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Wednesday, October 12, 2011

BMW ActiveE First Drive


A few weeks ago I received an email from Dave Buchko of BMW inviting me to BMW headquarters in Munich, Germany to attend the press event for the BMW ActiveE First Drive as well as four workshops for upcoming innovations in BMW’s ConnectedDrive initiative. Even though my primary interest was the ActiveE, all persons invited to the event were required to attend the four workshops on ConnectedDrive, which turned out to be really interesting although not really connected to the ActiveE.

Dave was my host (a very gracious one at that) and accompanied me to all of the press events and dinners as well as taking me to the BMW Welt and giving me a tour of the BMW museum.  On the day of the ActiveE First Drive, BMW provided about 40 ActiveE's for the press to drive on a pre-selected course through Munich that would bring us to BMW's research & Development facility, the FIZ. The route was pre-programmed in the cars navigation system and we were asked not to stray from the course which was about 35 kilometers. I actually did stray from the course, but it wasn't on purpose, really! I had turned down the volume of the nav system so I could listen to the car and I was so busy looking at the car that I found myself a few miles off course. I ended up driving exactly 40 km which is about 25 miles and I used 33% of the battery. That's a little more than I would have used with the MINI-E, so I'm a bit concerned that the car may not get an average of 100 miles per charge like I'm used to with the MINI-E. However I did drive it aggressively when I could and was going about 75 to 80mph on the section of the course that was on the autobahn, plus it was cold (40 degrees) and raining and I had the heat and heated seats on, so I really can't say for sure what the range will be. However from the small sample I witnessed, I think it's safe to say that it won't have a greater range then the MINI-E, and probably a little less.

That shouldn't be a surprise though. The ActiveE is a bigger and heavier(4,001 lbs compared to the MINI-E's 3,230 lbs) car and has a smaller battery pack (32 kWh compared to the MINI-E's 35kWh). Based on my experience I do think it will get close to 100 miles per charge, but will probably average just a bit less on most days. 

Driving impressions: 

Anyone that has read my MINI-E blog knows how fond I am of it, so understand I'm not putting it down by saying the ActiveE is a much more refined car; the fact is, it just is. BMW claims the ActiveE goes 0-60 in "under 9 seconds" and the MINI-E does it in 8.5 seconds so it is slightly slower than the MINI-E. It definitely felt slower, but I think part of that is because it is quieter inside the cabin and smoother than the MINI-E is. It's not slow by any means, and actually has more torque than the MINI-E and you could feel it. It was incredibly smooth, much more so than the MINI-E. I didn't notice the 1/2 second delay when you accelerate from a stop like the MINI-E has, and power feels a bit more linear than the MINI-E as you are accelerating. 

The regenerative braking is less aggressive than the MINI-E, but still strong. I've driven LEAF's, Volt's and Tesla's and the MINI-E had the most aggressive regen of all of them by a long shot. I believe the ActiveE also does, it's just that it's less aggressive than the MINI-E's. Being rear wheel drive I expected this, and I'm not disappointed in the level of regen at all, I think they hit the nail right on the head and within a half hour I was driving with one pedal just like I do with the MINI-E. The transition from acceleration to regen is seamless, and there is no "jerky" feel I sometimes get when I lift off the accelerator on the MINI-E. Perhaps because it's dialed down a bit, the transition is smoother. 

Tobias Hahn addresses the press
The glide mode is something new in the ActiveE. It allows the driver to glide (coast) without either accelerating or entering regen mode. You activate the glide mode by slightly lifting your foot off the accelerator, however not too much or the regen will begin. I found it a little tricky to get the proper position where I entered glide mode. You really don't have much play once you back off the accelerator or you enter regenerative braking mode. I was able to "glide" a bit, but a few times I activated the regen before I actually wanted to by lifting off the accelerator too much by accident. Now I didn't have much time on the autobahn where you would typically use the glide mode as I was too busy testing the cars power. I was trying to activate the glide mode on secondary roads and that's not when you would typically use it so perhaps my lower speed made it more difficult for me to stay in glide mode. 


I liked the large analog gauges, the only complaint is that there is no numeric charge percentage on the main display, only a useless fuel-gauge like display. You can have the batteries charge percentage in a numeric display on the center stack display, but I'd prefer it front and center. I want an exact number staring me in the face so I know my SOC and therefore I know how far I can go. The fuel gauge type readout isn't precise enough. Leave it behind with gas cars please, we don't need that in an EV.The Nissan LEAF only has a fuel gauge like display without numeric readout and it is widely criticized by many LEAF owners. Most EV drivers agree they want the charge display presented in a numeric value, front and center. Hopefully this will be corrected in the BMW i3.

The ActiveE has a near 50/50 weight distribution and you can feel it in the handling. Even though it weighs a portly 4,000 lbs, it handled nimbly and feels very balanced. BMW purposely split the battery up into three separate blocks; one under the hood, one in the transmission tunnel and one behind the rear seats. They did this to keep the weight distribution even and you can feel it when you push the car into turns. 

Fit and finish is on par with any BMW product. They interior is well laid out, the seats very comfortable and the blue stitching on the white leather is a nice touch. There's not much legroom in the back seats, but coming from the MINI-E, just seeing a back seat is a treat. The heated seats worked well and the center information display has integrated navigation as well as displays things like state of charge, battery temperature, estimated range and whether the batteries are discharging or you are regenerating energy. 

In summary, the car is about what I expected. It's silky smooth to drive, handles great, is very comfortable and has four seats and a trunk. I know I'm going to be fighting my wife to drive it. As much as she liked the MINI-E, she didn't mind letting me drive it everyday. I don't think that's going to be the case when I get my ActiveE, she's going to want me to share a bit more with this one.  The MINI-E pioneers that transition into the ActiveE are going to love it, and so will the others that are lucky enough to get one. 

Update: I wrote a review for plugincars.com on the ActiveE. It can be found HERE.