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BMW 4 series


BMW I3

Summary

BMW 4 series

BMW's new 4 Series blasted onto the world stage with a chonky schnozz on it that only a mother could love. If BMW didn't want anyone to look at the rest of the car, it did a cracking job of it, because everyone had something to say about the big gnashers now grafted to the 4's front end.

I was nervous about it, too, because the 4 Series has always been so elegant and the current 3 Series - on which it is based - is quite nice to look at. It also threatened to overshadow just how good a car the BMW 4 should be, based as it is on the excellent 3 Series.

And, of course, one also had to wonder if a sports coupe like this would be any good around town. Limited vision? Hard to get in and out of? A true four-seater, or just a squishy 2+2? So many questions. 

Safety rating
Engine Type2.0L
Fuel TypePremium Unleaded Petrol
Fuel Efficiency6.4L/100km
Seating4 seats

BMW I3

I'm confused.

I'm not entirely sure the world needed this car. It's the new 2018 BMW i3s, a new sportier version of the regular BMW i3.

Why am I not sure if the world needed it?

Well, I would have thought i3 buyers were eco-greenies? People who are more into lower emissions than lower 0-100km/h times?

But, what do you know - the new i3s has both of those bases covered. It's more efficient, offers more range - but also happens to be quicker and more fun to drive.

Safety rating
Engine Type
Fuel TypeElectric
Fuel Efficiency0.6L/100km
Seating5 seats

Verdict

BMW 4 series7.8/10

The BMW 420i is a terrific car if you're after a bit of style and sophistication. Not everyone will warm to your car's nose, but if you get it de-chromed, like this white one, it really does look pretty good. It's a car that uses very little fuel, moves along smartly and is brimming with a decent amount of tech, even if it could do with a bit more safety gear at this price. 

I reckon this car is settling well into the automotive landscape and ignoring it because of a few loudmouths think the grille is too big would be a terrible waste.


BMW I37.4/10

If you want an electric hatchback that looks like it's from the future, then you should totally look at the BMW i3. There are no real competitors at the moment, and if the Tesla Model 3 production puzzle doesn't sort itself out soon, the i3 could have this part of the market to itself for a while.

This isn't a car for everyone, and it might not be a car for everyday, either. But as a second or third car, it is very convincing. It is unashamedly aimed at city buyers, people who need a car to get around without using fossil fuels... well, if you buy the pure electric model, that is.

The world may not have 'needed' the i3s – but buyers are definitely better off for having the option of the new sportier version of the compact electrified hatchback. This car means they can be eco-friendly and still enjoy the drive.

Does the BMW i3s appeal to you? Let us know in the comments section below.

Design

BMW 4 series

The internet exploded when it became clear the big kidney grille was for real. To be fair, BMW did itself absolutely no favours by ensuring the photos of the 4 Series made the twin grille look Easter Island statue sized. 

And it persisted in doing them naked, without number plates to break up the look. In the flesh, it all works, the nose is striking but not completely overblown. 

BMW coupe elegance reigns supreme in profile, however, with excellent proportions, and even in base form the wheels are the right size. The slim tail-lights and sculpted tail complete the look. It's a car I think most people love looking at. Hardly anyone mentioned the grille.

The cabin is excellent, as are all of the newer BMW interiors. It's not really a base model, given the price, but the mix of Alcantara and synthetic leather is very pleasing. 

The big screens for the media and instruments headline the cabin with high-tech style and while it's not avant-garde, it's sharp and feels premium, which is just as well.


BMW I39/10

It's amazing to look at. I'm probably not the only person in the country, or the world, who doesn't think 'wow that's what cars of the future look like' when they see a BMW i3.

That's despite the fact the first-generation BMW i3 is now more than three years into its life, and the rest of the automotive world hasn't shifted quite as far as the i3 pushed things.

From the pillar-less body, carbon-fibre tub, fishbowl rear windows and rearward-opening back doors, this is still a design icon.

And the newly added i3s model has a bit more going on for it than the regular i3, with distinctive blackened wheelarches to help hide the wider tyres (now 20mm wider) on the 20-inch wheels. The entire i3 range finally has full LED headlights - so it should, as a tech-lead car (previously the LEDs were low-beam, and the high-beams were halogen).

If you think this i3 looks a little sleeker than the previous one, that's because there's also been a revamp to the bumpers and daytime running lights, plus you can get it in a range of new colours. And sure, the new rims mightn't have fatty tyres like you get on the back of an X5, but the rims fill the wheelarches nicely.

The i3s model has a black-top finish, and it looks the part -  as much as a semi-sporty electric hatchback can. Forget the sporty bit, though, and it still looks more high-tech than anything else on the market aside from maybe its (actually sporty) sibling, the i8.

The inside? Well, it's next-level amazing in terms of its design... but the space on offer could be better.

