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New BMW i4 and iX3 driven: Do you want fast or sensible?

Published Jul 19, 2022


Pretoria - When BMW introduced the stunning i8 and smaller i3, we suddenly started to take note of electric vehicles (EVs).

We didn’t understand or take it too seriously. Fast forward eight or so years, and things have changed drastically. Whether it’s legislation, eco awareness or a desire to do the right thing, there’s not a manufacturer in the world that isn’t building them, with some going as far as setting a date for the demise of their internal combustion engines.

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Although there are many options when it comes to EVs in South Africa, the uptake is slow and is likely to be so for a while, thanks to the government’s ludicrous taxation of EVs, the perceived future of a stable power supply, pricing and charging infrastructure.

These are challenges that manufacturers are addressing through the National Association of Automobile Manufacturers of South Africa, but you know how it goes with government institutions.

Meanwhile, though, new EVs are being launched regularly, the latest being BMW with its impressive i4 and iX3. Both form part of the group's transformation towards a 50% global share of fully electric sales in 2030.

While not in Joe Average’s budget, the pair are well priced for the market they are aimed at, the i4 selling for R1.6 million and the iX3 at R1.29m.

The i4 M50 Gran coupé is BMW M’s first foray into the EV market and the numbers, as you would expect from its M stable, are impressive. It’s available in one performance model – the M50. Its numbers match the ICE BMW M4 when it comes to acceleration, with a 0-100km/h time of 3.9 seconds, although it’s governed to a top speed of 225km/h.

Fitted with an 83.9kWh battery, BMW says with a 200kW DC charger it will get a range of 140km with a 10 minute charge but they aren’t available here yet. You’re likely to get around 60kW at most public chargers.

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There are two electric motors fitted on the front and rear axle that provide 400kW and 795Nm powering all four wheels. Fully charged, it should give you a range of 510km if you drive like a civilised person, which, given the power, requires no small amount of self-control.

Take off, like with all EVs, is blistering as it sends power to the wheels instantly and if you don’t tell the passenger what you’re about to do, their head will snap back.

It’s an incredibly smooth ride thanks, in part, to the low heavy battery coupled with a well set-up suspension and chassis that runs 53mm lower than the 3-series sedan.

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The i4 is a proper M Car, no doubt, but without the exhaust theatrics, you would get with its M4 sibling ,so BMW have added an optional IconicSounds feature that provides background accompaniment at the press of a button on the infotainment screen.

Obviously, it’s all digital inside with a 12.3-inch instrument panel and a curved 14.9-inch touch screen, with the new BMW Operating System 8.

I’m not a huge fan of everything being digital but the curved screen adds a special touch to the interior.

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It’s a proper tourer too with a decent sized 470-litre boot that grows to 1 290-litres when the rear seats are down and it has the capacity to tow 1 600kg.

BMW iX3 is the more practical option

While the i4 M50 is more of a connoisseur’s choice, the iX3 is the more affordable and sober option.

The imported electric car is pretty much the X3 we know that comes out of the Rosslyn plant in Pretoria. It falls between the X3 20d and X3 30d and is priced more or less the same as a similarly specced 30d.

It’s fitted with an 80kWh battery with a single 210kW motor driving the rear wheels, with a claimed range of 460km.

It will get to 100km/h in 6.8 seconds and is limited to a top speed of 180km/h, not that you’ll be doing that often because you’ll be stopping off to charge regularly with a DC fast-charging rate of up to 150kW and a fast charge for 10 minutes, providing a range of 100km. That should be enough to get you home where BMW includes a Wallbox home charger in the purchase price and for now, free charging at a BMW dealership.

While obviously not as quick and impressive as the i40, it’s enough to put a grin on your face with smooth and instant acceleration and well balanced handling to match.

The familiar X3 interior is fitted with a 12.3-inch instrument cluster with BMW i Blue decals on the gear lever, push start button and steering wheel to set it apart from its ICE cousins.

Both come with a two-year/unlimited kilometre warranty and the lithium-ion batteries have an eight-year warranty.

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