After years of teasing, BMW is still not quite ready to show off the final version of its i4 electric sedan, the long-awaited followup to its i3 EV and i8 hybrid that’s due out sometime in 2021. But a new concept version revealed at the (now digital-only) 2020 Geneva Motor Show is the best look yet at what the German automaker has in store with the i4.
First off, BMW is reiterating a lot of the i4’s specs it shared at the LA Auto Show in November 2019, and clarifying a few things as well. The big one is range. When BMW claimed back then that the i4 would get 600 kilometers (nearly 400 miles) on a full battery pack, it seemed obvious that the company was relying on the more forgiving European WLTP standard. Turns out that was right, as BMW now says the i4 will come with an EPA-estimated range of 270 miles (or around 435 kilometers).
While that’s maybe a little less exciting, it would still be a sufficient technological achievement considering that BMW says the i4 will be powered by an 80kWh battery pack. For a rough comparison, Porsche’s Taycan Turbo has a 93.4 kWh battery pack and only got an EPA rating of 201 miles, while the slower but lighter Hyundai Kona gets close to 260 miles out of a 64kWh pack. There are a lot of factors that go into what ultimately determines the EPA’s range estimates, but if BMW can really squeeze that many miles out of that size battery pack, it would put it somewhat close to the top of the list as far as energy efficiency goes.
BMW is also sticking to its guns that the i4’s single motor will generate 390kW of power, or about 530 horsepower. That’s a lot of power for one electric motor, so much so that BMW says it’s on par with one of the company’s V8 combustion engines. BMW says the i4 can go from 0 to 100 kilometers per hour in 4 seconds.
The good thing about these numbers, as long as they hold up, is that this is all coming from what BMW says is the fifth generation of its electric drivetrain (the battery pack, electric motor, and other technology that puts the power to the road). While it may have been painful to watch the company make exactly zero successors to the i3 or the i8 in the years since those cars were released, BMW did keep iterating on the underlying electric technology. Now, that fifth-generation tech will not only power the i4, but the iNext SUV and the China-made iX3 (which is now officially not destined for the US).
More than anything, what the new concept version of the i4 offers is a better sense of what the electric sedan will look like, and what it will be like to use in day-to-day life.
The i4 concept has a more aggressive front end than most any other BMW on the road right now, especially with the extended, basically gaping kidney grille that stretches almost to the ground. But from the side or rear, the i4 resembles its many modern BMW siblings. If anything, the sharp tucks in the bodywork make it look more lithe than a BMW usually does.
Inside is a much different experience. The i4’s interior is a blended evolution of the sports car-inspired i8 cockpit, and the i3’s more spacious, material-mixing aesthetic.
Above everything — literally — is an all-glass roof that offers views above and beyond for every person inside the i4. BMW says the i4’s interior is more spacious than it looks, but regardless of how big it winds up being, the glass roof is sure to offer even the most claustrophobic passengers some peace of mind. Even better for the rear-seat passengers is the fact that, unlike in the i8, there are actual full-sized rear seats this time around.
Dominating everything is a big, curved screen that stretches from the left side of the steering wheel nearly all the way to the passenger’s seat. There are basically no buttons around the screen and just a few on the steering wheel, so BMW is targeting the kind of touchscreen-forward experience made popular by Tesla. (There is, however, a knob and some buttons in the center console, next to the drive and gear selector buttons.) BMW says this whole setup will also be in the forthcoming iNext SUV, too. It’s a far cry from the two separate screens that both the i3 and the i8 offered on their respective dashboards, but is a logical progression given where modern infotainment design has gone.
The i4’s screens and its dashboard seem to curl around the driver’s side, similar to how the i8’s interior is biased towards the person who’s behind the wheel. But the interior doesn’t look as constricting as the i8’s. Aiding that is the fact that the i4 is adorned with lighter-colored — and sometimes even reflective — materials. The way BMW has executed a mixture of cloth and leather in the seats and dash, with bronze and chrome fixtures all around, makes the i4’s interior feel more cohesive and sophisticated than the one in the i3, too.
Half a decade ago, BMW was in some ways ahead of the curve when it came to electrification. But the company’s effort stalled out. That has left many BMW fans who were looking for a solid followup to the quirky i3 EV, or the expensive-yet-head-turning i8 hybrid waiting impatiently at best. The i4 is still a ways away from going into production, but the concept that BMW showed off this week is probably the most coherent vision of the company’s electric future that we’ve seen to date, regardless of how late it arrived.
What happens next is up to the folks in Munich.
Update March 9th, 4:00PM ET: Added new information about the iX3 not coming to the US.