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Monday, January 16, 2012

BMW ActiveE Doesn't Disappoint!

Yes, I transferred my EF-OPEC license plates from the MINI-E!

I've been anticipating driving an ActiveE since it was first announced two years ago, so when I was presented with the keys to my car this Friday it was really a great feeling.

I do miss my MINI-E. The ActiveE sure has some big shoes to fill because that little car was really a fantastic car to drive. However as great as it was, it did lack some essential features that the ActiveE has, and now that I have had some time with it this post will detail my initial impressions.


The ActiveE's instrumentation is worlds better than the minimal gauges we had in the MINI-E. The state of charge meter is deadly accurate and doesn't bounce up when you stop for while like the MINI-E's did. When driving the MINI-E, if you drove on the highway for a bit and then got off and drove slower on the secondary roads, the SOC would go up as much as five percent. It's not that the car recharged, it was that while driving fast on the highway the car couldn't read the SOC accurately and always gave you a reading that was lower than your actual SOC. That doesn't happen with the ActiveE, the SOC never goes up when you slow down or stop for a bit meaning the reading is always spot on.  The large analog gauges in the instrument cluster are well laid out, simple and not over done. However you don't need to look far to get to the the goodies. The center stack info center has all the controls and settings for the car. From the navigation system to setting the preconditioning to checking out your trip efficiency data and much more, everything is controlled with a knob on the center console and displayed on a large screen in the center of the dash. The navigation system allows you to choose the "most efficient route" which is a nice addition to the usual "fastest" and "shortest" route options usually offered by nav systems. I'm not sure just how the car calculates the most efficient route, but I assume it is a combination of shortest distance and lowest average speed of the roads on the route. I doubt it considers hills as compared to flat roads and I haven't used it yet, but hopefully it is relatively accurate in the route it chooses as most efficient.

New Features

The ActiveE is a four seat coupe with a trunk. Now the back seats aren't really roomy for adults and the trunk isn't as large as the regular 1 series trunk is, but compared to the MINI-E which had no back seat and very little hatch room it has lots of room. It has very useful backup sensors with a visual display on the center display and there is a new "Eco-Pro" mode. A small button behind the gear shifter activates this mode which extends the cars range by reducing the power the car uses for the motor and the cabin heating and cooling. I can say for sure two things: First, it works. The car definitely goes further when you use it. I think by combining efficient driving techniques and using Eco Pro, you can squeeze as much as  15 to 20 more miles out of the car. If you just use Eco Pro and drive the same as you usually do you can probably expect about 10 more miles. However the second thing I learned is that by selecting Eco Pro the cabin air conditioning, heating and heated seats are severely impacted because of the reduced power they get. The seat heater barely even warms the seats at all. What I've been doing now that it's very cold here in NJ is begin my trip in regular mode and let the seat heater get the seats nice and hot and then turn on Eco Pro. The car seems to be able to maintain the warm seats in Eco Pro mode, just not get them hot to begin with.  Then there is the glide mode which allows you to coast along without using any energy and without activating the regenerative braking. There is a large analog gauge that displays whether you are using energy or recouping energy through regen, and right in the middle of the two it just says "ready" and when you are driving along and coasting the gauge is right on the ready position. Speaking of regenerative braking, the ActiveE's regen is definitely less aggressive than the MINI-E's, but it's definitely strong enough to allow us to drive with basically one pedal like we could with the MINI-E and it's much stronger than the regen on either the Nissan LEAF or the Chevy Volt. Perhaps the feature that I've been most looking forward to is the thermal conditioning and the cars ability to precondition the cabin and battery. While I've had a little getting the cabin preconditioning to work(I'm still learning how to set it to go on) the battery preconditioning works great and really makes a difference now that it's cold here in New Jersey. Tonight the car was parked outside for 10 hours in 15 degree weather and I turned on the preconditioning 30 minuted before I left and the battery was at 58 degrees when I started my journey. The MINI-E battery would have been about 40 degrees and when it got that cold the cars performance suffered, the regen would disengage and the range would be severely diminished. However with a 58 degree battery, the ActiveE  made the 31 mile trip home using only 40% of the battery. The MINI-E would have used 55-60% of the charge in these conditions according to my MINI-E data logs.

The ActiveE's scored great in the EPA's fuel efficiency tests. It achieved a combined 102 MPGe better than both the Nissan LEAF and the Chevy Volt with a 107 MPGe city and 96 MPGe highway.


