The i4 needs to things out-of-the box to prove its mettle and beat Tesla at its own game

BMW finally revealed the BMW i4, digitally, at the 2020 Geneva International Motor Show. Although it was a concept, it previewed what we can expect from the production version that slated to launch in 2021. To put it simply, the i4 will essentially be a 4 Series GT with an electric powertrain. From what we know so far, the i4 seems to be a strong competitor, but does it have enough to go up against the Tesla Model S? Let’s compare them both and see what the differences between the Tesla Model S and BMW i4 are, and why those differences matter.

Exterior Design – What Makes the i4 Different from the Model S

2020 BMW Concept i4 Exterior
- image 889528

When you talk about looks, these cars sit on opposite sides of the world. While the Model S is a plain-looking, elegant car, the i4 is completely funky. The i4 will be toned down a bit in production form, but it still won’t match the ageless looks of the Model S. The Model S features swept-back headlights with integrated LED Daytime Running Lights, and a nearly non-existent grille. There is subtle use of chrome all over the body. The i4, on the other hand, features a huge kidney grille that has drawn polarizing opinions. The slim, aggressive headlights do look good, though. BMW also used the i4 to display its latest logo. It is transparent in the outer shell and looks less 3-D now. This will be carried onto other vehicles as well.

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The Model S is quite simple and plain from the sides and back as well. Everything is functional and there are no extra shenanigans. The i4’s side profile and derriere don’t look as gaudy as the front fascia, and in fact, is pretty much in line with the rest of BMW’s current crop. The i4 features slim LED L-shaped taillights which look bright and crisp compared to the Model S’ thick taillights. Both the cars feature an all-glass roof that makes interesting for passengers. On the utility front, the glass roof on the Model S is roof-rack compatible. We’ll have to wait and see if the i4’s will be the same.

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For a car to extract maximum range, a lot of it depends on the car’s dynamics and proportions. The Tesla Model S is currently the most aerodynamic car in its class. It boasts a drag coefficient of just 0.23 which, according to the company, is the lowest for any car on earth! A carbon fiber spoiler at the rear also helps with the aerodynamics. The numbers for the i4 are not out yet, but to put things into perspective, the 2019 BMW 3 Series sedan also has a 0.23 coefficient of drag, whereas the BMW 4 Series Gran Coupe – the car the i4 is based on – has a drag coefficient of 0.28. The BMW i4 features a lot of panels to direct the airflow and has a simple side profile without a lot of cuts and creases, so we can expect a better rating here than its alter-ego.

Exterior Colors

2021 BMW i4 vs 2020 Tesla Model S
- image 890959

The Tesla Model S is available in five colors:

  • Pearl White (Multi-Coat)
  • Solid Black
  • Midnight Silver
  • Deep Blue Metallic
  • Red (Multi-Coat)
2021 BMW i4 vs 2020 Tesla Model S
- image 890977

BMW has not announced the color palette for the i4 yet, but the copper-peach color that the German chose for the i4’s unveil looks weird. Some photoshopped images on the internet show that the car would look good in solid matte shades, where the creases and cuts don’t get highlighted like they do in the copper tone. The 4 Series Gran Coupe, however, is offered in 13 different colors, so it is safe to assume that the i4 will be offered with a similar color palette.

Exterior Dimensions

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The Tesla Model S is a fairly large vehicle and the dimensions show the same. The figures for the BMW i4 aren’t out yet, but it doesn’t seem to look as big as the Tesla in the images. The only comparison we can do is with the 4 Series Gran Coupe and assume it to be similarly-sized.

Tesla Model S vs BMW i4 - exterior dimensions
Tesla Model S BMW 4 Series Gran Coupe
Length 195.9 inches 182.7 inches
Width 77.3 inches/86.2 inches (with wing mirrors folded/unfolded) 71.9 inches
Height 56.5 inches 54.7 inches
Wheelbase 116.5 inches 110.6 inches

Interior Design

BMW i4 Interior

2020 BMW Concept i4 Interior
- image 889546

The i4’s cabin seems like a safe haven with a neutral setup. Some things that could make their way in the production-spec i4 are the flat-bottom steering wheel, and the curved display that includes the digital instrument cluster and infotainment system. Ambient lighting in the footwell and door panels could be a nice touch as well. The concept showcased a four-seat setup on the i4, but the production car could offer a bench in the rear to accommodate three passengers. Then, of course, there’s the panoramic sunroof as well.

Tesla Model S Interior

2017 Tesla Model S
- image 890951

The Model S has one of the simplest, clutter-free cabins on the market. It’s the same with all Teslas, for that matter. The company started the trend to make it a “touch” cabin and replace all the buttons with touch panels. There are lot of storage spaces all around the cabin and everything is practically laid out. Although it’s a simple cabin, it’s not boring. There’s a huge 17-inch touchscreen system on the dash that’s staring in your face. The larger wheelbase and the lack of transmission tunnel makes sure that all the three passengers in the back also have ample legroom.

