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BMW’s electric i4 is silent and agile, but needs to find its range

The combination of G-forces and acceleration launched my water bottle out of its cup holder and onto the floor beneath my seat. Luckily, the top was on it. Still, I wondered just how fast you really need your car to go, as traffic shrunk to bacon in the rear-view mirror.

This week’s test car, the BMW i4 eDrive40 M Sport, effortlessly sped away from another A1 roundabout. I’d got in the wrong lane and needed to get ahead of traffic to my left. In an EV like the i4 it was a doddle, and I slowed to stay within the speed limit. The acceleration is addictive, but hardly necessary.

Somewhat laughably, this is the lower-powered, i4 – the electric model likely to be the firm’s biggest seller. It makes do with “only” 335 BHP from its 84 kWh battery.

There’s a bonkers 537 bhp M50 version, which we tried at the recent SMMT test track. That’s completely ballistic; probably too fast for our roads – and with two motors and four-wheel drive, it weighs a ton – or 2.3 tons to be precise – and feels it in the corners.

In addition to being cheaper, lighter and nicer to drive, the i4 eDrive40 i has an impressive range of 350 miles or more. Owners should be able to plan serious trips without experiencing the dreaded range anxiety. That’s the theory. I drove it from London to North Yorkshire, aware of the headline WLTP range figure on the BMW website of 338-352 miles.

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The caveats are apparent, however. According to BMW’s own range
calculator, if your trip is 75 per cent motorway driving and if the outside temperature fails to rise above (a hardly glacial) 15 degrees C, AND you have the temerity to use the air conditioning, the range falls from a Ulyssean 350-plus miles to a more prosaic 265 miles.

And so it proved. I got about 260 miles on a full battery going and 270 on the way back. It’s worth noting the headline figure of 350-odd miles is the WLTP measure, supposedly more realistic than the previous NEDC standard. Let that be a warning for buyers thinking electric cars with a headline range of 250 miles will just about do. They probably won’t.

The shove in the back that comes from an EV’s instant hit of power and torque is very nice. Do many drivers really need cars that go from zero to 60mph in less than six seconds? Probably not. It’ll make sense for manufacturers – particularly mass-market ones – to concentrate more on economy than speed as the market for EVs matures.

The i4’s design, inside and out, is smart, simple and mostly gimmick-free

The real antidote to range anxiety will be quicker and easier charging. Once EV drivers are able to access super-fast charging as easily as petrol and diesel drivers can fill their tanks, running out of charge will be less of an issue. Manufacturers will also be able to use smaller, lighter batteries.

The current scarcity of super-fast 150 or 200kW chargers, particularly outside the south-east of England, means that for people without overnight charging facilities at home, EV ownership is still a bit off-putting.

BMW has done an excellent job, however, on all other aspects of the i4. Building quality and quietness are exemplary. It should be included in the price, but it’s worth shelling out an extra £2,500 for the optional M Sport Pro Pac with its adaptive suspension.

This transforms the ride and handling from fine to fantastic. Equipped with upgraded dampers, this is one of the nicest electric cars – in fact one of the nicest cars, period – I’ve driven. Not too big or flash, but swift, silent and agile.

Its most obvious rival, the Tesla 3, has a longer range, not to mention access to Tesla’s huge charging network. But the BMW looks nicer inside and out, and it runs rings around the American EV in terms of ride comfort and refinement. The i4’s design, inside and out, is smart, simple and mostly gimmick-free.

The i4 does have voice control

For people not sold on the blobby, cabin-forward design of purpose-built EVs, the i4 looks like a normal BMW, albeit with a swooping roofline that eats into rear headroom. BMW couldn’t resist all the EV contrivances. It asked composer Hans Zimmer to create some theatrical engine noise to replace that of the dearly departed internal combustion engine.

Engaging “sport” mode sets it off. But it sounds like an angry sewing machine, so you’ll probably be swiping through the screens and sub menus to turn it off. Yep. there’s a huge, incongruous oblong touchscreen stretching across most of the dash. The graphics and operating system are great. But conventional buttons for the heating and air con have been swallowed up.

I’m minded of the report last year by a US law firm which, having reviewed evidence on the distracting effects of car touch screens, particularly for older drivers, declared rather starkly: “Do not purchase a vehicle that requires the use of a centre console controller when using the infotainment system.”

That would certainly narrow your options if you’re in the market for an EV. The i4 does have voice control – but sometimes you may as well be speaking ancient Aramaic.

At least BMW have retained the trusty rotary selector to speed your way around the screen. EVs – and touch screens – are here to stay. And the i4 is the clearest sign yet that the European motor establishment is fighting back against the upstart from Silicon Valley.

The specs: BMW i4 eDrive40 M Sport

Default price: £54,980.
Price as tested: £63,120
doors: Five
seat: Five
Batteries: 83.9kWh
0-100km/h: 5.7 seconds
Range on full change: 338-352 miles (WLTP)
test range: 270 miles

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