Although I loved the MINI-E and have only had the ActiveE for a couple days, I'm really liking it. The ride quality is 100% better, it's quieter inside(if you can believe that), it's smoother during both acceleration and while using the regenerative braking and it feels rock solid while your driving it. The handling and acceleration may be just a tic below what the MINI-E offered, but it's still a fun car to drive and has great performance for spirited driving. The negatives so far are few, but there are some in my opinion. First, it doesn't seem to have the extra "reserve" range built in. When the MINI-E's range hit zero, I knew I could drive at least ten miles before it couldn't go any further. One of the first things I did when I got the car was to test how far it could go once the SOC reached zero. To my surprise, after one mile the car was finished. So anyone reading this that is getting an ActiveE take notice, zero means zero, don't push it or you'll get stuck. The second thing I'm struggling with is getting the cabin preconditioning to work. I don't know if I'm just doing it wrong or if my car isn't working properly but I can only seem to get it to warm the cabin about 50% of the time. I haven't spent much time on this and admittedly didn't read the owners manual so maybe I'm just doing it wrong, but it shouldn't be difficult to figure out. Lastly, the car is taking way too long to charge, as much as ten hours. Now before anyone gets worried about this, I contacted BMW and they told me that's not correct and the car will charge completely in 4 to5 hours. They asked me to bring it back for them to look at and fix whats wrong, but I'm having too much fun driving it to bring it back yet. I'll do that later this week and let them figure out what's going on. I put a meter on it and it's only accepting about 2.75kW. The onboard charger can charge up to 7.7kW so there is definitely something wrong. I'm sure they'll get it straightened out, but it is worth noting that there is a problem.

I know a lot of MINI-E pioneers will miss their cars, but after a while driving the ActiveE I think the overwhelming majority of them will agree the car is a much more complete car and with the addition of the new features and additional luggage and passenger space they will soon grow to love the car as they did the MINI-E.(And dare I say even more!)


  1. Thanks Tom for the first impressions! I know unlike the MINI E, the ActiveE automatically knows whether you're plugged into a 110 or Level 2 without having to go into the menu each time you need to switch charging rates. As one who charges at work everyday at 110 and at home at Level two this will be great. Although I've become so use to switching back and forth it will be nice to not worry about it. Hope to have our ActiveE on Monday (Jan 16th) if all goes well.

  2. Thanks Tom for the first impressions. Looking forward to hearing more.,

  3. Hi Tom, Congratulations on getting the first keys to an ActiveE. I have been awaiting your first driving impressions for several weeks, months now and am happy to hear that the ActiveE does not disappoint. I have no MINI E in the garage, so will have to hope for the best in the upcoming ActiveE lottery. My local garage called me that their test car had arrived and I am excited to take it for a test drive tomorrow. Cannot wait.

  4. Congratulations Tom! The car sounds great and I look forward to reading about your experiences like I did with the MINI. I can't wait until these cars are available where I live. I don't like the looks of the LEAF and it's range isn't good enough for me. Make sure BMW keeps up with the 100 mile range!!!!!

  5. Congratulations Tom! Looking forward to hearing about the next generation BMW e-car.

  6. Tom,Congrats and Good Luck. Looking forward to getting mine and joining you in our continued E-journey.

  7. GR8 first analysis report. Thanks for sharing on FaceBook! Hope you get the 'teething problems' sorted. Sounds like you like the car and that it should be well received by most drivers, especially if they are in favor of 'kick-gas' cars that make a difference. Cool

  8. Very interesting stuff. I'm signed up to receive a Better Place Renault Fluence ZE here in Israel in a month or two and I've been writing about it over at .

    It's going to be so interesting to see if the Better Place car really goes as far as they say (without its battery swapping trick) because it is a much bigger car than any you mention: the back seats are perfectly spacious for adults and while the trunk is a little compromised over the petrol version, its perfectly big enough for most stuff. I shall follow how you get on.

  9. Iv'e seen lots of pictures of the Fluence and I like it a lot. Looks like it's a great car. I have a friend who works for Better Place and has driven them. I'll ask him about the range for you. Give me a few days and I'll post it here

  10. I test drove the ActiveE today, my first time in an electric car. It was very impressive. I signed up for a house evaluation for March 6th. Any idea how many of the 700 are left?

  11. I'm happy to hear about your interest in electric cars! Once you own/lease one you won't want to go back to gas, I promise you. BMW isn't releasing the official count but I'm pretty sure about 500 of the 700 cars have been assigned to lessees. There definitely aren't many left

  12. Thanks, hopefully I can get into the program.