After a few years away, BMW is ready to return to the electric vehicle (EV) game with a sleek 4-door that’s ready to take on the Audi, Jaguar, and Mercedes-Benz luxury EVs already on the market — and, of course, those pesky Teslas.
BMW was one of the first major brands to launch an electric car with its rather odd i3 back in 2013, but the company has stayed away from offering any other fully-electric vehicles. Instead, the German automaker has preferred to invest heavily in plug-in hybrid “Ultimate Driving Machines,” including a number of different SUVs and sedans.
All that is about to change though, as BMW this week revealed the all-electric BMW i4, a "Gran Coupé" (a four-door vehicle with coupe-esque proportions) that will go on sale later this year.
What’s new — In addition to the i4, the company will also release the BMW iX, which is perhaps more important than the i4 given the massive industry-wide shift in customer demand towards SUVs and away from smaller cars. The large SUV is similar in size to the current BMW X5 and X6 models, promising all the expected electric vehicle features and the start of a whole new lineup of all-electric vehicles from BMW. Oliver Zipse, chairman of the Board of Management of BMW Group, says it’s all a part of BMW’s future vision.
“The BMW Group is constantly striving to reinvent itself. This is a central component of our corporate strategy," Zipse says in a press release. "The BMW iX expresses this approach in a remarkably concentrated form.”
Under the hood — BMW is playing coy here, trickling out a few images and videos and promising more details later, but the company says the i4 will have “up to” 300 miles of range on the EPA test cycle and will produce as much as 530 horsepower. That's good enough to zip from zero to 62 mph in around four seconds.
Pieter Nota, member of the Board of Management of BMW Group responsible for customer, brands, and sales, says in a press release that the company aims to keep the new electrics feel like a classic BMW.
“With its sporty looks, best in class driving dynamics and zero local emissions, the BMW i4 is a true BMW," Nota says. “It makes the heart of the BMW brand now beat fully electric.” That's quite a statement, but BMW appears to be embracing all-electric with a hearty enthusiasm normally reserved for a particularly delicious schnitzel.
Unlike some EV designs, BMW is keeping the front kidney grille as part of the design, and it's as large as ever. In fact, aside from flourishes of blue in the trim and the lack of rear exhaust, you'd be hard pressed to tell this was an EV at a glance. And perhaps that's the idea.
Here’s the background — For years, hybrids and electric cars had a ... quirky look to them. Then Tesla came along with a sleeker, sports-car inspired design. BMW seems to be saying that an EV is just the same as all its other cars, just with a different drivetrain.
BMW has been a little more forthcoming about the iX. Equipped with a pair of electric motors producing more than 500 horsepower, the big EV will zoom from zero to 62 mph in under five seconds and be able to drive for up to 300 miles, according to recent tests. (It's worth remembering that these numbers are all preliminary, but they're probably close to reality).
BMW has promised standard fare for luxury EVs like 200kW DC fast charging (enough to take it from 10- to 80-percent in 40 minutes) and various semi-autonomous driving functions. They’ve added in an enormous curved screen on the dash, combining a 12.3-inch dash cluster and a 14.9-inch infotainment screen into a single frameless glass surface.
The car incorporates “shy tech” as well, where things like speakers, air vents, and heated surfaces blended into the rest of the interior so as not to stand out too much.
On the outside, the cameras and sensors used by the driver assist system are hidden inside the kidney grille, the door handles are flush with the door, and the rear view camera (with cleaning system!) is hidden inside the BMW badge on the tailgate.
BMW says the technology in the iX should stay in the background and only become apparent “when the relevant functions are called into action.”
What’s next — There's an astonishingly detailed 24-page press release you can read for much, much, much more about the iX, but the upshot is this: BMW is serious about electric cars and they've come to play. Tesla, Mercedes-Benz and every other car brand with EVs already on the market should pay attention — and get ready for the great luxury EV war.