Straight-Line Acceleration Is Not Enough For BMW

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A recent BMW press release took a bit of a jab at Tesla while showing off the effort it is putting into the upcoming i4.

“The BMW i4 conveys the feeling of being light and agile yet also solid and authoritative,” says project manager David Alfredo Ferrufino Camacho. “With its superior directional reliability and high level of cornering stability, it seems to literally attach itself to the road. All electric vehicles are capable of fast straight-line acceleration. But that’s not enough for us at BMW.”

What They’re Saying

What’s obvious is that they’re taking a jab at Tesla, as Teslas are known for having great straight-line acceleration while BMW’s current gas-powered offerings outperform Teslas in the turns. What’s less obvious is that they’re following a common cultural theme between Europe and the United States.

My article from last month about the Shelby Cobra, and its new electric variant, illustrates this pretty well. The idea of powerful American cars that excel in acceleration but fall behind smaller European cars when the road gets curvy is practically ancient. One of the things that made the Cobra a hit was its European lightness combined with Ford V8 power, and now BMW is trying to do the same thing.

From what I’ve read elsewhere, the BMW i4 will come with an 80 kWh battery pack, which shouldn’t make it lighter than a Tesla Model 3, though. BMW says that it will have 530 HP and accelerate from 0-62 MPH in about four seconds, so it will still have quite a bit of straight-line acceleration capability, comparable to most Model 3s.

To get more agility, they have to be taking a different approach elsewhere. An included video explains this some:

David Ferrufino, the project lead for the BMW i4, takes the vehicle out on the track for a final calibration drive and to show off its capabilities. “The handling of the new BMW i4 is laser-sharp due to three key factors: steering support, damping, and return to center of the steering wheel.”

He then goes on to push the vehicle through various test courses, including ones for handling, bumps, and other challenges. He shows that the vehicle isn’t trying to strike a balance between comfort and handling, but aims to achieve both.

Details are a little light, though. The company used a lot of flowery language to describe both its goals and the results, but it doesn’t explain in great detail how it accomplished better handing than Tesla. Details that I was able to pick out from the marketing fluff were “the car’s long wheelbase, wide track widths, model-specific camber values, large wheels, as well as the high torsional rigidity and the vehicle’s low centre of gravity and weight balance,” “sophisticated suspension technology,” and “design and tuning of the suspension and damping systems consistently ensure optimum road contact.”

What It Means

In short, BMW wants us to know that it has a better suspension setup compared to other EVs that likely weigh in about the same at the curb. While light on specifics, the basic idea is that BMW put in a lot of work when designing the suspension, steering, and brakes, and then a lot more work testing and improving the suspension.

The company likely did achieve better handling than a comparable Tesla Model 3. This doesn’t say anything bad about Tesla, except that they’re less experienced with optimizing a vehicle for handling than BMW is. BMW haas been building cars since 1923 (with a break during and after World War II), and has focused harder on performance since 1978 with its M series vehicles. Tesla is pretty new to the industry, so nobody at Tesla should feel bad if BMW outperforms them.

On the other hand, the proof is in the pudding, and nobody has had a taste yet except for BMW’s employees. The fact that the company only hinted at Tesla in this press release without naming it directly may mean that they aren’t sure their car will outperform a comparable Model 3.

We won’t know who has better handling until automotive journalists get to drive the i4 and compare it to the Model 3. At that point, we’ll be able to compare its handling and comfort, along with other features on tracks, mountain roads, and real-world driving situations.

While I am generally a Tesla fan, I’d like to see BMW do something better and push the nascent EV industry toward improvement.

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Jennifer Sensiba

Jennifer Sensiba is a long time efficient vehicle enthusiast, writer, and photographer. She grew up around a transmission shop, and has been experimenting with vehicle efficiency since she was 16 and drove a Pontiac Fiero. She likes to get off the beaten path in her "Bolt EAV" and any other EVs she can get behind the wheel or handlebars of with her wife and kids. You can find her on Twitter here, Facebook here, and YouTube here.

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