Practicality

BMW 4 series

As a sports coupe, it's hardly a practical all-rounder but it's not a squishy 2+2 either. The rear seats are sculpted for maximum headroom and have the added bonus of holding onto rear passengers. 

Six footers won't be super-comfortable but it's bearable for short trips. There are two ISOFIX points back there, too. 

The front seats electrically fold out of the way for ingress and egress, but it's not an elegant process.

Front-seat passengers score two cupholders and bottle holders in the doors and a black hole for your phone and its wireless charging pad.

The boot takes an impressive 440 litres and the rear seats split and fold like good little soldiers.


BMW I37/10

It isn't a family car, and nor should it be considered one. This is more likely to be a second, third or even fourth car - the one that is used to get around town rather than hit the open road for a long-distance trip.

As a car for couples, or an occasional family shopping cart, the i3 has some really positive attributes. And, undeniably, my favourite part of all is the cabin finish and design. It's like sitting in an expensive furniture shop.

It's all very European and chic, and it seems even fancier when you learn that the so-called 'Lodge' interior trim that is fitted as standard uses "natural leather tanned using an olive leaf extract" and that the cabin also has "wool-based textiles" and recycled plastic on the doors and dashboard.

Seriously, if this is where BMW design is heading, I'm all in.

The cabin also benefits from a new 10.25-inch media screen with the brand's latest multimedia system, 'iDrive6', which is a big improvement on the old system. It's easy to use, the screen is clear, and you can get Apple CarPlay - but, cheekily, BMW asks you to pay an optional fee for it. On the plus side, this version is wireless, so no messy cables - a bit like a furniture showroom, really, you never see any exposed wires there!

Storage is really well sorted as well, with a big cubby on the dashboard, a bunch of storage holds and cupholders between the front seats, and big door pockets as well. In the back there is a fold-down armrest with cupholders, and there are door pockets on the rear doors, too.

Let's talk about those doors - suicide, rear-hinged, whatever you want to call them: they're not conventional, and while they might seem fiddly (you have to open the front door to open the rear one, and that can be annoying) the space is surprising in there.

An adult of about my size (183cm tall) can easily climb in the back with less awkwardness than in say, a three-door hatchback. If you have younger kids, loading them in and out could be a bit more difficult than in a small conventional five-door hatch - but there are ISOFIX anchors and top-tether points for kids. Also, it's worth remembering this is a four-seater, not a five-seater.

Coming back to what I said earlier - this isn't the car you buy if you want to move a family and all their stuff. The boot is still quite small at 260 litres, meaning you might have to limit the luggage you take with you. But for a couple heading (not too far) away for a weekend, it could be perfectly suitable.

The interior has three different styles - or "Interior Worlds" - it can come in, too: 'Lodge' (the standard); 'Loft' (a greyer look, at no cost); and 'Suite', a more premium version with brown leather and oak trim ($2000).

Price and features

BMW 4 series

The 420i starts at $71,900. That's a fair bit of money, I think you'll agree.

You get 19-inch wheels, a 10-speaker stereo, LED headlights with auto high beam, head-up display, power front seats, lighting package, auto-parking with reverse assistant, synthetic leather and Alcantara interior, 'Live Cockpit Professional' (fully digital dash), wireless phone charging and digital radio.

The massive 10.25-inch touchscreen may be smaller than the 12.3-inch digital dashboard, but it still looks huge. BMW's Operating System 7.0. is a cracking set-up, and you can control it via either touch or the 'iDrive' rotary dial on the console. It also has Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Both of them, wireless. You don't read that every day.

You also get 'BMW ConnectedDrive', with some remote services that last for three years. The subscription includes things like the endearingly weird 'Caring Car' and the far less weird real-time traffic information.

The 4 Series is available in eight colours. 'Alpine White' is the only freebie while 'Black Sapphire', 'Arctic Race Blue', 'Portimao Blue', 'San Remo Green' and 'Mineral White' are $1538 each (or part of the 'Visibility Package'). 'Tanzanite Blue' and 'Dravit Grey' are a hefty $2962.

My car for the week had the $6300 Visibility Package (metallic paintwork, sunroof, BMW Laserlight, Ambient Light, which is worth it for the amazing Laserlights alone), the $2860 'Comfort Package' (lumbar support, electric boot, heated front seats, 'Comfort Access' with 'BMW Digital Key') and an $800 black pack. All this took the price to $81,860.


BMW I35/10

I don't envy BMW's product team when it comes to laying out the groundwork for the pricing and specs for its 'i' product range. Electric cars are expensive, but buyers are taking a risk... so finding the middle ground can be hard.

I mean, a city-sized, efficient hatchback is an easy thing to come by, and there are some seriously good-value offerings out there. Think the Kia Picanto, which you can get for less than $15,000.

