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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 on the ActiveE. It can be found HERE.


  1. I can't wait Tom! Thanks for sharing your adventure with us!

  2. That does it for me, I'm in. Now when do the applications start?

  3. When will they be available in the US? It looks great

  4. That sounds great! I don't live in one of the test areas but if I could buy one I would. Did BMW say why they won't sell them? This is much nicer looking than a Nissan leaf or a Chevy volt. If the volt can sell for $41k than this could sell for $45k for sure.

  5. Tom,

    Thanks for the overview. Funny how the ladies are more interested in the ActiveE. My wife is the same way.
    What's amazing is to imagine this setup in the BMW i3 that is 1200 lbs lighter. That's going to be a little rocketship!


  6. Peder,
    BMW representative Tobias Hahn spoke at the event right before we got the cars and at least three times he told us: "While you are driving the ActiveE, imagine the same powertrain in a car that weighs 600 kilos less"
    So yes, your point is spot on!

  7. Anonymous: The ActiveE will be available in select markets in the US for a 24 month lease in a couple months. You can click on the "BMW ActiveE official website" icon on the top right of this blog for details and to register for the program.

  8. Wilson: Sorry, but the car will not go into series production and will not be sold. BMW believes the proper way to build an electric car is to design one from the ground up, not retrofit an existing platform for electric drive. As good as the car may seem, BMW doesn't think it's up to their standards for sale. The 2013 BMW i3 will be even better, since it has been conceived from day one as an electric vehicle and you will be able to buy it in less than two years.

  9. Tom,
    Great review, thanks. I clicked through from teh Active-E Forum, but I did not see a link from your blog. You need to make a post. I hope they have an Active-E model at the LA Auto Show. Wunderbar!!

  10. Cord: I did post on the forums. Look under the thread "My impression after driving an ActiveE."

  11. I like this, thank for sharing your insights. I also like that the top speed is 112 mph and between you and your wife is a very practical car for day to day living! Can't wait for ActiveE to come to the United States.

  12. The top speed is actually electronically governed at 90mph, however it gets up there pretty quickly before the power is cut to stop you from going any faster.

    I don't have a problem with this, 90 is just fine for me. It takes a lot of energy to push a car 90+mph. In gas cars, you get horrible gas mileage at 90+mph, but you don't realize it as much as you do with an EV. Driving the car at a continued 90mph would probably cut the range in half, and BMW didn't see the need to allow these cars to go faster than that.

    The MINI-E I've been driving for the past two years is limited to 95mph, and the only time I really took it up to that was to test how the car limits the speed. Here in the States I don't think it's very wise to drive faster than 80-85mph, the other drivers just aren't used to other people driving that fast near them and can do something stupid like pull in front of you at the last second. It's just not worth it to me.

  13. Cord: Not sure if the ActiveE will be at LA Auto Show but the i3 and i8 will be.

  14. Tom, does the Active E have something like the side serial number of the MINI E so you can identify a certain car?

  15. Stefan,

    No it does not. I think the MINI-E pioneers will miss that.

    It was really great to finally meet you in Munich, thanks for coming over to meet up with me!

  16. Tom,
    it was a pleasure to meet you and I was glad you had some time left although you had a long and busy day in Munich.

    Maybe we can have another beer when the i3 is ready to drive :)

  17. You need to add a RSS-link, or am I missing it?

  18. @anonymous: For me, the rss-feed linked on the bottom of the homepage is working neither.

    But this feed-url works well: