day toy like the M2 or M3.

2022 BMW i4 M50

Matt Bubbers/The Globe and Mail

The range-topping i4 M50 wears an M badge – the first electric car to do so – but it’s not meant for the racetrack. It’s like half-and-half compared to the heavy-cream of the M3. The i4′s steering is accurate but doesn’t have the same fizzy, tactile feel of M division’s best. (It does, however, leave the door open for a full-fat electric M car in the future.)

That the i4 drives so much like the 3 Series, the current sport-sedan champ, is no coincidence. The i4 is essentially an electric 4 Series – the 3′s fastback cousin – with a few differences. The M50′s chassis is reinforced, the front wheels are pushed out slightly for a wider track, and the rear tires are wider. Those changes – plus an underfloor battery pack that gives the car a centre of gravity like a go-kart – explains why the handling is so good, despite the fact this machine weighs 2.2 tonnes. (It’s nearly 400 kg heavier than the six-cylinder 4 Series gran coupe, which is like having a large domestic pig riding shotgun at all times.)

Just remember that when careening down a narrow alpine road; it’s easy to get into trouble. The car builds speed like a bullet – all at once – but its brakes are not magic. You need to leave space to slow down so much tonnage.

At least the suspension (springs up front, air in the back) does an impressive job of keeping so much heavy metal composed, even through quick s-shaped bends. The bolstered seats – the same ones you’ll find in an M3 – do a better job of keeping a driver planted than that flat chairs in a Tesla.

And it is the Tesla Model 3 that’s clearly in the i4′s crosshairs. The base models of both cars stack up remarkably similarly, a fact which is impressive because, until now, none of the traditional luxury brands had even been able to come close.

The base model, rear-wheel-drive i4 eDrive40 – which we have yet to drive – starts at $54,990 and has an estimated 475 kilometres of range using the EPA test. (At the time of writing, official EPA figures haven’t been confirmed.) By comparison, Tesla’s Model 3 Standard Range Plus has 50 km less range but is $2,000 cheaper. Thanks to a sneaky trick by Tesla, it qualifies for the full $5,000 federal iZEV rebate while the BMW apparently doesn’t. Still, on a range-per-dollar basis, they’re nearly even.

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The range-topping all-wheel-drive i4 M50 starts at $72,990 and has an estimated 385 km of range, which is significantly less than you get in a Tesla Model 3 Performance for similar money. Our brief drive was much too high-speed to be indicative of real-world range, but even so, the i4 was on track to deliver 359 km.

BMW claims this is the ultimate electric driving machine, and, for performance-minded drivers at least, it just might be. Porsche’s Taycan may disagree, but it’s double the price. Tesla has its supercharger network, sure, but the i4 M50 comes across as the better driver’s car. The competition is heating up; this is going to be a great decade for electric cars.

2022 BMW i4 M50

Matt Bubbers/The Globe and Mail

Tech specs

2022 BMW i4 M50

Base price/as tested: $72,990

Engine: dual-motor electric

Transmission/drive: single-speed/all-wheel drive

Fuel economy (litre-equivalent/100 kilometres): TBD

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Alternatives: Tesla Model 3 Performance, Polestar 2, BMW 3 Series PHEV

Ratings

Looks

There’s that grille again. Apart from it, the car looks low and lithe.

Interior

2022 BMW i4 M50

Courtesy of manufacturer

The instrument cluster and central screen have been entirely replaced by a thin new widescreen display, same as in the new iX SUV. The rest of the cabin is typical 3 Series stuff. Rear seat headroom is limited, due the fastback roofline.

Performance

One- or two-pedal driving, there’s a mode for that. It takes 3.9 seconds to get from 0-100 km/h. Now, curmudgeonly critics may put up their nose and lament the i4 lacks character, or engagement, that it leaves you a bit cold. Maybe, but the truth is fun EVs like this simply offer a different sort of engagement and character that takes some getting used to. The backwards-looking curmudgeons will come around eventually, or not, it doesn’t matter.

Technology

2022 BMW i4 M50

Fabian Kirchbauer/Courtesy of manufacturer

The infotainment system runs BMW’s new Operation System 8. The iDrive controller remains, thankfully, but the climate controls are now on the main screen. Just like the new iX SUV, the i4 uses BMW’s fifth-gen battery pack and motors. Both i4 models have an 80.7 kWh (net capacity) battery. Recharging from 10 to 80 per cent takes 31 minutes at a 200 kW DC fast charger.

Cargo

Unlike the Model 3, the i4 isn’t technically a sedan; it’s a hatchback, which makes it more useful for carting around bulky cargo. Trunk capacity is a generous 470 litres, or 1,290 if you fold down the rear seats.

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Verdict

For the money, yes, the 2022 BMW i4 M50 is probably the ultimate electric driving machine.

The writer was a guest of the automaker. Content was not subject to approval.

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