The quick-acting four-wheel-drive system plays a crucial role in the performance potential of BMW’s first electric sedan. It is integrated with the chassis control system to provide a fully variable apportioning of drive between the front and rear axles, going from pure rear-wheel drive to four-wheel drive depending on the driving conditions.
The traction is quite striking in combination with 245/40R19 (front) and 255/40R19 (rear) tyres fitted to the prototype we drove. Whether fired off the line or called upon when loaded up with lateral forces at the exit of corner, there’s always plenty of purchase.
Satisfaction in driving the i4 M50 xDrive doesn’t only come in exploiting its substantial reserves, though. An advanced energy-recuperation system also urges you to harvest as much kinetic electricity as possible when the conditions allow.
There are two modes. D selects an adaptive recuperation mode that favours off-throttle coasting and takes into consideration topographic information from the navigation system. B triggers a more brake-oriented recuperation mode capable of generating up to 261bhp. All of which flows back into the battery for use later.
You can alter the amount of regeneration between low, medium and high via the iDrive menu, the latter providing quite strong braking force and one-pedal driving traits at lower speeds around town.
While the i4 M50 xDrive lacks the overall on-road intimacy of an M3, its dynamic properties are very accomplished. To accommodate its electric driveline, it gets a 26mm-wider front and 12mm-wider rear track than other 4 Series models.
It retains a MacPherson strut (front) and multi-link (rear) suspension. However, the latter adopts air springs as standard. Additionally, there are extra bracing elements within the engine bay and at the rear to stiffen up the overall structure.
To counteract the weight brought on by its vast battery, the ride height has also increased by 20mm. However, BMW’s efforts in packaging the driveline down low within the floorpan are claimed to provide the new electric sedan with a centre of gravity that is up to 37mm lower than its combustion-engine siblings.
It might not sound like much, granted. But the handling, most notably the way it controls its mass, is outstanding when you choose one of the more sporting driving modes.
You’re always aware of the weight, but with a 48/52 front-to-rear weight distribution, the i4 M50 xDrive feels wonderfully balanced. And while the electro-mechanical steering is not exactly overflowing with feedback, it sees the new four-door change direction smartly with the sort of eager qualities you expect of a car wearing the revered M badge.
It also has impressive grip. The four-wheel-drive system is programmed to deliver predominantly rear-wheel-drive qualities, and you can feel the torque-vectoring effect of the electronic rear differential in all-out cornering. However, it is quick to shift drive to the front wheels to keep things on a neutral footing.
There’s an assured level of mid-corner purchase and, with all that torque, exceptionally strong drive at the exit. Push hard and you do experience some understeer upon turn-in, though the smoothness of the throttle allows it to be easily adjusted.