First Drive: BMW ActiveE Electric Coupe

By · October 14, 2011

Tom Moloughney and BMW ActiveE

Me and my next electric BMW.

This week, I participated in the BMW ActiveE press event at BMW headquarters in Munich. It was the first time anyone outside BMW drove the second electric car produced out of project i—and the final test vehicle before BMW offers its first electric car, the 2013 BMW i3.

The launch of the ActiveE program will coincide with the end of the MINI-E program in December. BMW planned it that way so those of us in the MINI-E program could transition directly into an ActiveE when we return our MINI-Es. BMW is making about 1,100 ActiveEs and 700 of them are destined for the US.

They will be offered in a 24-month, closed-end lease for $2,250 down and $499.00 per month. The MINI-E drivers that will lease an ActiveE—I’m getting one for sure—will have an AeroVironment EVSE installed at their houses for free, while people that are new to the BMW EV lease program will have to pay for it. The price has not yet been announced. The car will only be available in New York, New Jersey, greater Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco, Sacramento and Boston.

BMW ActiveE

Photos by Tom Moloughney. All rights reserved.

When I arrived at the Munich event there were about 40 ActiveEs lined up for us to drive on a set course that was programmed into the navigation systems of the cars. We were all asked to stay on the 35-kilometer route, which would take us to BMW research & development center, the FIZ. I “accidentally” strayed a bit off course and finished with 40 km on the odometer.

Driving Impressions

BMW says the ActiveE will go 0-60 in under 9 seconds, and that felt about right. It has 170 horsepower and 184 lb-ft torque, enough to provide a spirited drive, but it is a bit slower than the MINI-E due to additional weight. The ActiveE tips the scaled at 4,000 pounds which is about 750 pounds bulkier than the MINI-E.

BMW ActiveE
BMW ActiveE

BMW broke up the battery pack into three different blocks: one under the hood, one in the transmission tunnel and one behind the rear seats over the rear axel. This approach achieved close to a 50/50 weight distribution, and the handling definitely benefited. It definitely didn’t feel like I was driving a 4,000-pound coupe. It was nimble and took corners with ease.

BMW added new features to the ActiveE not found in the MINI-E. The most important one in my opinion: active thermal conditioning. This is one feature I am really anxious to test out when I get my ActiveE. It’s difficult to see the effects based only on a 40 km drive, but I did notice that during drive, the battery temperature didn’t vary more than 1 degree Celsius, rising from 22 to 23 by the time I arrived. That same drive would have certainly raised my MINI-E’s battery temperature by 8 to 10 degrees F.

Hitting the Coast

The Active E has another new feature, which as far as I know no other EV has. It’s called “glide mode.” This feature is BMW’s direct response to feedback from MINI-E drivers. I was one of the people that commented that while I love the strong regen of the MINI-E, there needs to be a way to deactivate it while driving at highway speeds so you can coast. While driving the MINI-E you needed to keep you foot pressed to the accelerator without backing off because the regen immediately activates. It wasn’t hard to do, but I always thought there had to be a way to improve this and allow the car to coast a bit. BMW’s answer was the Glide Mode.

While driving, if you back off the accelerator a bit, the car will coast and the regen will not activate unless you back off even further. I really didn’t have much time to test it out because most of the time I was on the autobahn, I wasn’t thinking about coasting. I was testing out the torque as I accelerated and slowed down repeatedly. However I did manage to use the glide mode a couple times and it seemed to work as BMW intended.

Activating the ActiveE's Eco Pro mode

Activating the ActiveE's Eco Pro mode.

There is also an Eco Pro mode which is activated by a button on the center console right behind the shifter. When activated, it reduces the power the motor, and provides less energy to heating and cooling systems. This is meant to extend the range on trips when you need every mile. I admit I didn’t use it so I don’t know how well it works. My short time driving the car wasn’t going to be testing Eco Pro mode. There will be plenty of time to do that when I have my own ActiveE starting in December.

