BMW’s new electric sedan will take on Tesla with different range and power levels, and a unique approach to manufacturing.

The BMW i4 EV will go into production in 2021, part of the automaker’s big offensive to launch 25 new electrified vehicles by 2023. The i4 will be BMW’s proper competitor to the Tesla Model 3, and based on new information Roadshow learned on Thursday, it should put up a proper fight.

Let’s start with the specs. The BMW i4 will initially be powered by an 80-kilowatt-hour battery, producing about 390 kilowatts, or roughly 530 horsepower. Accelerating to 62 mph will take about 4 seconds flat, and the i4 will have an electronically limited top speed of 120 mph.

The i4 will use BMW’s new, so-called Generation 5 battery packs, which are significantly smaller than the Generation 3 and 4 packs used in the company’s current EVs. This makes the cells easier to package in the vehicle’s floor, and allows them to be more easily scaled for smaller or larger applications.

These Generation 5 batteries are also stronger, meaning they can better handle fast-charging situations. BMW says that, on a 150-kW DC fast charger, the i4 should be able to achieve an 80% charge in about 35 minutes. For comparison, BMW notes that the i4 can add about 62 miles of range in about 6 minutes, while it takes the current i3 hatchback about 17 minutes to do the same.BMW’s Vision Dynamics concept is the shape of things to come48 PHOTOS

Total driving range is estimated to be roughly 373 miles on the notoriously optimistic European WLTP cycle; expect the US number to be a bit less, probably around 340-350 miles.

Of course, that’s just the beginning. While BMW will only confirm the 530-hp, 373-mile i4 at this time, Roadshow has learned that additional power and range levels will also be available.

The i4 will ride on modular architecture that will be shared with other EVs. Because of this, the new electric drive unit, which packages the motor, transmission and electronics in one housing, can be mounted at the front or rear axles — or both — to provide front-, rear- or all-wheel drive as needed for the specific vehicle type.

The Generation 5 electric drive system is scalable for power outputs between 90 kW and 300 kW. Because the i4 produces 390 kW — the aforementioned 530-ish hp — it stands to reason this four-door will have a two-motor, all-wheel-drive layout.

This modular architecture won’t just be scalable between electric vehicles, either. The i4 will use the same underpinnings as the new 3 Series sedan and upcoming 4 Series models, which allows BMW to not only offer gas-only, plug-in hybrid and fully electric models on the same platform, but produce them on the same line, as well. This greatly streamlines the manufacturing process.

BMW i4 prototype
The i4 is a “four-door coupe” and will hit 62 mph in just 4 seconds.BMW

BMW says the stiffness of its battery construction and the integration of the modules in the vehicle’s floorpan help in a number of other key areas, too. This high-strength construction makes the vehicle safer in the event of a crash, and the low center of gravity improves driving dynamics.

In the case of the 2021 BMW i4, the battery module will weigh roughly 1,200 pounds, all of which will be packaged as low as possible in the vehicle’s floor, directly between the front and rear axles.

The i4 is just one of several fully electric vehicles that will use BMW’s Generation 5 technologies. The first production car to benefit from these batteries and manufacturing processes will be the iX3 SUV, which arrives next year. Following that, we’ll see a production version of the iNext concept, followed by the i4.

As for the i4’s design, we won’t see that until sometime toward the end of 2020. All we know right now is that the i4 will look a lot like BMW’s i Vision Dynamics concept, pictured here — in other words, a modern take on a 4 Series Gran Coupe body style. The BMW Concept 4 from the 2019 Frankfurt Auto Show will have some influence on this EV’s design, too.

The BMW i4 will be built in Munich beginning in 2021 and will make its way to other markets following that launch. We expect it to arrive in the US in 2021, possibly as a 2022 model.


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