It looks like the i4 has what it takes to beat the Tesla Model 3

BMW unveiled thei4 Concept at the 2020 Geneva International Motor Show, well, virtually. It previewed what we can expect from the production-spec i4 that will release some time in 2021.

The concept proved that there is a lot more to the i4 than its polarizing looks. We put it up against the Tesla Model S recently, but how does it fare against Tesla’s best-seller and most likely cheaper Model 3? So, let’s compare them both and see what are the differences between the Tesla Model 3 and BMW i4, and why do those differences matter.

Exterior Design – What Makes The i4 Different From The Model 3

2021 BMW i4 vs 2020 Tesla Model 3 Exterior
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The Tesla Model 3 and BMW i4 follow completely different design philosophies. The American EV looks simple and wears a rather conventional design with no funky curves and creases anywhere on the body. The German’s production version will be toned down a little, but it will still be quite bold and will turn a lot of heads on the road.

The biggest difference between both cars when viewed from the front is the grille.

While the i4 comes with a huge kidney grille, the Model 3 doesn’t even have one. The only opening on its face is the air dam at the bottom of the bumper that directs airflow in the batteries. The Model 3 features swept-back headlamps, whereas the i4 wears slim, aggressive units. BMW also introduced its latest logo on the i4.

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When viewed from the side, the German looks relatively simple and in-line with BMW’s current lineup.

The rear boasts a few bold elements, but the taillights and overall appearance itself isn’t as gaudy as the face. The silhouette of the Model 3 is plain and simple and doesn’t feature a lot of sharp curves and edges. The i4 features slim L-shaped LED taillights that look bright and crisp compared to the Model 3’s thick taillights. Both cars feature an all-glass roof that makes it interesting for passengers. On the utility front, the glass roof on the Model 3 is roof-rack compatible and Tesla launched the rack as an accessory last year. There is no word on the i4’s roof being compatible for the same yet.

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Extracting maximum range from a battery also depends on the car’s dynamics and proportions. It’s safe to say that Tesla has nailed it in this department with its current crop of cars. The Model 3 boasts a drag coefficient of just 0.23 which, according to the company, is the lowest for any car on earth! Even the Model S has the same rating. The air intakes in the right places and the spoiler lip on the hood play a big role in keeping this number low. The Model 3 can be had with “aero wheels” as well. BMW is yet to release the numbers for the i4. However, since it is being referred to as an electric 4 Series Gran Coupe, that model has a drag coefficient of 0.28. The automaker could bring that number down on the i4 as it has done on the 2019 3 Series, which also has a drag coefficient of 0.23.

Exterior Colors

2018 Tesla Model 3 High Resolution Exterior
- image 671346

The Tesla Model S is available in five colors:

  • Pearl White (Multi-Coat)
  • Solid Black
  • Midnight Silver Metallic
  • Deep Blue Metallic
  • Red (Multi-Coat)
2021 BMW i4 vs 2020 Tesla Model S
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For now, we’ve seen the i4 only in the copper-peach shade. However, some folks have used their Photoshop skills and painted the i4 in different shades. I must say, it actually looks pretty good in solid colors. BMW offers the 4 Series Gran Coupe in 13 different shades; so, don’t be surprised if the i4 also receives as many shades.

Exterior Dimensions

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We are yet to know the i4’s dimensions, but it will be very similarly sized to the Model 3. For now, we’ve listed the dimensions of the 4 Series Gran Coupe for reference, and the Model 3 is marginally longer, wider, taller, and has a longer wheelbase than the Bavarian.

BMW i4 vs Tesla Model 3 exterior dimensions
Tesla Model 3 BMW 4 Series Gran Coupe
Length 184.8 inches 182.7 inches
Width 72.8 inches/76.1 inches (with wing mirrors folded/unfolded) 71.9 inches
Height 56.8 inches 54.7 inches
Wheelbase 113.2 inches 110.6 inches

Interior Design

BMW i4 Interior

2020 BMW Concept i4 Interior
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Given how bold the exterior is, everyone expected the cabin to be on the same lines. However, even for a concept, the i4 boasts of a rather sedate, neutral cabin.

The production-spec won’t come with all the things shown in the concept, but some of which could make their way in here include the flat-bottom steering wheel, the curved display that includes the digital instrument cluster and infotainment system. Ambient lighting in the foot-well and door pad could be a nice touch as well. There’s the sweet panoramic sunroof, too. The concept showcased a four-seat setup on the i4, but the production car could offer a bench at the rear to accommodate three passengers.

Tesla Model 3

2018 Tesla Model 3
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The Tesla Model 3 has a very simple and minimalistic cabin. Everything is well laid out and there are no extra shenanigans whatsoever.

The cabin is bereft of physical knobs, dials, and buttons. A 15-inch touchscreen dominates the dash and is the control house of everything inside. In terms of space, the Model 3 doesn’t disappoint. There is ample legroom, headroom, and shoulder room to keep all the occupants happy. The glass roof and the dual-tone theme make sure that the cabin doesn’t feel claustrophobic.