The regenerative braking is less aggressive than the one on the MINI-E, but that’s not to say it isn’t strong. In fact, I’ve driven LEAFs, Volts and Roadsters—and the ActiveE’s regenerative braking is stronger than all of them. (The Tesla Roadster comes closest.) BMW estimates it will increase the car’s range as much as 20 percent, if properly used.

I did notice that the ActiveE's braking is smoother than the MINI-E’s. That’s probably because BMW dialed back the initial strength on the regen so it grabs more gradually than the MINI-E does. You probably won’t hear journalists compare the regen to a parachute being deployed like they did when the MINI-E first came out, but that doesn’t mean it’s not strong and effective. You can definitely drive the car with one pedal, just like I do the MINI-E.

Charging at 7.7 kW

BMW partnered with AeroVironment to provide home charging equipment. The car will charge at 32 amps, and a robust 7.7 kW—which will charge a depleted battery in about four-and-a-half hours. It will also be able to charge at 110 volts with an emergency portable cable. The ActiveE will not have the ability to charge at DC quick charge stations. I asked BMW representative about quick charging options for the i3. The only answer I could get was that they are monitoring the situation on the adoption of a standard Level 3 charging plug, which is not yet finalized.

Conclusion: Better And Getting Even Mo' Better

The ActiveE is a very competent EV. It’s fun to drive, and offered brisk, linear acceleration. The interior is very comfortable and offers creature comforts like heated white leather seats with blue stitching, clean analog gauges, and a center stack info system that has all the EV information/navigation I was looking for. Having back seats and a trunk will be a new experience for me after driving the MINI-E—which has neither—for the past 30 months.

The ActiveE is the final test before BMW sells the i3, and just about all the components that are in the ActiveE—like the newly developed electric motor, power electronics and battery cells—will be used in the i3. The ActiveE's battery cells, made by SB-Limotive, are lithium-ion cells with a nickel-manganese-cobalt chemistry that BMW believes have the best energy density currently available today.

Tom Moloughney and BMW ActiveE

As nice as the ActiveE seems, it’s still a converted ICE platform and BMW doesn’t want to go that route with its EVs. They believe the proper way to go is a purpose-built car, made from the ground up as an EV. It may take a bit longer to bring it to market, but they believe the end result will be worth it. We’ll have to wait about two years to find out. Until then, I’ll be more than happy to drive an ActiveE.

There is one thing I keep thinking about though. That’s what BMW employee Tobias Hahn told us right before we were handed the keys. Referring to the i3, he said, "While you are driving the ActiveE, I want you to imagine this exact same powertrain in a car that weighs 600 kilos (1,300lbs) less." Now, that should be interesting.

Comments

· · 3 years ago

Tom, Perhaps I missed it, but what is the size of the battery pack? Do you have a guess as to the nominal range?

· · 3 years ago

dgp:

It has a 32kWh pack. I was driving it hard so it's difficult to tell, but I'm guessing I'll get between 80 & 110 miles in normal use. Probably 75 if I really drive it hard, and as much as 120 if I use Eco-Pro mode and drive efficiently.

BMW has maintained it will have a 100 mile range just like the MINI-E, but as you know I know the MINI-E very well and I think I would have used a little less battery % if I drove that same course with my MINI-E.

I'm going to be getting an ActiveE to drive here in the States for a week pretty soon, before the program begins so within a couple days I will know exactly what the range is and I'll report it here.

· · 3 years ago

Tom,
Thanks for all of the info. It sounds like BMW is actually taking and using feedback. That's a good sign that they may be serious.

· · 3 years ago

Ex: Thanks. I know there are a lot of people that are skeptical of the sincerity of the OEM's, BMW included, in their efforts to sell electric cars. There has been a lot of gaming the CARB requirements, and I hold CARB as responsible as the OEM's for making that possible.

