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Thursday, February 2, 2012

I'm Loving The New Features!

It's been about three weeks since I was handed the keys to my ActiveE by BMW North American President, Ludwig Willisch. I've spent a lot of the time getting used to the new features, experimenting with the pre-conditioning and delayed charge settings as well as learning how to navigate through the BMW Connect display settings.

There's a lot to learn, even the radio settings can be a challenge when you first try to set the stations to memory because you can use the radio buttons to set things other than radio stations! Now that I think I've figured out just about everything, I can report on what I like and don't. There aren't many don'ts, but I did find a couple things I'd like to change.

New features that I like:

Open Drivers Door Powers Down Car:

The car puts itself in park and powers off if you open the drivers door while the car is turned on. (notice I didn't say "running" like a gas car because EV's really don't "run", they're just powered on).  These cars are so quiet, silent actually, that when they are stopped, you can inadvertently leave it on and walk away. One time with the MINI-E I actually left the car turned on all night. It didn't use much energy so the state of charge was still fine the next morning, but I must have been distracted - probably from filling out my data logs - and I just left the key in it and went inside for the night. Another good reason for this is you could have stopped and left the car in drive and when you get out it could roll forwards or backwards if it's on an incline. Even though most electric cars like the ActiveE have what most would call an automatic transmission, it rolls like a manual transmission does when it's in neutral. Therefore if the car is in drive or reverse and no power is applied, it will roll like it is out of gear. I admit, this isn't something I thought about previously but after having it, I like it and think it should be standard on all electric vehicle for safety reasons.

Speed Warning:                                                                                                                                        

Sometimes when you are driving an electric car you need to stretch the range as much as possible to make your destination. The single best way to extend your range is very simple: slow down. I can remember many times in the MINI-E when I was driving on the highway and needed to push the car's range limit, I would suddenly look down at the speedometer and see I was going too fast and using too much energy. The MINI-E wanted to be driven fast and you could easily do 80mph without realizing it. The ActiveE is even more willing to go fast, but you have two ways to control your speed and not accidentally go too fast. First it has cruise control, amen to that. This can be used to make sure you stay at the speed you desire on long highway trips. Then there is a new feature called the speed warning and I love it. You can set the speed warning at any speed you like and if you exceed what you have set, you get an audible alert and a "Limit" icon lights up on the dash. Well done BMW! This is a great feature for an EV. It helps you drive more efficiently and can keep you from getting a speeding ticket to boot!

There are plenty of other things I really like about the car like the heated leather seats, the rock-solid feel the car has, the ultra-quiet cabin that filters out all the road noise, BMW Connect, Bluetooth, the handling and responsive throttle plus much more, but they'll be plenty of time to elaborate on other things in future posts.

As for some things I would change:

I've been spending most of the time driving in Eco Pro mode as it provides a superior range. Eco Pro mode does this by limiting the power the car sends to the motor and to the cabin heating and cooling. The heated seats don't work at all in this mode, but the cabin fan does blow nice and warm so you can stay comfortable inside when it's cold outside. I don't mind the limited power in Eco Pro mode because the car is still more than powerful enough and if I really need a burst of energy I can momentarily disengage Eco Pro mode and then turn it back on. It seems that the car has a 10-15% greater range in Eco Pro mode and that's nothing to sneeze at. The thing I dislike about it is that every time you start a new trip in the car, it defaults to "normal" mode and you have to press the Eco Pro button to engage it. I would like the car to default to Eco Pro mode and if you want a more spirited driving experience you should need to press the "sport" mode button. By defaulting to Eco Pro mode I think your overall efficiency will be much better. Even if BMW doesn't like the idea of defaulting to this mode, they should allow the owner to set which mode the car defaults to, then everybody is happy.

The other thing I'd like to see changed also involves a setting. The driver can set the car to precondition or charge at any time they like. Preconditioning is the car's ability to warm or cool the batteries and cabin while it's still plugged into the grid. Therefore, you leave for your journey with a full battery and the car is warmed up or cooled down already. In the car's settings you can choose to precondition now, or at a later time that you set. The problem is, the setting only holds once and then resets. If you leave for work at 8:00 every morning, you may want the car to precondition every morning at 7:30. The way the car is now, you have to set it every night and if you forget, no preconditioning for you! Not user friendly. The same goes for the charging. You can set the car to begin charging at any time. This is particularity useful if you have time-of-use electric rates and pay less for electricity if you charge at off peak hours. You might want your car to start charging at 1:00am to get low electric rates. The car can do it, but again you have to set it every time you want to charge. I certainly expect the preconditioning and charging settings on the upcoming BMW i3 to allow the user to set a time and lock it in because this way is to cumbersome and requires too much work.

Overall the car is all I expected and more and I really look forward to driving it for the next two years. It's really a great car and feels and drives like any other BMW. Why shouldn't it?  After all, it is the "Ultimate driving EV"


  1. I agree with the settings. It should be able to be permanently set. I know I would probably forget half the time and I wouldn't be taking advantage of this neat feature

    Terrence Singh

  2. So jealous. Wish they were leasing them in Florida. I'll be first on line to buy a BMW i3 megacity car as long as it has a 100 mile range and not an 80 mile range like the leaf

  3. Perhaps it will be possible to add these features with a future software update to the ActiveE...

  4. Does the car have it's own phone/internet connection for software updates? Is it in any way connected to base?

  5. When I get my ActiveE delivered, i am probably most likely going to be bugging BMW much the same way, having it reset every day is nonsense. It needs to be on a setting that goes by day of week as well as time of day repeatedly in order to be efficient. We were even told to avoid the EVSE-RS+ that had time of day charging features because the car had it built in. From what you are saying, it seems more like a hassle. The leaf has a very nice time of day and by day charging calendar. I do hope BMW updates.

    And to answer you Brian,

    The car "should" have some type of active internet connection through the satellite feed. I have a '12 535i that updates itself without need to go to BMW to do it, so i am figuring the ActiveE should be the same since it is much the same iDrive computer. However, being this is a special car, i won't get my hopes up if that is how they are going to distribute the software.

  6. Yes the car does have internet connection. However I don't think the software updates will take place that way.

  7. Hi Tom, nice post.
    What has the real world range appeared to be for you so far this winter?

  8. Tom: You better trademark "The ultimate driving EV" before BMW steals it! ;)

  9. Thanks for the peek. We are slated to get our ActiveE in a couple of weeks here in SD and we're excited to try it out.

  10. This car is fitted with a lot of cool and hi-tech features, such as cruise control, automatic transmission, an ultra-quiet cabin which stops the noise, and bluetooth technology. I just turned green with envy! Are you planning to make any changes to it?

  11. You forgot to mention about its unique feature: the optional Rex. This is a range extender that can allow the vehicle to travel further in a single charge. Basically, it is a small engine that operates the generator of the vehicle to maintain the charge of the battery, which guarantees it will continue to run on electric power. This is one of the features that excite me most about this car.

  12. Hi Erwin,

    The ActiveE doesn't have the REx option. The BMW i3 will when it's released next year sometime. I also have an i3 blog where I discuss all things about the i3. You can find it here: