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20 May 2022

What We Dislike
Electric soundtrack might not be for everybody
Steering feel is a tad inorganic

It is undoubtedly a bold new direction for BMW's performance sub-brand, but the new i4 M50 checks all the right boxes, and is a promising sign of things to come.

So, this is it - the first electric M car. Controversial? Certainly. Inevitable? Certainly, as well.

While petrol-guzzling enthusiasts may lament the advent of electric performance cars, we all know it is coming. And so, this is BMW's first EV that's been given the full M treatment, the somewhat puzzling and complicatedly named i4 M50. I head over to Melbourne, Australia, for a quiet spin - prior to the car's arrival in Singapore in Q3 this year. 

Low profile

The blacked out front grille and standard Laserlights endow the M50 with a bold, aggressive manner
Visually, it's a little on the subtle side (at least for an M car). Considering you can get a standard i4 with the M Sport package, there's not terribly much to set this M50 model apart, at least visually.

That's not necessarily a bad thing, though. The i4 package is sleek and muscular, and the addition of some of the M components, like the big brakes and bold front bumpers, add an extra level of visual aggression.

The interior is the same story, insofar that you can spec a standard i4 to a very similar M-level spec. It's a familiar BMW space, with the curved display running Operating System 8. And over 300km of driving, I found it to be a highly functional, comfortable and premium space. 

One of the distinguishing exterior features are the M-specific wing mirrors
All in all, I would say that for an M car, the i4 M50 is surprisingly low profile. Even the powdery blue paintwork (which I find particularly pretty) on the unit I drove seems inconceivably mild-mannered compared to something like the highlighter yellow (my name for it, not BMW's) on the M4 test car.

Note: the colour is actually called M Brooklyn Grey metallic, but it definitely looks more blue than grey to me.

Sport Boost

With 795Nm of instant torque, the M50 has neck-breaking accelerative force on demand
Does the M50 drive like a full-on M car? Typically, the M treatment involves adding power and stiffness while removing weight. The first two are fairly straightforward. Removing weight in an EV, though? Much trickier.

Well, the M50 has got the speed, that's for sure. The immediacy of acceleration is outrageous, enough to make you laugh in both delight and nervousness. The Sport Boost mode gives you maximum power, with 400kW and 795Nm of instant torque available. I swear, that's a number that's hard to process, because unlike typical performance cars where there is at least some sort of crescendo in terms of power delivery, here you get all of it all at once.

The stiffer chassis allows you to attack corners with aggression and confidence
BMW quotes a 0-100km/h timing of 3.9 seconds, but it feels quite a bit faster than that. The i4 M50 has the kind of accelerative punch that feels much more like an M5 Competition (0-100km/h in 3.3s) rather than the M3 Competition (which has the same 3.9s century sprint). It's absolutely vicious.

Handling-wise, the chassis has notably been tuned for more dynamic handling, and it comes across. The car feels more alert and on it - there's an added level of sharpness and aggression. Through twisty roads, there's ample traction (four-wheel drive and all), with the car hard to unstick even with the electronic nannies turned off. Turn in is sharp and accurate, body control is excellent, and you can out of corners early and frighteningly rapidly. 

The M50 also swallows up tarmac with effortless comfort when you want it to be easy going
The car is heavy - 2.2 tonnes - but it does a pretty good job of masking it. It's only on hard braking that the inevitability of physics intervene, the weight thrown atop the front axle. But even so, it still drives with ample dynamism and sporty capability.

On the limit handling? I can't tell you, because a day out at a track would be needed to fully challenge the car's handling abilities. On public roads, you'll never get anywhere close to the car's limits.

One thing to note - while there is feedback from the steering wheel and the car steers accurately, the tactile sensation transmitted through the steering wheel felt slightly inorganic to my hands. I'm not sure if it's just the peculiarities of Melbourne tarmac, so that's something I'll be looking out for once the car is here in Singapore.

The car can be charged at up to 200kW, which was actually quite a bit less than the 360kW available on the ultra-rapid chargers in Melbourne
Something that's rather un-M-like is how easily and comfortably the M50 will dispatch a 100km point-to-point drive. Put the car in its Comfort setting and it's, well, comfortable. Not something you'd typically say about an M car.

Future of performance

Is this a good car? Of course it is. It takes all the stellar qualities of the standard i4 and adds more performance and dynamism, without adding any notable compromise. Overall space and practicality remains the same, it's still comfortable over long distances, and the battery pack will still provide over 400km of range per charge.

The i4 M50 offers a blend of outright performance and long-distance comfort that's definitely something different for the M brand
Is this a good M car, though? Here the answer is slightly trickier. Context is everything. In the context of the past, you can make the case that it isn't. The aural experience is different - the Hans Zimmer composed soundtrack isn't quite a straight-six or V8 roar. While I haven't had the chance to drive it on a track, the long wheelbase and overall weight wouldn't typically work in its favour. And, the M50 doesn't feel as hardcore or extreme as M cars of the past. 

But, in the context of the future, I do think this is a good M car. The industry is going electric, and high-performance petrol-spitting automobiles are a fading breed.

In the context of what's to come, the i4 M50 checks all the right boxes as far as electric performance motoring is concerned
As far as an electric performance car goes, this M50 is right up there with the best of them. It feels engaging and responsive to drive, and the dynamic capabilities are undeniable. BMW knows how to make cars that handle well, and this is definitely the case with the M50. It's a first step, for sure, but it's a step in the right direction. 

This i4 M50 is probably the best-driving electric car I've driven this side of a Porsche Taycan. So yes, if this is the future of performance motoring, then things don't look as bleak as the naysayers make it out to be. Context is everything.

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