If I wasn't "on the inside" in regards to BMW's EV future, I would probably look at what they've done and conclude they are just doing the bare minimum to satisfy CARB. 612 MINI-E's in 2009, now 1,100 ActiveE's in 2011 doesn't equate to a strong commitment to electric cars on paper.

However, as I'm not looking at the paper, I'm part of the program and I see what is happening over at BMW. My words may be not be enough for people to believe BMW is sincere, because they want to see the proof, in real cars they can buy, not these limited availability test cars.

Actually I was skeptical at first also, and I wrote about wondering if I was part of a rouse or a real commitment. In the past two years I have talked with, received letters from and in some cases met some of the top people in BMW, from engineers to members of the board of directors of BMW AG and I am convinced beyond a doubt that not only does BMW want to make an EV, they want to be the world leaders of electric drive.

This isn't just an impression that I get, it's the attitude of the people working in the electric car division, from Project i leader Ulrich Kranz whom I had the opportunity to talk with in Munich this week, down to the EV sales & marketing team here in the States. I'm not beyond being fooled, but I'm not a sucker either. They are for real. Unfortunately I'll need about another 20 months to prove it :)

· 54mpg (not verified) · 3 years ago

"The car will charge at 32 amps, and a robust 7.7 kW".

Is the 32 Amp the limit of the vehicle or the charger? I thought the level 2 spec is up to 80A.

· · 3 years ago

The cars onboard charger will accept up to 32 amps. The AeroVironment EVSE's that BMW is installing in the participants homes can charge up to 30 amps. I have a 50 amp EVSE so I'll be charging at the maximum rate the car can handle of 32 amps. Others that lease the car and use the AV EVSE will charge at 30 amps, which isn't enough of a difference to even be noticed.

You have to remember, the cars onboard chargers dictate how much electricity they can accept. The EVSE you install at your home or office only supplies the juice, and cannot supply more than the car will accept. It can however supply less than the car will accept, as is the case here.

· Mr.eV (not verified) · 3 years ago

I know you'll only have the car for a week, but let us know what the actual/practical range is. By the time the car comes to Boston, there may be charging stations on my way to/from work i can make use of.

· · 3 years ago

Incredibly, incredibly cool news! Thanks so much for being such a big part of BMW's program and giving us on the outside a peek behind the curtain. I can totally see us upgrading to a BMW a couple of years from now. Hell, our Leaf doesn't come in until next month, but I'd have no problem trading it for the BMW when it comes out! Ford may just get left in the dust if they don't get with it soon.

· jerry (not verified) · 3 years ago

Nice job Tom. Its really a great looking ev. I'd actually prefer a coupe like this over a hatchback like the leaf or volt its a shame they wont sell them.

· · 3 years ago

@Tom "There has been a lot of gaming the CARB requirements, and I hold CARB as responsible as the OEM's for making that possible."

That is very true. Infact I'd say this is how most law is written - loopholes put in place to placate companies who would be affected. Piliticians have something to talk about, companies have something to talk about - without having to make major changes.

But I do beleive BMW is doing i3 for real - not just a CARB play.

· Peder Norby (not verified) · 3 years ago

Tom great job as usual.
BMW has taken a few jabs from individuals and organizations like Plug in America for in their words “gaming the system solely for carb compliance.”
I would point out that Toyota and their upcoming tesla powerd RAV4 will be a low production vehicle mostly in California, mostly for ZEV credits, and Chevy with their just announced low production Spark EV mostly for California mostly for ZEV credits also appear to be doing the same thing.
I share in your belief that BMW is in for real. Like a billions of dollars and the launch of their second brand offshoot the I division for real.
In My eyes it’s Nissan and BMW that are leading the pack with many others trying to play catch up.
Cheers
Peder
Mini-E# 183, 34,000 sunshiune powered miles.

· · 3 years ago

good one...

