Development of BMW's all-electric i4 is well under way, and new spyshots reveal the four-door coupe undergoing cold weather testing.
Like previous prototype shots, we can see there is a clear visual link between the new EV and the latest 3 Series, as the i4 will share much of its design with the upcoming 4 Series Gran Coupé.
However, a side-on view reveals that the new car appears higher off the ground (both in terms of roof height and ground clearance) than today's 4 Series, suggesting a raised floor to accommodate a sizeable long-range battery. Other tell-tale signs that this is the i4 include blanked-off front grilles, fake 'exhausts' in the disguise, and legally mandated 'electric test vehicle' stickers.
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The i4 is scheduled to be built on the same line as standard 3 Series models at BMW's factory in Munich. To ensure a smooth production process with existing petrol, diesel and hybrid models, the German car maker is already running assembly tests with pre-production versions.
The expansion of the EV i sub-brand follows a ruling by the EU to enforce a fleet average CO2 emission reduction of 35% for 2030. The ruling effectively spells an end to the combustion engine as a sole source of propulsion for high-volume cars sold in Europe by the end of the next decade, and was expected by BMW’s top management.
Company bosses initiated an acceleration in the development of both long-range plug-in hybrids and pure-electric models in a board meeting held earlier this year. Speaking to Autocar at the 2018 Paris motor show, BMW chairman Harald Krüger confirmed the altered i division plan, which aims to enable the German car maker to offer more pure-electric cars than any premium brand rival in the short term.
It calls for the introduction of up to five dedicated i models by the end of 2021, with tentative steps to expand to 12 electric-powered models within the whole of the BMW Group, including Mini and Rolls-Royce, by 2025.
Among the models at the centre of BMW’s electrification strategy is a further developed version of the continuously evolving i3, an all-electric Mini, the BMW iX3 SUV and the all-new i4. BMW will follow that with a more advanced range of premium electric cars boasting solid-state battery technology and autonomous driving features, previewed with the latest iNext concept.
Whereas the i3, Mini Cooper E and iX3 will be familiar designs, Krüger has described the i4 as a direct Tesla Model 3 rival. Sources have suggested it will be based on a modified platform from the new second-generation 4 Series – itself similar to the CLAR structure that underpins the new 3 Series – and the latest spy pictures appear to bear this out.
The i4 is set to draw heavily on the design of the four-door i Vision Dynamics concept revealed at the 2017 Frankfurt motor show. Krüger said it will have a range of up to 435 miles and “redefine what is possible today for 0-62mph times”.
Krüger also said: “The leading factors that will set it apart are fantastic design, which is very different to anything else on the road, and the fact that it is lighter and therefore more dynamic than anything we see on the market today, thanks to the materials we will use. Couple that with the connectivity technology we are constantly developing and we are confident it will lead the market.”
Sources suggest BMW is considering two drivetrain options for the i4. The first uses a front-mounted electric motor in combination with a fixed-ratio gearbox and an electric propeller shaft to channel drive to the rear wheels. This layout would give the i4 traditional BMW traits and, according to one source, the best possible weight distribution.
The second, and more costly, option is to use two electric motors: one driving the front wheels and a second within the rear axle assembly driving the rear wheels.
Similar to the system that’s set to appear on the iX3, it offers the choice between front- and four-wheel drive, depending on the drive mode that is selected. To achieve performance targets similar to those of the current 335d, BMW is banking on a total output for the electric motor set-up of the i4, whether as a single unit or dual units front and rear, of approximately 350bhp.
To meet the landmark EU ruling on required fleet CO2 emissions for 2030, Krüger has given not only the green light for 12 pure-electric models but also 25 plug-in hybrids by 2025.
BMW's electric revolution begins in the sales charts
BMW’s sales of electrified models have increased rapidly in the past two years. In January 2017, it registered 5232 plug-in vehicles globally, but that figure had more than doubled to 13,271 by December. The company has registered on average more than 10,000 electrified models a month in 2018.
These registrations are more significant viewed as a percentage of BMW’s total sales figures. In January 2017, this was an unremarkable 3.2%, but in August 2018, it was 6.7%. Surprisingly, the most popular plug-in BMW Group model in 2017 was the all-electric i3 – a car that has been in showrooms since 2013 and failed to meet targets for many of its years on sale.
A total of 31,482 were registered in 2017, nearly double the number in 2014. Despite this, BMW still has a long way to go to achieve its 2020 target of 500,000 electrified vehicles sold annually.