There's No Place for BMW M in the All-Electric Era – Yet

BMW M is a rather important division of a major carmaker. It seems like they got confused and forgot what the "M" stands for. Here's why I think this German company needs to give itself an introspection and start over.
BMW i4 M50 19 photos
Photo: BMW
2022 BMW i4 M502022 BMW i4 M502022 BMW i4 M502022 BMW i4 M502022 BMW i4 M502022 BMW i4 M502022 BMW i4 M50 Interior2023 BMW i7 xDrive60 M Sport2023 BMW i7 xDrive60 M Sport2017 BMW i32017 BMW i32017 BMW i32017 BMW i32017 BMW i32017 BMW i32017 BMW i32017 BMW i3The i4 M50 Presented as the "First Fully-Electric M Car"
It was a rather hot summer day when I first made contact with a barely used BMW i3. I won’t lie to you. The initial feeling the bubbly-looking car left me with was a peculiar one. I was expecting a great electric vehicle (EV) that was supposed to be coming straight from the minds of arguably some of the industry’s best. Thinking it might be something futuristic-looking, concept-like, and maybe even provocative, I was anxious. It was a marvelous state of mind. Ah, to discover something groundbreaking and have the chance to experience it alone, without the carmaker’s constant pressure and with no prior preparation whatsoever!

Instead, here I was looking at something that seemed to be a contemporary BMW Isetta made under Rolls-Royce guidance but without the necessary budget to be something extraordinaire. It felt like I was witnessing some sort of product of advanced humor. Seeing it in polycarbonate, carbon fiber, steel, and aluminum six years ago made me question what the Bavarians had in mind for turning Tesla into an irrelevant company. The current automotive scenery clearly tells us that Europeans weren’t at all serious, to begin with, when it came to EVs, or – just maybe – they were so distracted by other topics that they failed to see what was truly important.

I refuse to believe the BMW i3 was a marketing stunt because it isn’t feasible for a company to pour so much money into a new vehicle and not be serious about it. Plus, the generous run it had and the multiple versions it came in tell me this zero-emissions car was the real deal.

2017 BMW i3
Photo: BMW
However, this was the product of a different BMW branch – the promising BMW i. It was supposed to be great, provocative, and a sneak peek into the future. It didn’t feel like that, even though the car was presenting itself as something modern that put sustainability at its core. It encompassed a different vision, but it didn’t leave me with awe-like feedback. It was just another BMW with a different drivetrain and skinny tires.

Wait, there's more!

But then the i8 came. I will not lie to you. This car got me extremely excited. I was ready to travel anywhere to see it, touch it, and maybe drive it for more than 10 miles. To me, it was BMW’s halo car. It had everything. A cool propulsion solution, the looks to go with it, enough technology to make it usable in everyday scenarios, and some practicality. The problem was – it had an engine! I didn’t care about it being a three-cylinder, but I was confused because it wasn’t all-electric. The i3 might’ve gotten a range extender in its REx form, but that was understandable since the Bavarians wanted to make it as popular. But why was the i8 a plug-in hybrid? It made no sense!

Yes, the good-looking coupe drove well, it attracted enough attention and appreciation from strangers, and it had good gas mileage if you weren’t pushing it, but the plug-in hybrid solution didn’t fit its futuristic look and BMW i branding. I know it was a compromise to show what BMW can do for its customers, but its best-looking contemporary product that’s now discontinued didn’t put in the spotlight what engineers and technicians can achieve together with enough funding and time.

Don’t hate me yet. You must understand this is coming from someone that had the i8 Roadster as the sole printed poster car in his bedroom. I’m not bashing BMW for fun or clout here. I’m just saying it as it is. They could’ve done it better. I know BMW can because they almost always outdid themselves and surprised their rivals. Look at the M3 Competition or the brand-new i7 – they’re amazing! Even if their looks are controversial, both vehicles are at the top of their range. They show prowess!

2023 BMW i7 xDrive60 M Sport
Photo: BMW UK
Furthermore, I learned from researching and talking with BMW officials that the i division was started from scratch and separated from the company’s traditional branches. Their purpose was to make cool EVs and establish a strategy that would keep profitability going hand in hand with innovation, care for the environment, and disruption.

It might've been a dream

That never happened as I expected it. Not even today.

The iX is an amazing SUV, but it is in no way something groundbreaking or extraordinary.

The iX3 is a crossover SUV that just received a battery and a rear-wheel-drive architecture for some unexpected reasoning. It should’ve at least been a front-wheel-drive car! Nobody buys an electric SUV to skid around with it. Who needs power sent to the rear wheels only with such a vehicle?

Even the first reviews for the crazy-looking BMW XM are saying the German carmaker tried to emphasize "an M lounge experience" with this newly-developed SUV. Those that got their hands on one of the prototypes also argue "the driving experience is not overly engaging, but that's mostly by design." Is it all going to be about lifestyle and social status? Is that where we're heading? I certainly hope not!

But the i4 M50 is where the Bavarian automaker made me truly question its intents. This luxury four-door coupe looked amazingly promising. It was even presented as “BMW M’s first electric vehicle.” This introduction alone got me excited, and I was ready to see what they finally made. After all these years of experiments, the BMW fan in me was ready to be overjoyed. I expected it to be glorious. Both the i and the M divisions got together to deliver an amazing product, so something extraordinary was to come – or so I hoped.

The 544 HP (573 bhp) machine, however, carried the negatives of being an EV with modestly good range. It was heavy. Being all-wheel drive didn’t help either. The reviews came in, and I was amazingly disappointed. How can someone that makes the M4 or the M8 give us the i4 M50 that’s just… bland! It still doesn’t feel right to me.

2022 BMW i4 M50
Photo: BMW AG.
Yes, it has acceleration, but the weight ruins almost everything. I know and understand there’s no magic solution to make battery packs lighter for now, so why tell your customers it’s the first “M car?” It’s not right!

What’s even worse is they chose the BMW i4 eDrive40 for a marketing stunt that wanted to show the “ultimate driving machine” characteristics continue to be present in the EV era. The non-M car drifted the 99 tight turns of the famous Tongtian Road. It did it beautifully.

Given all this, I think BMW M doesn’t have its own place in the upcoming all-electric period. The i4 M50 feels like a forced product, while the iX M60 is just a giant meant to attract those that buy V8-powered SUVs to use them just to show off. The “M” in BMW M must remain a reference to motorsport, not to marketing.

While BMW does incredible work when it comes to real sustainability, let me say the true zero-emission M car is yet to come. And I, for one, strongly believe it will be an incredibly great product. That’s because I believe BMW just wanted to attract enough attention for its EV side of the car selling business with this four-door coupe. They must have something in the works that’ll leave the likes of Tesla Plaids somewhere in the rearview mirror.

Until then, let’s wait. Let’s give them some time.

Thanks for tuning into the last day of BMW M Month here on autoevolution.
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About the author: Florin Amariei
Florin Amariei profile photo

Car shows on TV and his father's Fiat Tempra may have been Florin's early influences, but nowadays he favors different things, like the power of an F-150 Raptor. He'll never be able to ignore the shape of a Ferrari though, especially a yellow one.
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