And at the other end of the scale there's the i3s, about five times the price of the Picanto. The battery version (called 94Ah in BMW speak) is listed at $69,900 plus on-roads, while the version with a petrol engine (94Ah with Range Extender) is $75,900.

You can still get a regular version of the i3 if this sportier S model isn't for you – and it's $1200 cheaper in both guises. But if you're asking me, that $1200 is well worth spending to get the S model.

It's easy to justify that extra splurge because - there is no question about it - this is an expensive car. But it's a technological powerhouse, and that famed rondel has plenty of badge cred.

It isn't like the i3s is packed with equipment when you delve into the options list. Obviously Apple CarPlay at $623 is a bit rude, but other things like heated seats ($730) a sunroof ($2920) and tyre pressure monitoring ($370) are items that could arguably be fitted to a high-spec car.

The comfort package is something I think should really be included as standard - it bundles keyless access (unlocking for the doors), seat heating and a 12-speaker harman/kardon sound system. It costs $2000. It should be on the i3s, right?

Still, the standard kit list includes some good (but not ground-breaking) safety inclusions, a new 10.25-inch media screen with sat nav, a four-speaker stereo with DAB+ digital radio, auxiliary jack, USB and Bluetooth, plus BMW's 'ConnectedDrive' online services system, single-zone climate control, LED headlights, auto-dimming mirrors, and auto wipers and lights. All of that is identical to the regular i3.

The i3s - specifically - adds 20-inch light alloys (19s on the regular one), sports suspension (lowered by 10mm), a revised traction control system and a sportier exterior design with flared wheel arches to help tuck those wider wheels in.

As for colour choices, there are two no-cost options, 'Fluid Black' and 'Capparis White', and four metallic versions at a cost of $1090, 'Imperial Blue', 'Melbourne Red' and 'Protonic Blue' (all with 'Frozen Grey' highlights), and 'Mineral Grey' with 'BMW i Blue' highlights.

Engine & trans

BMW 4 series

The 420i’s 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder, codenamed B48, spins up 135kW/300Nm. Driving the rear wheels through an eight-speed ZF automatic transmission, you'll go from zip to the 100km/h mark in 7.5 seconds, which is brisk, if not staggering.


BMW I37/10

The i3 and i3s 94Ah models are separated by way of different power outputs from their electric drivetrains.

The regular i3 has 125kW/250Nm available from its electric motor, while the i3s pushes that to 135kW/270Nm.

There's no engine in the regular model - but there is in the range-extender version: a two-cylinder (647cc) unit mounted mid-rear.

All i3 models are automatic - a single-speed transmission, so there are no steps or gears to worry about - and rear-wheel drive.

Fuel consumption

BMW 4 series

BMW's official combined-cycle figures seem to be slowly moving towards reality. The 420i's sticker figure of 6.4L/100km was met with an indicated 6.8L/100km, which was excellent going for almost exclusively suburban and urban running. 

It's a solid result, but being a BMW, it's premium unleaded only for its 59-litre tank.

With my generally unsympathetic (but not psychopathic) right foot, that means a real-world range of over 800km between fills.


BMW I39/10

Running costs could be very low in the BMW i3s, particularly if you have your own solar set-up. Even if you don't, the cost of recharging the battery (33kWh x $0.22c) is very cheap: $7.26 for 200km of driving. By my maths (with fuel being about $1.35/L) a petrol or diesel car would have to be getting 2.7L/100km to be close to that.

And to speak in geeky electro-talk for a second, the i3s's power consumption is rated at 14.3kWh per 100km.

Bit more geek-talk coming up: charging can be done by way of a Type 2 CCS plug. You can recharge using a regular powerpoint (single-phase, 7.4kW), a three-phase charger (which you can get as a wall-box from BMW, 11kW) or a 50kW fast charger (if you can find one).

BMW claims that you will see 'everyday range' of up to 200km for the regular i3 and i3s - not bad, but not Tesla-rivalling... but nor is it Tesla-priced.

The range-extender model has 330km of claimed range thanks to its nine-litre fuel tank and two-cylinder petrol engine. Claimed consumption for that drivetrain is 0.6L/100km for the i3 and 0.7L/100km for the i3s.

Driving

BMW 4 series

One of the main things that sets a BMW sedan or sedan-based coupe apart is that they're good everywhere, except perhaps in quicksand. 

As the platform has matured and BMW's persistence with run-flat tyres has yielded improvements in tyre construction, the 3/4 Series platform (and many others - the internal name for the platform is CLAR) has once again become the benchmark for ride and handling.

For some people reading this, that's a lot of blah blah blah but the main point is, it's a terrific thing to drive whether you're dawdling along in traffic, dealing with traffic calming or bombing down your favourite deserted road.

The Bridgestone tyres on the 420i aren't as ultimately grippy and sticky as the alternative rubber on the 430i but they work well in town and are quiet on the 80km/h roads so prevalent in Sydney. 