Tech Features

BMW i4

2020 BMW Concept i4 Interior
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  • Automatic-opening doors
  • iDrive system with a crystal dial
  • Curved display that integrates the instrument cluster as well as the infotainment system
  • Sounds for different drive modes, warnings, etc. developed with the legendary Hans Zimmer
  • “Intelligence Panel” on the outside grille that houses various sensor for driver-assisted features

Tesla Model 3

2018 Tesla Model 3
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  • 15-inch landscaped-style touchscreen system
  • Constant over-the-air updates make the car feel fresh
  • 360-degree Camera Setup
  • 14-speaker sound system
  • Easter Eggs
  • Autopilot
Tesla is known for its intuitive and user-friendly infotainment system that is mighty expansive.

It basically controls everything in the car. BMW, on the other hand, has the complicated-yet-proven iDrive system. Not a lot of features are known about the i4’s system yet, but there are a few really exciting ones. For starters, the German automaker has collaborated with the legendary Hans Zimmer to add various sounds to its sound emulator. However, Tesla is known to be at the top of things when it comes to technology. There are many party tricks and gimmicks in here to keep you entertained at all times. The company also keeps sending over-the-air updates constantly. Recently, Tesla released an update for its Track Mode that allows doing donuts and drifts easily. It gives you the freedom to play around with the settings and adjust the power delivery sent to the front or rear axle, as well as stability assist and regenerative braking.

Auto Pilot – Is The BMW I4 Self Driving?

2020 BMW Concept i4 Exterior
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Tesla Autopilot is a suite of advanced driver-assistance systems that features stuff like lane centering, adaptive cruise control, self-parking, etc., and basically helps reduce your workload as a driver. You can purchase a full self-driving capability package as well, but the technology is still under development and will be updated to your car over the air once it’s launched.

BMW has a similar technology which is called “Personal CoPilot”. Just like Tesla, even this technology hasn’t achieved Level 5 autonomy yet, but the Bavarians will be releasing a fleet of cars in 2021. So, to answer the question – no, the i4 is not self-driving. The first self-driving car from BMW will be the iNext SUV.

Safety

According to the NHTSA Safety Ratings, the Tesla Model 3 has received a five-star rating, scoring full marks in Frontal Crash, Side Crash, and Rollover.

The Model 3 was also named as the safest car ever made. The second and third place are taken by Model S and Model X, respectively. The i4 is yet to be crash-tested and rated, but that can only happen once the production-spec i4 is ready. It will be nearly impossible to beat the Model 3’s safety rating, but BMW will roll out a strong vehicle to be closely placed with the Tesla in this department.

Seating

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The Tesla Model 3 is a five-seater. The rear seats aren’t as supportive as the front seats and have a slightly upright position. Accommodating five “healthy” adults will be a bit of a task and they won’t sit as comfortably as in, say, the Model S, but things aren’t very bad on the front. The i4 Concept was strictly a four-seater, but the production-spec will most likely be sold as a five-seater.

Cargo Space

2020 BMW Concept i4 Interior
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The Model 3 comes with a cargo space of 15-cubic-feet.

This is pretty much in-line with the other premium sedans sold in the market today. The seats fold flat and give you the extra space and flexibility to haul bigger items. There is a small trunk in the front as well that can hold knick-knacks. The rating for the i4 is not yet available, but the 4 Series Gran Coupe comes with 14 cubic-feet of cargo space. Tesla’s glass roof can also hold a rack, which further adds to the utility. We are yet to hear about this compatibility on the i4.

Powertrain, Performance, and Range

Tesla Model 3

2021 BMW i4 vs 2020 Tesla Model 3 Exterior
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The Model 3 is offered in three trims – Standard Plus, Long Range AWD, and Performance. The former is a single-motor setup that powers just the rear wheels, whereas the other two come with a dual-motor and all-wheel-drive setup. The Standard Plus is the base trim that comes with 54 kWh battery pack that delivers an estimated range of 250 miles. This trim churns out around 340 horses and 330 pound-feet of torque that help it propel to 62 mph from a standstill in 5.3 seconds. The top speed is rated at 140 mph.

The Long Range AWD model comes with a dual-motor setup and powers all the wheels. This trim is equipped with a 75 kWh battery pack that can deliver 322 miles on a full charge. The Long Range AWD makes approximately 447 horses and 376 pound-feet of torque. If you push it to its limit, this trim can gallop from 0-60 mph in 4.4 seconds and goes all the way up to 145 mph, despite weighing over 4,000 pounds.

