i For You?: Driving the BMW G26 i4 eDrive40i

I imagine being an automotive writer back in 1994 must have been quite difficult. After just 4 years since its introduction, Singapore’s infamous COE premiums peaked at a mega S$100,000. Having to continually conjure up engaging and relatable content for paying readers must have been quite a challenge, I know this because that is exactly how I’m feeling now.

Having lived through the 90s as a young un whose head was filled with fantasies and dreams of the Ferraris and Lamborghinis, explaining the concept of a COE (and its corresponding 10-year life span) to me would have easily sounded like some science fiction make-believe mambo jumbo.

Fast forward almost 30 years though and here I am, sitting behind a computer screen penning my thoughts. Not as a career, but as a labour of love, born purely out of admiration and fascination for the automobile.

But herein lies the challenge, with COEs now having soared up to dizzying heights once again (though still short of 1994’s peak if you adjusted for inflation – roughly S$150,000) and supply chain issues adding to their astronomical pricing woes, just talking about cars with like-minded friends in this current climate can sometimes be a somewhat sombre affair, nevermind writing about them!

With brand new cars now costing more than what your internal organs could go possibly for, the latest machines will have to be excellent indeed.

Packing in 430Nm and 335brake horsepowers from a single “Current-excited synchronous motor” spinning the rear wheels for a good 590 kilometres of driving (approximately 500-ish in the real world), BMW’s latest offering in their ever-expanding EV portfolio is one such automobile vying for your hard earned dollars and on initial impressions, everything looks pretty spot on.

Outside, is the familiar body of a 4-Series Gran Coupe save for a smattering of electric-blue flourishes and an unvented kidney grille. Whilst still a rather handsome, clean shape, it does lack the MSport-equipped M50i’s heightened visual drama.

Inside, it is pure Bavarian quality with a solidly constructed interior good enough for 4 full sized adults to get comfortable in. The i4 also features the iX’s widescreen curved display running Operating System 8, complimented by a series of physical buttons adorning the centre console, allowing for much more intuitive inputs whilst on the move.

360-degree views when parking and adaptive cruise control are unfortunately not here, both rather odd omissions for a vehicle in this high-tech segment and something we hope would be introduced soon. Chip-shortage issues perhaps?

There’s no need to go under the bonnet here because there really isn’t anything to see once you’ve peeled back that engine cover since that space is reserved for the M50i variant’s second “Current-excited synchronous motor”.

There’s little need to fret however because even with just a singular power unit, the eDrive40i is more than capable when it comes to effectively and stealthily outgunning most cars on the road.

While the brochures show that 100km/h comes up in a very respectable but not overly exciting 5.7 seconds, what they don’t tell you is that with the i4’s instantaneous electric torque, you will be able nail those 5.7 seconds repeatedly with little to no sweat.

No need for heart-stopping, wallet-churning clutch drops, no need to get that upshift “just right” and no need for any complicated launch-control theatrics. Just clench your butt-cheeks, drop the hammer and away you go, every-single-time. This instantaneous power also translates to a very juicy wave of torque ready to be called upon when on the move, allowing the i4 to reel in road gaps quicker than most other motorist can anticipate as it makes use of each and every single horsepower it has without any delay.

While the i4 eDrive40i is no featherweight with 2,125 kilos of high-tech gadgetry to hustle around, its power delivery and lightness at the helm helps to masks most of that heft.

Throw it into a corner as you would any other keenly driven BMW and it will rotate just as well, with the steering keen to respond and the throttle even more keen, assisted by the i4’s supercomputers as it peppers the torque sent to the rear wheels to keep you from spinning off the road. While we’ve touched on how few cars can outgun an i4 on traffic light sprints, I reckon even fewer will be able to touch a keenly driven one on a back road (in the real world).

With little need to care for range on the i4, I drove it longer than any other EV I’ve been handed the keys to, through some of my favourite local roads whilst enjoying each and every Hans Zimmer IconicSounds note. And yet, at the end of a long weekend, I still found myself strangely feeling emotionally detached from the car.

I wanted to love it, I really did. It ticked off almost all the right boxes. Power? Check! Range enough to not think about? Check! A clean, handsome exterior? Check! (Yes I know that’s subjective but I like it, though, I wouldn’t complain if they threw in the MSport kit). A fantastic interior? Double check!! Room enough for four with everyone’s weekend bags in tow? Triple check!!!

And that’s when I arrived at my final checkbox and found myself dumbfounded; an engaging drive. A cornerstone highlight of every great BMW.

To say that this i4 drives well is an understatement, it delivers everything that one would require of it, delightful power, sharp handling and plenty of instantaneous gratification with every prod of the E-throttle. And that is when I realised the problem wasn’t with the car, it was with me.

You see, I grew up as a generation straddling the divide between analogue and digital, a generation that grew up embracing with glee the advent of Spotify whilst reminiscing the time and effort required to record a song off the radio, a generation that built the Instagrams and TikToks of today without losing the romance and satisfaction when collecting a freshly developed roll of film, a generation that is ready to take the next step into electrified vehicles without forgetting the emotional connection that drew us into cars in the first place.

It turns out, as a driver, I want to put in the effort when driving, I want to have a challenge and I want to overcome these challenges. I want to savour each moment it takes to coax the powerplant as it builds up a surge of power and I want to taste its crescendoing joyful high just before it tapers off into oblivion before gathering strength again to repeat the process. I want to have a constant conversation back and forth with the machine, an occasional argument or even a joyful spark of celebration after a perfect run.

I want a car to feel as alive and as flawed as I am and sadly, in that respect, is where the i4’s instant gratification excellence has left me a little cold.

So, it turns out, whether or not the i4 is the one meant for you isn’t about how good it is (of which it most definitely is), rather, it is about how much are you willing to embrace its digitally perfect demeanour.

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