Facing the future

The BMW i4 electric concept has a face even a mother might struggle to love

The rest of it's pretty great, though. Tesla, you've been warned.

BMW was expected to show off its i4 electric sedan at the Geneva Motor Show, but the event got canceled because of the coronavirus. So, instead, we’ll make do with a digital announcement of the forthcoming automobile. The first thing you’ll notice is the controversial face. That grille is going to be so polarizing it’ll make Trump’s impeachment process look like an exercise in bipartisan camaraderie by comparison. People are going to rage about it.

But the good news for the haters is they can let their money do the talking and, you know, buy a Tesla, Cadillac, Polestar, or VW if they prefer. For BMW lovers who’ve been looking for an EV that isn’t the boxy and homely i3, or isn’t a hybrid priced like a supercar like the soon-to-be-retired i8, the i4 may prove compelling, especially if the production version hangs onto the highlights of the concept shown here.

Forget about the face — From the side, the BMW i4 feels far more familiar. It’s unambiguously a BMW, and though some people will hate the blue detailing, those are one of the marque’s signatures for its EVs. The panoramic glass roof is glorious and should make the cabin feel roomier than an i3’s, and the infotainment system looks both more cohesive and futuristic: gone are the dual displays of previous “i” models in favor of one, large, curved display with minimal physical buttons.

Like the i3, the i4 concept includes a mishmash of materials on the interior. The center console looks to be made from the same sort of recycled, fiber-glass-like material used in the door panels and dashboard of the i3, and the mixture of textured, bronze details and fabrics is simultaneously futuristic and elegant. It manages to stay on the right side of ridiculous, which can’t be said of the sofa-esque, touch-sensitive, curved rear seat of BMW’s Vision iNext, which clearly inspired the i4’s face and exterior, coppery paint job.

A solid set of numbers — BMW says the i4 will manage an estimated 270 miles to a charge from its 80kWh battery pack, and its single motor will get it from 0-60 MPH in an extremely respectable four seconds thanks to the power output of 390kW (530hp). That’s not quite Tesla-scale acceleration, but it’s not far off it, and we can’t imagine most buyers will be swayed by the marginal deficit, especially if it means extra legroom.

Production of the i4 is slated to kick off in 2021 in Munich, Germany. And BMW has high hopes of shifting plenty of buyers of its cars to EVs in the near future. We’ll have to wait and see how much the i4 we can buy differs from the concept BMW’s showing off now, but considering the complexities of car production, we don’t expect too much to change... including the face. Love it or hate it, that's probably here to stay.