IT was suggested to me that old-school car lovers “don’t like Teslas” after I was mildly disparaging about their design and reputation for poor build quality.
If the conversation had been conducted on social media I have no doubt that it would have attracted far more attention: the Teslarati’s reputation for striking hard and fast on detractors is hard won.
This year is likely to be the year that they have to truly earn their salt, however, as 2022 looks like being the year that the fast-growing “disruptor” brand is finally joined by direct rivals produced by car manufacturing’s biggest players.
I’ve already run the rule over the BMW iX3 on these pages in recent months and now it’s time to evaluate the German brand’s most direct Tesla rival to date — the 4-Series Grand Coupe-based i4.
Tested here in i4 eDrive40 M Sport guise — £54,495 with the striking combination of Brooklyn Grey paint and Tacora Red Vernasca Leather — it delivers 340PS through its rear wheels via a single electric motor.
A more powerful i4 M50 is available and employs two electric motors to give all-wheel-drive traction and a more potent 544PS. It’s also the first electric car to receive treatment from BMW’s M Division.
Nonetheless, as tested here, the i4’s 83.9kWh battery will deliver a WLTP range of up to 365 miles and the ability to add 100 miles-worth of charge in 10 minutes.
A full charge using a home wallbox (7kW) will take around 13 hours, while a 50kW public charger can boost the battery from 10 per cent to 80 per cent in a little more than 40 minutes.
The i4’s power output results in a 5.7 dash to 62mph and a limited top speed of 118mph.
The great news to accompany those numbers is that the i4 feels every bit a BMW out on the road.
I felt as thought I sat a little higher than I might have expected, though how much this had to do with the batteries sited under the floorpan and central tunnel (normally occupied by the gearbox and drivetrain) I’m not sure.
It certainly had something to do with the i4 bottoming out on the kerb each time I left my driveway at home, though…
Otherwise, the engagingly rear-biased attitude of the drivetrain and the typically firm but ever-so well damped suspension of a BMW makes the i4 quite possibly the most dynamically blessed EV I have yet driven.
There’ll never quite be the intuitive control achieved from the experience of matching road speed with gear ratios, and it takes a little time to understand how much power comes on tap at a given time as a result, but it does not take long to get the hang of it.
And the smooth surge of acceleration and strong mid-range is there to be revelled in with the greatest of ease.
Up against the cheaper Polestar 2 and Tesla Model 3, the i4 had to deliver and it does.
That bigger budget price tag brings with it an interior to be appreciated by premium saloon lovers, too. More conventional than that of a Tesla, perhaps, but certainly of higher quality.
The i4’s 14.9-inch infotainment screen spans the dashboard and keeps the cabin clutter free by swallowing-up the climate control functionality as well as the media sat-nav and charging schedule tools.
Its graphics are crisp and functionality is intuitive, helped in no small part by the now familiar rotary iDrive controller in the centre console, now joined by touch and voice control.
The red leather of my test car might not be to everyone’s taste, but it further lifted a stylish interior featuring lots of satin aluminium and flashes of blue to denote its ‘i’ car status.
Like the 4 Series Gran Coupe it is based upon, the i4 serves up plenty of cabin space too.
It might not have the flat floor of some cars designed and built purely as EVs, but rear head room is good and a 470-litre boot space is made all the more accessible by a long, high-opening hatchback boot lid.
I found it hard not to be heartened by the familiarity of BMW’s first zero emissions coupe.
While the price is a chunk higher than the excellent Polestar 2 and Tesla’s Model 3, it delivers everything we’ve come to expect from the performance-leaning premium brand…with an impressive EV drivetrain.
For the record I’m a fan of what Elon Musk has done with Tesla, particularly of his foresight in leading its EV “charge” with the creation of its Supercharger network to banish owners potential worries from day one.
Ultimately though, tougher competition and a wider choice of high-quality zero-emissions vehicles will benefit us all.
And if BMW has started as it means to go on, this looks like the start of its charge into a new era of class-leading products.