2021 BMW i4 vs 2020 Tesla Model 3 Exterior
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The Model 3’s performance-oriented trim is called – as it should be – Performance. It comes with a motor on each axle that sends power to all the four wheels. This trim is also packed with a 75-kWh battery pack in the floor that can deliver 322 miles on a full charge, according to Tesla. It makes around 580 ponies and 481 pound-feet of twist that help it gallop to 62 mph from a standstill in just 3.2 seconds and go all the way up to 145 mph before losing steam (pun intended). Of course, it comes at the cost of the range (when revved hard), but these specs are kick-ass for a car in this segment.

When connected to a Supercharger, the battery can charge from 10- to 80-percent in 30 minutes in the bigger battery packs. The smaller 54-kWh battery pack gets charged in an even shorter time. It takes 70 minutes to charge the same using a 50-kW rapid charger that’s found in most charging stations. The 7-kW home charger takes around 13 hours to fully charge.

Tesla Model 3 specifications
Performance Dual Motor Long Range Dual Motor Standard Plus Rear-Wheel
Acceleration 0-60 mph 3.2s 4.4 s 5.3 s
Range 310 miles 322 miles 250 miles
Top Speed 162 mph 145 mph 140 mph
Wheels 20" Performance Wheels 18" Aero Wheels 19" Aero Wheels 18" Aero Wheels 19" Aero Wheels

BMW i4

2021 BMW i4 vs 2020 Tesla Model 3 Exterior
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BMW has said that the i4 will be powered by a single motor, but it will produce about 530 horses.

When compared to the Model 3, this slots somewhere in between the Long Range and the Performance models. The company claims a 0-60 mph run in four seconds. It is bettered only by the Performance trim of the Model 3. The i4 will also come with three driving modes – Core, Sport, and Efficient – all of which seem to be self-explanatory.

The Bavarian will come packed with an 80-kWh battery pack that is good to go for 372 miles on a full charge. The range has never been BMW’s strong suit, but this claim is a piece of positive news for all potential owners. This, however, is rated by WLTP which is a lot more lenient than EPA. But, anything around 330 miles should make a compelling case for the i4. The i4 will support 150kW charging that can charge up to 80-percent in just 35 minutes.

BMW Concept i4 specifications
Powertrain Electric motor
Horsepower 530 HP
EPA Range 300 miles
WLTP Range 373 miles
0 – 100 km/h (62 mph) 4.0 seconds
Top Speed > 200 km/h (124 mph)

Pricing

2018 Tesla Model 3
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The prices for the Model 3, before incentives are:

  • Standard Range Plus – $39,990
  • Long Range– $48,990
  • Performance – $56,990
2020 BMW Concept i4 Exterior
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The i4 is expected to slot between the Model 3 and Model S in terms of pricing. The estimated starting price for the BMW i4 will be around $55,000.

Anything above this will be will make it tough for the company. Tesla has a loyal fan base and it has already beaten BMW at its home ground. By the time the i4 is launched, expect Tesla to make a move by either offering some freebies or making the sticker price a little lighter. BMW will also have the price advantage because it is still eligible for federal cap benefits of up to $7,500.

Conclusion – Is The BMW i4 Better Than The Tesla Model 3?

2021 BMW i4 vs 2020 Tesla Model 3 Exterior
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When we pitted thei4 against the Model S,we gave the latter a slight edge. But, when compared to the Model 3, the i4 seems to be on par with it. This might be against the popular opinion, but this is purely based on the speculations after seeing the i4 Concept. A lot of factors are yet to be determined; like the real-world economy figures, pricing, crash test ratings, etc. The reins now lie in BMW’s hands and it depends on them as to which car they want to take on.

BMW has smartly slotted the i4 in between the Tesla Model 3 and the Model S. This allows customers from both the spectrums to consider the BMW i4. However, this also means BMW will have to fight off both these cars at the same time. On paper, BMW seems to be on par in most of the aspects, but it needs a hell lot of differentiating and superior features to take on Musk’s behemoth. Stuff like the sound effects that BMW has produced with Hans Zimmer, the drive-centric design of the layout, and so on, will play a big role in diverting the customers to the German automaker’s showroom.

2021 BMW i4 vs 2020 Tesla Model 3 Exterior
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BMW has designed a car that is radically different from any of the Tesla models and that will make people who detest Tesla and its minimalistic design happy. The other two factors that will decide the fate of the i4 will be its range and the pricing. The product will be dead on arrival if BMW messes up with either of these crucial factors. BMW will also need to beat Tesla at its strengths, like the Supercharger benefits, consistent over-the-air updates, etc. But, as I said earlier, if BMW can surprise us and launch the i4 in the ballpark of $45,000, it could be a game-changing product for the company.

Sidd Dhimaan
Associate Editor and Truck Expert - sidd@topspeed.com
Sidd joined the Topspeed.com team in 2017 as an intern and in less than a year he earned a full-time position as an associate editor and junior automotive expert. He is currently our pickup truck expert and focuses his attention on heavy-duty and off-road vehicles.  Read More
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