TEST DRIVE: BMW i4 M50—BMW’s Model 3 Performance-Fighter?

The Tesla Model 3 Performance has been on sale for several years now and it’s been one of the most popular sports sedans in the world ever since. One of the reasons for the Model 3 Performance’s popularity is that it’s actually surprisingly fun to drive and pretty decent on track. And yet, it’s taken until now for BMW, the most famous sport sedan brand, to create a genuine competitor. However, there’s now a genuine Bavarian rival to Silicon Valley’s favorite sport sedan—the all new BMW i4 M50. It’s finally here but is it sporty enough to deserve that title?

Looks Like a 4 Series

My first impressions weren’t great, if I’m honest. The i4 M50 is pretty humdrum looking in person. Sure, my test car’s Frozen Portimao Blue paint was eye-catching but the rest of it looks like a 4 Series Gran Coupe. Nothing more, nothing less. That, however, is intentional. The BMW i4 is an electric car for people who don’t ordinarily buy electric cars. Which is why it looks so conventional. I do wish BMW spiced it up a bit, at least for the M50 model, so that it stood out from its internal combustion sibling. It’s a special car, BMW’s first ever electric sport sedan, so it should look at feel special. But the market wants what the market wants, I guess.

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Due to it looking almost exactly like the 4 Series Gran Coupe, just with a fake grille and some blue accents, the i4 M50 is a handsome enough car. For the most part. Cut off the front 10-percent of the car and it’s certainly not bad looking. In fact, it has quite a few attractive qualities: its silhouette is nice, its flush door handles are neat, and its M-style mirrors give it a bit of sportiness. However, once you’ve seen it, you’ve seen it, ya know? There’s nothing really more to look at after those initial nice looking details, nothing that begs for a second glance. Which is disappointing in a car that should be one of the most exciting in the history of the brand.

Cabin Sounds Better Than it Looks

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Jump inside things became even more homogenous. The cabin of the BMW i4 M50 is, aside from the iDrive 8 screen, indistinguishable from the 4 Series Gran Coupe. The steering wheel, dashboard, center console, switchgear, and even the seats are all exactly the same, which is fine but it does ruin the wow-factor a bit. Again, the i4 is for traditional BMW car buyers, so this makes sense. However, do you remember just how special the BMW i3 felt inside. That was innovation. This is monotony. In BMW’s defense, the i3 didn’t sell very well. That’s no reason to stop innovating but I can see why BMW has cold feet.

However, once you press the starter button, silently firing up the electric powertrain, something happens that changes the mood. It’s not the power, nor is it the handling, and it’s certainly not the design. Instead, the i4 M50 does something incredibly unique for an electric car—it makes a bunch of noise. Obviously, as an electric car, it doesn’t actually make any mechanical noise on its own. Except the i4 actually makes quite a bit of noise, thanks to the help of award-winning composer Hans Zimmer.

Stomp the go-pedal and you get a Star Wares-esque soundtrack that’s directly linked to throttle application and it works brilliantly. The sound rises and falls with the movement of your right foot, just as a responsive engine would, but instead of the familiar sound of an internal combustion engine, the noises of the i4 M50 feel alien and out of this world. Ever since I was a kid, I’ve wanted to fly a TIE Fighter, for the incredible noise, and the i4 M50 was the closest I’ve ever gotten. It’s fantastic.

My four-year-old son adored the noises it made too, and kept egging me on to drive it faster and faster. The sudden rush of its all-electric acceleration, combined with its sci-fi soundtrack, makes the i4 M50 an experience like no other. That sort of child-like wonder is missing from most BMWs but the i4 M50 has it, all thanks to a synthetic powertrain noise that’s entire made up, and was created in a sound booth. It’s lovely, stupid, childish, absurd, and utterly brilliant. I adore it. All electric cars should have silly noises made by brilliant composers.

M Division Performance Without the Fun

Speaking of power, the BMW i4 M50 is a seriously quick car. Its dual electric motors make 536 horsepower and 586 lb-ft of torque, which are fed by an 80.7 kWh battery pack. While using launch control, on a pretty dusty, dirty surface, I was able to get a 3.9 second 0-60 mph time. That’s quick but it’s not quick enough to beat something like the Model 3 Performance. I’d like to see what it can do with a proper launch surface. Though, to be fair, 0-60 mph times don’t actually matter in the real world. Instead, what matters is that full-throttle acceleration in the i4 M50, combined with its spaceship noises, feels like being launched out of the Death Star and it’s hilarious good fun.

There’s a problem with that launch control fun, though—that’s it’s only trick. Outside of that, the BMW i4 M50 isn’t particularly fun to drive. It’s too numb, too heavy, and too insulated to be fun. The regular 4 Series Gran Coupe suffers from the same problem, as it’s much more of a four-door GT car, not a sports car. However, the i4 M50 suffers even more, as it isn’t as comfortable as the regular 4 Series.

It seems as if BMW attempted to stiffen the suspension to cope with the i4’s added battery weight and, because of that, it’s too stiff. The gas-powered 4 Series has the better ride/handling balance. So the i4 M50 ends up feeling like the worst of both worlds: it has the stiffness of a sports car without the handling tradeoff and the insulation of a GT car without the comfort.

What’s most frustrating about that is the fact that the car is shockingly capable. It has oodles of grip, it stays flat enough through corners, its front end is accurate, and its power delivery is sensational. However, it never engages its driver, it never begs to be pushed hard, and it doesn’t inspire any thoughts of hooliganism. I get that it’s an M Performance car but it’s supposed to be at least a little fun. The i4 M50 isn’t.

Though, there is a bit of a performance/value component. The BMW i4 M50 starts at $65,900, which is almost $11,000 cheaper than the BMW M3 Competition ($76,700), while basically being just as fast in a straight line. However, you can’t even compare the two when it comes to fun, the M3 Competition is a blast to drive.

Future Looks Bright

What’s most frustrating about the i4 M50’s lack of fun is the fact that the BMW iX xDrive50 is fun to drive, for an SUV. When you drive the iX, you know you’re in something special. It feels more like an M Performance car than the i4 M50, despite not actually being one. So the BMW knows how to make an electric car fun enjoyable to drive but didn’t quite deliver with the i4 M50 and I think I know why.

The i4 M50 is based off of the 4 Series Gran Coupe, which uses a traditional car chassis. Turning it into a purely electric car isn’t ideal and adds too much weight. While the BMW iX is built on a bespoke EV chassis, which allows for better packaging, better balance, lighter relative weight, and better rigidity, which likely allows BMW to tune the suspension and steering better than with a traditional chassis. I could be wrong but I bet BMW’s upcoming batch of Neue Klasse electric cars will be better to drive than the i4 M50.

Fast, Practical And Roomy

The i4 M50 isn’t a bad car. In fact, it’s a good car. It’s fast, looks good enough, has a surprisingly practical hatchback trunk, has an interior that can seat four adults in comfort, uses the same great iDrive 8 system as the iX, and has one of the coolest acceleration noises in the business. However, if you’re expecting an electric car that’s been injected with a bit of M Division DNA, you’ll be disappointed. The i4 M50 gives me hope for the future of BMW’s electric sport sedans but it’s not quite there yet.

Exterior Appeal – 7

Interior Quality – 8

Steering Feedback – 7

Performance – 9

Handling – 8

BMWness/Ultimate Driving Machine – 6

Price Point – 7

7.4

The BMW i4 M50 is fast, makes great Hans Zimmer noises, and is practical but it needs an injection of fun to be a true sport sedan.

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