Prototypenerprobung BMW i4
Even if the BMW iX is set to usher in the era of a new generation of electric cars at the end of the year. The i4 will be at the heart of the Bavarian car brand from 2022. We exclusively accompany the prototype testing of the electric bearer of hope.
Hardly any other manufacturer currently relies on the plug-in card as much as BMW. That should be different from 2022, because then the Bavarians want to show Tesla in particular with the double pack of BMW iX and i4, what a really good electric car from a German premium manufacturer is. The Bavarians, once synonymous with dynamic vehicles with six cylinders, rear-wheel drive and lots of driving fun, want to set new records with the electric cars of tomorrow. Almost ten years ago, the innovative BMW i3, which was not suitable for the masses, set an exclamation point. With the iX as the electric brother of the X5 and especially the i4, the Munich-based company wants to put itself at the top of the respective segments.
While the BMW iX as an electric crossover is expected to delight SUV customers at the end of the year, the BMW i4 goes one step further. It’s not a one-off, not a one-of like the iX or a converted model like the iX3, but is technically closely related to the BMW 4 Series Gran Coupé. It is manufactured together with the Gran Coupé in the Munich main plant and is equipped with an electric drive instead of the corresponding combustion engine. Never before have the combustion engine and electric model been developed in parallel and later manufactured in parallel on one line. The head of the complex project is David Ferrufino. The native Bolivian is a car guy as he stands in the book. “We have to create great cars; cars that inspire and are just fun as only a BMW can”, explains David Ferrufino, “for me, direct steering with no play at zero is simply part of it.” Together with his suspension specialists, the project manager is on the road on those gloomy Saturday mornings in winter on the test site in Aschheim near Munich. Two heavily camouflaged prototypes are to be carefully examined once more on the high-speed oval and on the handling course. At the same time, other i4 prototypes are out and about in the USA, Lapland and southern France, scrubbing valuable test kilometers. The corona pandemic has also made testing more difficult than usual.
The i4 as the technical twin of the 4 Series Gran Coupé and thus related by marriage to the 3 Series, is to become the new core model at BMW. It celebrates its market launch a quarter after the iX in spring 2022. Initially there will be three versions – optionally with rear-wheel or all-wheel drive – and two battery packs. If the basic version is driven with 200 kW / 272 PS via the rear axle alone, the all-wheel drive – initially without the M logo on the rear – should produce around 350 kW / 476 PS. The range of services shows astonishing similarity to the Tesla Model 3 and David Ferrufino makes no secret of the fact that the American electric model was the focus of all developments. The Tesla Model 3 has made the world of electricity both tangible and desirable for many customers in the USA, Europe and Asia. No wonder that the international competition is based on the American flagship model. The dimensions of the Tesla Model 3 and BMW i4 are almost identical, and the proportions of the two mid-range vehicles are at least similar. What the BMW i4 is just as little as the Model 3 from Tesla is a real five-seater, because as spacious as the Bavarian is and with its cargo space of 470 to 1,290 liters it offers a lot of everyday use: in the rear you want to sit three in the BMW i4 Not.
Where the BMW i4 is supposed to show the Tesla in particular the taillights are the driving dynamics. The development team under David Ferrufino attaches great importance to the fact that the i4 can not only go straight ahead quickly, but also offers handling that should take your breath away. This can only be confirmed from the passenger seat, because the thrust is enormous from a standing start, but at the limit, the two-tonne mid-range model shows what it can do. The test pilots didn’t hesitate for long, gave full throttle, brutally braked the i4 before the next bend, and accelerated again in fractions of a second – over and over again. We are initially in the base model with rear-wheel drive. An air spring on the rear axle is standard on all versions – electronic dampers, on the other hand, are only available on request. The bearer of hope rolls optionally on 18-, 19- or 20-inch wheels. For winter tires, the Bavarians even offer unimposing 17-inch models, which appear visually difficult due to the large body surfaces. After the handling orgy, there is a short meeting at an uninviting corrugated iron shack on the test site. Because of the corona pandemic, the exchange takes place outside – despite the cool temperatures. The face mask blurs some words in the circular open-air plenary – so people ask a little more often than one is used to.
After critical points have been addressed and the tires have cooled down, it’s back to the track with vigor. This time full throttle – brake and then full throttle again – you feel almost as sorry for the two prototypes as for the tires, which get up to temperature faster than they’d like. Then again the winding handling course, on which David Ferrufino now takes the wheel himself again. “My suspension developers can do this a little better and faster than me,” he smiles mischievously behind his mask. It’s hard to believe, because in the fast combo of corners the BMW i4 can already do more than 170 km / h before braking. The body does not wobble due to the low center of gravity and the electric motors show just as little durability weaknesses as the brake systems in the numerous repetitions. Ferrufino is clearly satisfied.
The torture program paired with Bavarian manufacturing capability should ultimately make the difference to the BMW i4 and the other electric sedans that will be launched on the market in the next few years. In the medium term, the BMW i4 will not only have to deal with electric cars, but will also have to compete with combustion engines and plug-in hybrids – not least from their own company. Last but not least, this should work in the interior. Even if the i4 is more of a four-seater than a five-seater, there are well-known BMW control modules, comfortable seats and the curved display (12.3 + 14.9 inches) that was introduced for the first time with the iX and extends well into the middle of the dashboard pulls and, in addition to the drive itself, is a notable difference to the platform brother 4 Series Gran Coupé. You will look in vain for fabric seats in the later production model. The BMW i4 optionally offers partial leather, full leather and Alcantara – as well as a vegan alternative for those who despise animal skin with amps in their veins. In the front, the seats are not only heated, but, as with many competitors, can also be air-conditioned on request. The tailgate is just as electric as the optionally available trailer coupling. The loading utensils can be found in a 38 liter compartment under the trunk.
When the BMW i4 hits the market in spring 2022, it will be more than ready for the Tesla Model 3 and other competitors like the Polestar 2 or the VW ID. Lounge. However, it will not be many who will be betting on an electric sedan in the middle class in the next two years. Most manufacturers initially rely on the SUV and the BMW iX can compete with them. Because the second heart of the BMW brand is now also with the SUV.