The steering is absolutely lovely, providing just the right weight at any given speed and throwing in the road feel to inspire confidence.

Ride around town is compliant but with the whiff of fun if you decide to push things outside of the city. 

Its capabilities are still more than worthwhile day-to-day, however, because the way it handles the need to duck in and out of spaces in traffic is extremely handy.

The 2.0-litre four-cylinder is as smooth as rival Audi's. It doesn't sound like much (with a few vestigial pops in Sport mode) but it's certainly got the power to get you out of sticky situations and a transmission that's willing to play ball, whether in Sport or Normal.

Without the adaptive suspension of its 430i and M 440i brethren, this is a very smooth, easygoing sports coupe, with just enough sportiness to keep you interested, if you're that way inclined.


BMW I38/10

Enjoyable. That's the word that sprung to my mind. Not sporty. Not crazy fast. Not unpleasant. It is really, really enjoyable.

We didn't spend time in the range-extender version - instead, our short drive was limited to the plain EV model.

Either way, though, you get that whooshy feeling of instant torque from a standstill because it's an electric car (the range extender model will just kick its two-cylinder engine into life to help charge the batteries up and keep you moving on electric power alone).

Apart from a slight whirring from the electric motor when you push the throttle, there's not a lot of noise to speak of - a bit of wind noise from the side mirrors (it was a gale-force windy day in Melbourne at the launch), and a little bit of tyre roar from those new shoes.

Speaking of the tyres, they're now 20mm wider to enhance the stability and handling of the i3. Not only does that add extra width to the car's footprint, the i3s has lowered sports suspension with new springs, dampers and anti-roll bars.

The existing model looked like it was rolling on bicycle wheels, but the new rubber definitely has an impact on the levels of grip available and stability in corners. The previous version (and the regular regular i3 below this one) were/are fitted with slimmer tyres that can make it feel a little skittish at times, but these new broader contact patches help out a lot.

Being rear-wheel drive, and because it doesn't have gears to get in the way of driving like in a conventional car, the i3s is a pretty sporty experience. There's even a Sport mode to help justify some lead-footedness, which is pretty exciting if you like to drive... and I do.

You put your foot down, and it throws you back in your seat - not quite to the degree a Tesla does, but it's definitely rapid enough. BMW claims the i3s can now sprint to highway pace in just 6.9 seconds - which is four tenths faster than the regular i3.

And with its aggressive regenerative braking system you pull up pretty swiftly too. It can take some getting used to, because it slows you up faster than you might think.

Just like any sporty car, though, you can only have fun in it for so long before you start to think to yourself 'wow, I'd better go easy or I'll run out of juice'... it's just that in the case of the i3s, you run out quicker because its 'tank' isn't that big, and you're refill isn't as easy as heading to the servo and topping up in a matter of minutes.

Safety

BMW 4 series

The 4 Series comes with six airbags, ABS, stability and traction controls, forward AEB, forward collision warning, lane-departure warning, reverse cross-traffic alert and reversing camera.

The 4 Series hasn't been tested by ANCAP or Euro NCAP and the 3's five-star rating can only be a guide because of the very different structure of the 4. 

Sports cars rarely fare well in the sometimes complex rules so carmakers tend to keep them away from the clutches of crash testers.


BMW I36/10

The BMW i3 was awarded the maximum five-star ANCAP safety rating in 2014 when it was tested. It remains a five-star car with this update.

The i3 includes six airbags (dual front, front side, curtain), an integrated roll-over sensor with a battery shut-off function, a reversing camera, parking sensors all around, forward collision warning and pedestrian detection, auto emergency braking (AEB), active cruise control, and lane-keeping assist.

The i3 base model gets semi-automated parking assist, but the i3s misses out on that. And, oddly, no i3 model comes with lane-keeping assist or lane departure warning, and nor can you have one with blind-spot monitoring or lane-keeping assist.

Ownership

BMW 4 series

BMW offers a ho-hum length of three years and 100,000km of warranty coverage. Mercedes has gone to five years so one wonders why BMW (and Audi) hasn't joined its German rival.

Servicing is entirely reasonable at $1650 for a five-year/80,000km package that covers the 12 month/16,000km servicing regime. 

At $330 per service, it includes things many carmakers don't, such as brake fluid and spark plugs. 

You can go full noise with the 'Plus Package', which costs $4500 and chucks in brake pads, rotors and even windscreen-wiper replacement. That doesn't seem like terribly good value to me unless you drive like a lunatic.


BMW I38/10

BMW uses a so-called 'condition based servicing' program, whereby the car alerts the driver as to when maintenance may be required. And with fewer moving parts than a conventional car, costs should theoretically be lower.

The car itself is covered by a three-year/unlimited kilometre warranty, while the battery has a 'certificate' for eight years/100,000km.