BMW M put an end to years of rumors by announcing it's developing its first electric car. Based on the upcoming i4, the sedan will pack a serious punch, but it won't give the recently-unveiled M3 a run for its money.
"Next year, we will launch the first battery-electric M car in the performance segment, based on the i4, as something to confirm. Then, we're working on hybrid electrified performance and high-performance cars, but it's too early to disclose which ones it is going to be [sic]," BMW M boss Markus Flasch told CarAdvice.
While the term "performance segment" is ambiguous, CarAdvice added that Flasch differentiated M's performance cars from its high-performance models. The i4-based sedan will be one of the former; cars like the M3 are part of the latter group. Reading between the lines suggests the M-tuned i4 (whose name hasn't been revealed yet) will be on the same rung of the BMW hierarchy as the M340i, rather than in the same arena as the M3. Its performance shouldn't disappoint, however, because even the standard i4 will be seriously quick.
Introduced as a close-to-production concept earlier in 2020, the quickest i4 will boast up to 530 horsepower from two electric motors, and a 0-60-mph time of about four seconds, which is on par with the aforementioned M3. Flasch stopped short of revealing the M variant's specifications, but those are solid numbers to start with.
BMW isn't opposed to the idea of releasing an M3-rivaling sedan that's powered exclusively by batteries, but it's waiting until electric technology improves to jump into the segment. Flasch said his team is looking into it.
"On the high-performance battery-electric technology, there is still some time that we need until technology is ready, and can take on an existing high-performance car, like an M3 or M4. This will take some more time, but we're working on that," he stressed. Other performance brands have said they need to clear similar hurdles.
While EVs are irrefutably quick, M doesn't develop its cars exclusively for straight-line speed. They need to handle at least as well as they accelerate. Cramming a lithium-ion battery pack under a vehicle's passenger compartment lowers its center of gravity, but it adds a tremendous amount of weight that BMW M needs to offset. Furthermore, engineers are looking at ways to substitute the exhaust note, which is a big part of the driving experience.
We'll learn more about M's electrification plans in the coming months. BMW will begin building the standard variant of the i4 in Munich, Germany, in 2021, meaning it will likely arrive in the United States as a 2022 model. It will cleverly be assembled on the same line as diesel-, gasoline- and hybrid-powered cars. Its M-branded counterpart will make its public debut before the end of 2021, so it might not get here until the 2023 model year.
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