The BMW Concept i4 is here, and although its unveiling had to happen over the Internet as opposed to in-person at the cancelled Geneva Auto Show, this is the electric BMW we’ve been waiting for. Put the grille aside for a moment; and forget the countless iNext press releases BMW has put out, because the i4 is the German answer to Tesla, who has managed to both create and dominate the EV market in the U.S. and elsewhere. We’re sure BMW will sell lots of iX3s and whatever iNext ends up being referred to, and concepts like the Vision M Next are neat, but as BMW is forced to rebrand itself for a new century, new propulsion methods, and a new generation of drivers (read: buyers), the i4 is a crucial move that could make or break the future of the brand.

As Tesla has risen to prominence in the EV world, BMW and other German automakers have come under scrutiny for their response, or lack thereof. While BMW made early strides in the EV and performance hybrid realms with the i3 and i8 respectively, the focus in the time since has been centered on hybrids that mirror their gasoline- or diesel-burning stablemates; offering customers a level of familiarity, while also saving on production costs. At the same time, Tesla, first with the Model S, and more recently with the Model 3 and Model X, has taken a bite out of German’s market share, as people give the upstart with somewhat questionable build quality and longevity a try.

LA Auto Show 2017 Vision BMW i Vision Dynamics

The BMW i Vision Dynamics concept showed us a glimpse of the future back in 2017.

While Audi has brought an EV to market and Mercedes has promised a lineup of EQ models for 2020, BMW seems to be leading the effort with a multifaceted lineup that includes two SAVs (smaller and mid-size) and a sport sedan, the latter being the i4, among a broad offering that includes numerous hybrids, and perhaps even a standalone M car.

Looking at the i4, it seems like precisely what one needs in BMWs primary EV effort for the next generation. It’s a sport sedan, but it’s the kind that’s actually selling right now. Gran Coupé styling looks sharp and makes for a spacious interior that isn’t defined by decades of tradition, while the exterior combines some of the BMW styling and design cues that we’re used to seeing on current production models—just look at the hood and fenders, and how the front and rear bumpers meet the body. BMW has been using these techniques for a while now, but they look good here from just about any angle—yes, we know you don’t like the grille.

The interior of the Concept i4 is where it demonstrates that it’s still in the development stage. Much of what’s on display looks incredible, but just how much of it will make it to series production remains to be seen. BMW has a strong track record of staying as true to their conceptual designs as possible while still conforming to automotive safety regulations (just look at the i8 and the Vision EfficientDynamics concept from which it evolved) and conserving production costs, but it would be both surprising and exceptional to see something like what’s envisioned above available on a dealership lot, even with BMW saying this concept is 80% there. BMW hasn’t disappointed with cars like the i3 and its cabin, and regardless of what happens, you can expect the experience of being inside an i4 to eclipse that of a Tesla which makes a great effort, but falls short on overall quality and materials choice.

Make no mistake though, this is a BMW for a new generation. As part of BMW rebranding itself for the next century and how it will define and mold mobility, the Concept i4 wears BMW’s new roundel, which uses flat colors and a transparent backing. No longer does the roundel exhibit the same convex, embossed nature of the current design, but fear not; while this new logo is intended for branding and communications purposes, it’s being reported that it will not be found on future production models—like the i4.

Without repeating BMW’s marketing copy and Adrian von Hoydonk’s explanation of the design, the i4 seems like exactly what BMW needs: A sharp, engaging four-door that captivates both visually and from behind the wheel. It’s a BMW for a new generation, but before you suggest the automaker has lost its way or forgotten its roots, watch the launch film below, and take note of the i4’s automotive costar.—Alex Tock

[Photos and video courtesy BMW AG.]

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