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BMW reveals i4 electric car in testing, promises nearly 400 miles of range

The Verge logo The Verge 11/18/2019 Sean O'Kane
a car covered in snow © Images: BMW

BMW has been teasing the i4 electric car for years, and now the German automaker has released camouflaged photos of the sedan being tested in winter weather conditions ahead of a 2021 release. The company also started teasing some eye-popping specs — namely, 600 kilometers (373 miles) of range and 530 horsepower.

The range is particularly impressive since BMW says the vehicle only has an 80kWh battery pack. (For reference, Tesla recently squeezed a similar 373 miles out of its own 100kWh battery pack.) There are likely a couple of factors at play here. One, it’s almost certain that BMW is basing this range figure on the European testing cycle, which tends to return more optimistic estimates. If that is the case, then the ultimate EPA-estimated range of the vehicle will be closer to 300 miles when all is said and done. Still great, but not “nearly 400 miles” great.

BMW attributes the range spec to “significant advancements” in its electric technology

BMW also says it has made “significant advancements” in its electric powertrain. The i4 will use the fifth generation of BMW’s battery pack / electric motor technology, which the company has honed over the years on the i3 EV. Specifically, BMW says it’s using a high-voltage battery setup on the i4, similar to the approach Porsche took with the Taycan’s battery. It’s certainly possible BMW has made enough technological progress to squeeze so much range out of a battery pack of that size.

That said, BMW really pushed electric vehicles to the side after releasing the i3 in 2013, and its CEO even stepped down earlier this year after, in so many words, essentially admitting that the company fell behind the curve. (Another reason I’m skeptical: this range figure is the same that BMW touted when it revealed the iVision Dynamics concept car in 2017, which is what the i4 is based on. And production specs almost never wind up rivaling concept specs.) BMW is also claiming the 530 horsepower is coming from one 390kW electric motor, which is another bold claim I’m eager to watch it nail to the wall as we get closer to the i4’s debut.

This fifth-generation technology will also show up in BMW’s forthcoming iNext SUV and the iX3, an electric SUV destined for China, both of which were also present at the winter testing.

People have waited the better part of a decade now for BMW to follow up on the i3 electric SUV and its hybrid i8 sports car. The i4 has been rumored for seemingly just as long. BMW finally said it was coming in 2021 at last year’s Geneva Motor Show, but it’s been a relatively slow drip since then.

The new teaser images help ground the i4 in the real world a bit more. But by dropping these them on the first morning of the 2019 LA Auto Show, BMW seems to be telegraphing that there’s no hope of us catching a glimpse of the electric car in the flesh this week. (Mercedes-Benz did the same thing at the 2018 Geneva Motor Show when it released cold-weather testing images of the EQC electric.) Instead, BMW is likely holding the full reveal for its own event or for one of the auto shows that are closer to its home turf. Until that happens, speculation about the car will rage on, alongside continued scrutiny about how and why BMW fell behind on electric vehicles.

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