The BMW i4 M50 and the current M3 have a lot in common when you get past the obvious differences, like one being an electric Gran Coupé and the other being available with a six-speed manual transmission. In terms of performance, however, they’re neck and neck, while they also both wear a version of BMW’s new design language.
These similarities prompted us to perform a sort of paper comparison of the two new BMW models last summer, in an effort to determine which one might be better suited to your lifestyle. In the end, the difference came down to something rather obvious. While the M3, whether in six-speed or Competition form, or optioned with M xDrive, is a full M model, the i4 M50 is what BMW refers to as an M Performance automobile. At some point in the near future, BMW M will undoubtedly introduce an electric vehicle, but for now, the closest thing available is the i4 M50. Until then, this means the M3 and M4 will always have a considerable edge over the i4 M50, especially in the corners and during other instances of dynamic driving.
That doesn’t mean you should write the i4 M50 off, however. In fact, because of what it offers, it may actually be the optimal choice for most people out of the two. That’s not to mention the fact that a more accurate comparison for the average buyer would actually be between the i4 M50 and the current 440i Gran Coupé.
The blistering acceleration of the i4 M50, something inherent to most electric vehicles, is the primary factor allowing it to compete with the M3. Although the i4 is already likely the best-handling EV on the market, and the floor-mounted battery pack, along with BMW’s signature handling prowess, allow it to traverse a back road with ease, the unique design of its electric motors—which forgo rare earth metals—make it a particularly fast car.
According to testing recently performed by Car and Driver, the i4 M50 is, as we suggested last summer, faster than all variations of the current M3 with the exception of the M xDrive model, with which it is likely tied or just behind in terms of acceleration. In the magazine’s testing, the i4 M50 was able to reach 60 mph from a dead stop in 3.3 seconds, while realizing 100 mph took eight seconds. The i4 covers the quarter mile in 11.7 seconds at 120 mph, while the five to 60 mph rolling start test took 3.5 seconds. In terms of roadholding, the i4 M50 managed 0.97 g around a 300-foot skidpad. Changing speed from 30 to 60 mph takes a mere 1.5 seconds, while going form 50 to 70 takes two seconds flat. All of those numbers are impressive, especially when remembering that BMW claims the i4 M50 takes 3.7 seconds to hit 60 mph. We also already know that the i4 M50 is essentially dead even if not slightly faster than the Tesla Model 3 Performance—in addition to offering a superior driving experience.
But what about the range of available M3 models and variants? According to Car and Driver testing, the six-speed G80 M3 accelerates from zero to 60 mph in 3.9 seconds, hits 100 in 9.2 seconds, and covers the quarter mile in 12.2 seconds at 117 mph. The rolling start from five to 60 mph takes the six-speed M3 4.6 seconds, and the car managed 1.02 g around the skidpad. It takes the three-pedal M3 7.2 seconds to go from 30 to 50 mph, and 5.8 seconds to go from 50 to 70 in sixth gear. The M3 Competition has more horsepower than its six-speed stablemate (503 as opposed to 479), and can only be had with a model-specific version of the ZF eight-speed automatic transmission. As expected, the M3 Competition is bit faster, managing a zero-to-60 time of 3.5 seconds, and a zero-to-100 time of 7.6 seconds. Its quarter-mile time of 11.6 seconds at 124 mph put it ahead of the manual transmission counterpart and the i4 M50, and the five-to-60 mph rolling start takes 4.5 seconds. The model managed 1.03 g around the skidpad, and transitioning from 30 to 50 mph takes 2.4 seconds, while going from 50 to 70 takes 2.7.
Car and Driver hasn’t published its test results of the M3 Competition with M xDrive, but according to Motortrend, the all-wheel-drive M3 can go from zero to 60 mph in 2.98 seconds. Taking all of that into consideration , the i4 M50 is faster than all but the most capable version of the G80 M3 in terms of acceleration off the line, and it also costs significantly less when looking at the base MSRP of each vehicle. What is perhaps even more impressive is that the i4 M50 weighs a staggering 5,063 pounds (according to Car and Driver) in comparison with 3,789 pounds for the six-speed M3 and 3,820 pounds for the M3 Competition. BMW claims the i4 M50 weighs 5,018 pounds, or 1,028 pounds more than the G80 M3 Competition xDrive. That weight, in combination with how its electric motors are tuned to deliver power, is one reason why the M3 Competition slightly outruns the i4 M50 over the quarter-mile.
So, what does it all mean? Although the i4 M50 is a mere M Performance model, its incredible acceleration makes it a very close match for G80 M3 lineup. With similar styling, the i4 M50 doesn’t look all that much different from an M3 either, but when you start to examine things a bit more closely, the true differences between the two models become too obvious to overlook. The i4 M50 is incredibly fast, and perhaps the best-handling electric vehicle on the market right now, but it still represents an inherent compromise that the M3 and its derivatives aren’t concerned with.
Ultimately, what you find yourself concerned with can make the case for either car. Are you in search of all-out performance, speed, capability, practicality, and one of the best driving experiences available in any new car right now? If so, the M3 and M4 are likely already on your radar. If you’re seeking an all-around performer to use on a daily basis that also offers an exceptional driving experience, and you have the charging infrastructure and living situation to accommodate it, the i4 M50 is likely at the top of your list.—Alex Tock
[Photos courtesy BMW AG.]