Tech Features

2021 BMW i4

2020 BMW Concept i4 Interior
- image 889588
  • Curved display that integrates the instrument cluster as well as infotainment system
  • Automatic-opening doors
  • Sounds for different drive modes, warnings, etc. developed with the legendary Hans Zimmer
  • iDrive system with a crystal dial
  • “Intelligence Panel” on the outside grille that houses various sensor for driver-assisted features

2020 Tesla Model S

2017 Tesla Model S
- image 868403
  • 17-inch portrait-style touchscreen system
  • Streaming Services and Web Browser
  • Auto-raising Adaptive Suspension
  • Easter Eggs
  • Autopilot

BMW has the complicated-yet-proven iDrive system, but Tesla has a more expansive and user-friendly infotainment system. The system has a lot of tricks in its pocket and users keep finding Easter Eggs from time-to-time. Not a lot of features are known about the i4 yet, but there are a few really exciting ones. For starters, the Bavarian company has collaborated with the legendary Hans Zimmer to add various sounds to its sound emulator. However, Tesla keeps constantly sending over-the-air updates that keeps things from getting boring. In fact, Tesla just announced that a new infotainment system upgrade for Model S built prior to March 2018 that brings in Sentry Mode, streaming of Netflix, Hulu, YouTube etc. to the infotainment system, and a lot more, for $2,500.

Auto Pilot – Is the BMW i4 Self Driving?

2020 BMW Concept i4 Exterior
- image 889562

Tesla Autopilot is a suite of advanced driver-assistance system 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 it calls “Personal CoPilot”. Just like Tesla, even this technology hasn’t achieved Level 5 autonomy yet, but the Bavarian 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 S has received a five-star rating, scoring full marks in Frontal Crash, Side Crash, and Rollover. The Model S was also named as the second safest car ever made. The first and third place are taken by Model 3 and Model X. 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 S’ safety rating, but BMW will roll out a strong vehicle to be closely placed with the Tesla in this department.

Seating – 7 vs. 5

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The Tesla Model S is primarily a five-seater, but it used to be offered with two-rear facing seats for children as well. But, that model is discontinued and currently it is available only as a five-seater. However, Musk did tease a seven-seater Model S in September last year when he tweeted that a seven-seater Model S is at the Nurburgring to break the record that Porsche set. We have yet to see the seven-seater come up for sale again, though. The i4 Concept was strictly a four-seater, but it will most likely be sold as a five-seater.

Cargo Space

2020 BMW Concept i4 Interior
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The Model S comes with a cargo space of 28 cubic-feet.. The rating for the i4 is not yet available, but the 4 Series Gran Coupe comes with 14 cubic-feet of cargo space. This number is not official and is for the Gran Coupe, but BMW needs to make sure the cargo space on the i4 is in the Model S’ ballpark at least.

Powertrain, Performance, and Range

Tesla Model S

2021 BMW i4 vs 2020 Tesla Model S
- image 890954

The Model S used to come with single-motor setup, but currently the company sells it only in a dual-motor, all-wheel-drive configurations. As of the time of this writing, Tesla sells the Model S in the Performance and Long Range Plus trims. In the Performance spec, the car sprint to 62 mph from a standstill in 2.4 seconds, thanks to the 762 horses available in Ludicrous mode. The top speed is rated at 163 mph. and It comes with an EPA-estimated range of 348 miles, which is very good for a car that weighs almost 5,000 pounds.

The other trim is the Long Range Plus that emphasizes on range over performance and churns out 417 horses. The Model S in this trim takes 3.7 seconds to sprint to 62 mph, and tops out at 155 mph. The EPA-estimated range here is 390 miles. Both the trims come with a 100kWh battery pack. When connected to the Supercharger, the Model S needs about an hour to charge completely. 20 minutes of charging will add about 125 miles of range.

Tesla Model S specifications
Tesla Model S Long Range Plus Tesla Model S Performance
Horsepower 417 HP 762 HP
Range 390 miles 348 miles
0 to 60 mph 3.7 seconds 2.4 seconds
Top Speed 155 mph 163 mph

BMW i4

2021 BMW i4 vs 2020 Tesla Model S Exterior
- image 889531

As for the i4, it will be powered by a single motor, but will churn out about 530 horses. The company claims a 0-60 mph run in four seconds. It will offer three driving modes as well – Core, Sport, and Efficient – all of them seem to be self-explanatory. Forget about the Model S’ Performance trim; this is a lot slower than even the Long Range Plus trim. The i4 will come packed with an 80kWh battery pack that is good to go for 373 miles on a full charge. Range has never been BMW’s strong suit, but this claim is a positive news for all potential owners. This, however, is rated by WLTP which is a lot more lenient than EPA. But, anything over 330 miles should make it a strong competitor. 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

2020 BMW Concept i4 Exterior
- image 889533

The Tesla Model S Long Range Plus trim comes with a sticker price of $79,990, whereas the Performance will be priced at $99,990, before incentives.

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 a bummer and BMW will have a tough time moving it. By the time its 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 S?

2021 BMW i4 vs 2020 Tesla Model S Exterior
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Even though the i4 feels like one hell of a car from the initial impressions, it does not feel better than the Model S. 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 two rivals from the most popular EV company at the same time. A lot of factors are yet to be determined; like the real-world economy figures, pricing, crash test ratings, etc. In terms of performance, cargo space, and seating, the Model S wins by a fairly good margin.

2021 BMW i4 vs 2020 Tesla Model S
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For people who detest the Tesla, or who don’t like the minimalistic design will like the i4 better. There are a few nice touches on the BMW, like the sound effects with produced with Hans Zimmer – which we are curiously looking forward to – and the drive-centric design of the layout. However, it lacks in terms of performance and the battery range has always been the company’s Achilles’ Heel. So, despite the impressive paper-figures, we have our apprehensions. On the other hand, the Model S is an accomplished performer. Recently, a test concluded that the Model S’ battery is still at 98-percent capacity after seven years of usage. Then there are the Supercharger station benefits. Not to mention, the number of over-the-air updates Tesla keep providing make a lot of difference.

However, if BMW can surprise us and launch the i4 is 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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