My 2021 BMW M440i is a year and a half old, and I love it as much as you can love an inanimate object. But I also know that I’ll likely trade it in for something else when the warranty expires. I’ve always appreciated the fact that the costs for keeping a new BMW on the road are largely not mine while under contract.
Being a car enthusiast, I see the trends and hear the rumors of coming attractions well before they materialize, so I’m rarely unprepared when the time comes to pull the trigger on a purchase or replacement. Assuming that I’m about a third of the way through this self-imposed constraint, it’s a bit early to be searching—even for me.
However, when BMW announced the i4 M50, I began to ponder new-car scenarios in my head. Likening an internal combustion engine with forced induction to its electric-powered counterpart is a little weird to contemplate. Yes, either car can get me from here to over there, but it’s a little like comparing chicken to oatmeal simply because they are both foods.
Like the rest of the planet, I can’t help but consider electric-vehicle (EV) alternatives. The move to EV is approaching as fast as global warming, so I can’t dismiss the option simply because it is different and a bit creepy. You know what I mean—virtual silence paired with lethal acceleration is fundamentally unnatural. And oddly desirable for those very same features.
There is arguably an urgent need to make the transition to electric technology—never mind that the infrastructure has not caught up to the demand, I am confident that it ultimately will. Besides, range anxiety doesn’t really impact me since most of my travel is within an hour from home, and I could simply charge overnight in my garage.
Intrigued with the initial concept, I thought that a present-to-future comparison would be fitting, contrasting what I’m driving now to what I could be piloting in the future. Getting my hands on the i4 M50 would be the first challenge because demand for EV options is rising exponentially, especially in the performance-car segment.
Several weeks ago, I attended a Cars & Coffee meet at Thompson BMW in the Philadelphia suburbs, where they had an i4 M50 on the lot; I had not seen one on the road before, and haven’t since. Considering that there was virtually no possibility of an immediate sale, they were quite accommodating when I reached out.
Thompson BMW is more than an hour from me, but it was worth the hike. Well known in the area, they are M-certified, and I figured that they’d be prepared to answer any questions. I was correct—but just as significant, they had the inventory. So I scheduled a test drive, and soon found myself behind the wheel of this elusive EV.
Within the confines of an hour, I couldn’t possibly deliver an in-depth review. Instead, let me provide my initial impressions—more important, a sense of whether this is something to consider in evolving from a more conventional performance coupe.
I focused on three areas: appearance, performance, and character. Surprisingly, the first thing I noticed were the visual similarities: Although it has a distinctive appearance, the i4 M50 is categorically BMW, from the freshly designed grille to the classically sloping roofline. If I’m being completely honest, it seemed initially substantial—perhaps a result of the four-door profile.
This is the first electric BMW tuned by the M division, and the exterior styling is the first giveaway. The i4 is built on the current G26 4 Series Gran Coupé platform, but due largely to the battery placement, the center of gravity is an inch and a half lower than in the standard model (a bit more on that later).
The M50 model comes with various M parts that add to its aggressiveness, like adaptive M suspension and M Sport brakes. The M Sport steering wheel was intimately familiar (minus the paddles), and the driver’s perspective is reminiscent of my M440i—except for the near-panoramic BMW curved display in the i4.
This is a feature you will either love or hate (perhaps even at the same time).
There are standard console buttons for Sport, Comfort, and Eco Pro modes, but nearly everything else is in the touchscreen. I’ve never warmed up to this kind of interaction, preferring a more tactile feel for vehicle settings. But I admit that the super-wide display is gorgeous, and infinitely customizable.
The trunk opens more like a hatchback, and the capacity is cavernous. There is little reason to flip the rear seats down, but you could park a Pinto in there if you chose to. Rear-seat leg room is a smidge better than in my M440i, but entry into the back is infinitely improved over the two-door gymnastics required in mine (although I still need to duck).
Like most 4 Series BMWs to date, the ride is about as good as you can get with a sport-tuned suspension. This particular model comes with all-season rubber, whereas my M440i is equipped with year-round run-flats, and their rigid sidewalls can be annoyingly harsh. So the improved ride in the i4 is immediately noticeable—and appreciated.
Handling characteristics are quite good—stable, but not as planted as the M440i. Steering is a bit numb, but nothing to take points off for. Considering a ride height that feels analogous to the Porsche Macan, cornering is outstanding: flat, quick, and very nimble for a car that has a curb weight of more than 5,000 pounds.
The M50 variant comes standard with a rear-wheel-biased xDrive system. Simply put, there is an electric motor in the front and one in the rear which combine to produce a whopping 536 horsepower. That’s 150 more than my already wicked-fast M440i. And torque is absolutely astonishing—even for an EV.
Performance? The i4 M50 is a bona fide beast! The zero-to-whatever metrics are absurd—even spooky, considering only a wee bit of audio feedback. Mash the pedal down, hang on, and prepare for the horizon in a heartbeat. Getting to any desired speed in the i4M50—especially off the line—truly takes my breath away.
Stopping, by the way, is equally quick when you need a definitive response. It’s not at all squirrelly when you press down hard while turning in, especially for a car in this weight class. The pedal does require a bit of modulation, but this is nothing new for brakes that can shock your kidneys.
I entered and exited a highway, cruised at freeway speeds, and negotiated some country back-road twisties that included innumerable Pennsylvania potholes. I also sat in a bit of bumper-to-bumper traffic back to the dealership. Everything was typical BMW: balanced, comfortable, quiet, and completely capable in virtually all driving scenarios.
The BMW i4 X50 is oddly analogous to my M440i in so many respects. It is a thousand pounds heavier, but feels lighter, carrying its weight quite well. It is brutally fast but makes a lot less noise in the process (I’m trying to decide if that’s a good thing). It rides higher but feels more squat, due largely to the aforementioned lower center of gravity.
In similar configuration, these two models are also comparably priced. They are exceptional daily drivers, although I admit that four doors and a hatch that swallows like a python would be quite useful. Both are effortless to drive spiritedly, and are composed when force is unnecessary.
And though either is ridiculously fast, the i4 M50 would bury my M440i in any acceleration trial.
The question is whether I would consider the i4 M50 as a replacement for my M440i. For me, the reply is complicated. Even though I struggle with unconventional technology, I cannot ignore the future; the world is quickly changing, and it won’t pause for me to catch up.
The i4 M50 is comfortable and composed. It has a pleasing profile and is almost utilitarian in its ability to transport both passengers and significant cargo. Yet it is viciously fast and equally athletic. And if my M440i can wear an M badge, I acknowledge that this i4 is worthy of doing the same.
Performance has typically guided my purchasing decisions, and I have been known to stubbornly hang on to older, more proven technologies: disc brakes, fuel injection, dual-clutch transmissions. I was there for the introduction of all of these, but signed on only when I could no longer deny their superiority.
Am I ready to appreciate an unassuming sedan that produces the power and torque beyond most cars I’ve ever driven? Will the silent-but-violent acceleration of the i4 M50 make up for the primitive-but-viscerally-satisfying engine sounds that burble from my M440i? Can I accept EV technology as a replacement for a more traditional sports coupe?
Not yet—but I might be getting there.—David Newton
[Title image courtesy of BMW.]