The BMW electric revolution really kicked off back in 2012, when both the all-electric i3 and the half-electric i8 were shown off and - remarkably - put on sale complete with their far-out concept car styling.
Those two cars should have given BMW an unassailable lead when it came to premium electric motoring, but the whole i-project kind of fizzled out, or at least bumped along the bottom, while others - notably Audi and Jaguar, never mind Tesla - took their places at the front of the battery queue.
Well, in November BMW, and its electric i-brand, catches up in a big way, and in a more affordable way than we expected. Along with the new iX all-electric SUV, the new i4 four-door coupé goes on sale in Ireland in that month, and it will cost a surprisingly reasonable €62,690.
That pitches it into direct contention with the Tesla Model 3 Long Range, which is currently priced from €58,990 (but which will more than likely lose its €5,000 SEAI grant after July, because its list price without the grant would exceed €60,000 –Tesla hasn't confirmed post-July Irish pricing yet). We had been expecting a more Model-S-sized price tag for the i4.
Of course, you can have such a price if you want it. The i4 will come in two versions at first, with the eDrive40 Sport arriving with that lowest price tag, alongside a slightly more expensive M-Sport model priced from €64,530. Topping the range will be a more powerful M50 xDrive version, priced from €77,440.
That M50 model will come with 400kW of power from its two electric motors, which translates to 544hp. More significantly, it will have 795Nm of torque, which will make for a very fast 0-100km/h run of 3.9secs.
The more affordable, single-motor, rear-wheel drive, eDrive40 model will still have plenty of grunt - 340hp and 430Nm of torque for a 5.7seconds 0-100km/h run – and plenty of range too, with a claimed 590km on one charge from the 83.9kWh battery pack.
The more powerful M50 model (not to be confused with the sluggish motorway that rings Dublin city and environs) will manage a claimed 510km on one charge of the same battery. That puts the M50 version, again, right in the Tesla Model 3 Performance’s ballpark - a little more expensive, and slightly slower to 100km/h, but with more range on one charge.
Speaking of which, it’s as important how quickly such vehicles charge as it is how quickly they accelerate, and the i4 can be DC quick-charged, from a double-decker CCS charger, at speeds of up to 200kW. Hooked up to an Ionity rapid charger (and BMW is a member of the Ionity consortium) the i4 can inhale between 140km and 165km of extra range for every ten minutes on charge.
BMW says that it will introduce a BMW Charging service which will give owners discounted charging rates at Ionity stations and other public charging points.
Style-wise, little has changed from the original i4 Gran Coupe concept car which means, yes, you’re lumbered with the big beaver-tooth grille from the regular BMW 4 Series coupe. Well, not quite - obviously, this being an electric car there’s no air passing through the grille, so BMW has instead co-opted that area for forward-facing cameras, radar, and other sensors which help to keep you in lane and a safe distance from the car in front when driving on the motorway.
Inside, there’s a vast, curved, screen which is actually two screens - one for instruments and one massive 14.9-inch screen for infotainment - and which runs a more highly advanced version of BMW’s long-lived iDrive software. We’re a bit wary of this, as BMW says it has done away with all but a handful of physical buttons in the cabin, and is relying on things like voice control to allow you to select menu options and turn things on and off.
Such systems are hit-and-miss at best, but one clever addition is that the climate control system will automatically use the heated seats and steering wheel as part of its automatic programming, reducing the drain on the battery on a chilly day. The screens are connected to a rapid-fire 5G connected SIM card, which keeps the software up to date over the air, and which gives you access to live in-car services.
The i4 will also be surprisingly practical - there’s a decent 470-litre boot under a useful liftgate, rather than a separate boot, and it retains a maximum towing capacity of 1,600kg.
Quite apart from the lack of localised emissions when driving (gross of particulate emissions from tyres and brakes of course) BMW says that it’s working on making the i4 as low-carbon in its production process as possible, and says that the battery cells themselves are made using “100 per cent green energy.”
At the same time as the i4, the new - and somewhat controversial - iX electric SUV will arrive in Ireland. If the i4’s styling is a little challenging, then the iX’s is a full-on visual slap in the face.
Right now it’s far from pretty, but perhaps time and perspective will change that view a little. It’s obviously roomier inside than the i4, but the two cars share many of their underpinnings. The iX, says BMW, has been designed with: “the exterior length and width of the BMW X5, the height of the BMW X6 and the wheelbase of the BMW X7.”
The top spec model will be the 523hp iX xDrive50 with four-wheel drive and 765Nm of torque. BMW says it has a WLTP one-charge range of 613km from a 100kWh battery, and can rapid-charge at the same 200kW rate as the i4.
The price? €112,020. A little too senior? Then how about a 326hp iX xDrive40, with 630Nm of torque and range of 414km (as with the i4, these are preliminary figures) from a 70kWh battery for a somewhat more reasonable €84,940.
Oh, and for the ultimate in bragging rights, both new electric BMWs are - sort of - Oscar-winners. To compensate for the lack of a V8 or straight-six soundtrack, BMW has turned to the king of soundtracks, Hans Zimmer.
The German composer is the man behind such silver-screen classics as Gladiator, Inception, and Pirates Of The Caribbean, and he’s helped BMW to develop a unique ‘engine note’ for both i-models, which can be played through the interior to entertain the driver, and through external speakers to warn pedestrians that you’re on you’re way.