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Friday, November 18, 2011

ActiveE Meet MINI-E

It happens all the time. You bump into your old girlfriend or ex-spouse while you're out on a date with your new one, it's usually really awkward so rarely do you purposely bring the two together. Today I did just that. I took My MINI-E up to BMW's North American Headquarters in Woodcliff Lake, NJ to get another close up look at the ActiveE. I have to admit, I felt a little bad for the MINI-E. It's served me admirably for the past 29 months. It's proven to me that an electric car with a 100 mile range is perfectly fine for my everyday driving needs, even though I drive about 30,000 miles per year, which is much more than the average American. It's never left me stranded and given me many great memories.

The ActiveE is in just about every regard a more complete electric car than the MINI-E but doesn't mean I won't always hold my MINI-E in the highest regard. It was my first electric car, and it allowed me to kick my gas addiction, hopefully for the rest of my life. However to deny that the ActiveE isn't a better all around car, would be denying the obvious truth. In my opinion, the biggest flaw of the MINI-E has been it's lack of a sophisticated thermal management system. It didn't cause much of a problem in the hot weather for me, but in the cold winters of the Northeast, the MINI-E's range can shrink by as much as 40% in certain conditions. The ActiveE has a liquid thermal management system, which is generally regarded as the best way to keep an EV's battery at optimum operating temperature. In my 40 mile test drive of the ActiveE last month in Munich, the battery temperature didn't vary more than a degree or two, and was about 85 degrees the entire time even though it was in the 40's outside. The ActiveE can also precondition the battery and cabin meaning while you are plugged into the grid, so you can set the car to warm up or cool down before you begin your journey. By doing so, you leave 100% charged and the car doesn't need to use a lot of energy to warm or cool the batteries and cabin. That allows you to use more of your stored energy for it's primary purpose; to drive as far as you need to.

The ActiveE also has what BMW calls the Eco Pro mode, which reduces the amount of power the car supplies the drive motor and cabin heating & cooling systems, this may make the car a little less enjoyable to drive, but will increase the range by about 10%. I don't plan on using the Eco Pro mode all the time, but I will on days that I know I need to drive far.  Then there is the new "glide" mode. By backing off the accelerator a bit, the car de-clutches and coasts, neither using energy to accelerate or recoup energy via regen. If the driver backs off a little more, the regenerative braking begins, and if they depress the pedal at all, the car will accelerate. My guess is that this feature may take a bit to get used to after driving the MINI-E for so long.  Besides the technical improvements, the ActiveE is a lot bigger and more luxurious. Unlike the MINI-E it has two back seats and a trunk and will be much more functional. It's also well appointed with white leather seats highlighted with cool blue stitching. An integrated GPS with improved electronics round out the interior.

All of this adds up to a much more sophisticated, luxurious and functional electric vehicle and I'm sure I'm going to love driving it for the next two years. We haven't been offered the exact date that we'll be getting our ActiveE's, but rumors have it some of us will be getting them in about a month and I suspect I'll probably be in the first batch of MINI-E drivers that get one. (BMW doesn't want me to continue pestering them any longer than absolutely necessary!). While I will no doubt really appreciate the technical improvements as well as the extra room and added luxury, I will always have special appreciation for the MINI-E, after all you never forget your first.
I think I can get used to this : )

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