· Henrik2 (not verified) · 3 years ago

Tom, thank you for this piece

Here are a few facts in order to compare BMW 3i with the Leaf, and Model S

BMW 3i: Peak power, 125kW, Weight 2700 lb, Minimum charging speed 7.7kW. Battery pack 32kWh.
Leaf: Peak power 80kW, Weight 3354 lb, Max charging speed 50kW. Battery pack 24kWh.
Model S: Peak power 250kW?, Weight 3825 lb, Max charging speed 90kW. Battery pack 42 to 85kWh.

In other words, the BMW 3i will be more fun to drive than the Leaf and it should get an EPA range of about 105 miles taking the larger battery pack and the lower weight into consideration. However, I also expect a price of about 44,000 USD of which 24k is for the battery pack and 20k for the rest of the car.

I think Tesla’s choice of low cost, high energy density 18500 cells is the right choice for performance cars with longer than 100 miles range. It is beyond my head why Tesla seems to be the only one that goes for these batteries. The 20k USD that the Model S with a 86kWh pack cost more than the one with a 42kWh pack shows that Tesla is down to less than 500 USD per kWh for their battery pack whereas those large format cells that are used by everyone else cost about 750 USD per kWh at the pack level in volume production.

Most importantly, BMW must include a fast charging option for the BMW 3i. It should be minimum 50kW in order to be competitive with the Leaf or the model S. People who start driving an EV will get hooked on it and will want to drive it everywhere also for long-distance and for that to function you need fast charging preferable 100kW.

· · 3 years ago

Henrik2: The i3 will not have the same size battery pack as the ActiveE does. It will be considerably less. BMW hasn't announced the size yet, but indications point to 22kWh. Part of the reason they are using all carbon fiber to build the car is to reduce weight for efficiency and so that they will need less batteries to move the car the desired 100mpc. By using less batteries they can offset the added cost of using so much CRFP.

As for quick charging, BMW has been tight lipped on this so there is no official announcement, but rest assured, they are working on it. In fact they just made an agreement with Ford, GM, Daimler, Porsche and bitter rival Volkswagen to adopt the same standard to DC quick charging(and it's not CHAdeMO). My bet is you will be able to DC quick charge the i3.

· Henrik2 (not verified) · 3 years ago

Tom, thank you for clarifying that.

Then my price estimate for the i3 should also be reduced. It should be 16.5k USD for the battery and 20 to 24k for the rest of the car so 36.5 to 40.5k USD for the BMW i3 when marketed in the US. However, its EPA rated range should also drop to about 80 miles compared to 73 miles for the Leaf. This shorter range can also explain why BMW choose to use the large format cells that typically can be recharged fully at least 1500 times before they fade to 80% of capacity. Tesla uses 18500 cells that may only be able to do about 600 recharges before the battery pack is reduced to 80% of its original capacity. That does not matter so much for Model S as it has longer range. Tesla has also made is easy to refurbish an old battery pack by replacing defunct cells because of the ability of the Model S to swap the battery pack and because it is flat enabling easy access to cells when repaired.

I think the Nissan/Renault and Mitsubishi supported CHAdeMO standard will prevail as the de facto global standard for DC fast charging as they are about to build about 70% of all the BEV going to market globally until about 2017 plus they are the only BEVs around until about year 2013. In other words, it does not matter much what the rest of the world’s auto-makers decide in this regard. The battle for a global DC fast charging standard has, in my opinion, already been won by Nissan/Renault and Mitsubishi thanks to their current two years lead and their massive investments in BEV production capacity.

· Tom K (not verified) · 3 years ago

It sounds like BMW has a winner with this car. It's too bad their tepid toe dipping into the EV market didn't allow for a full scale production and sale of this vehicle...

· Anonymous (not verified) · 3 years ago

This is just about a perfect car for me, except for the weight. 4,000lbs? Wow! I guess that's because it's a conversion and it has a huge 32kwh battery. The i3 will probably be a great car but it's still two years away

· · 3 years ago

Lucky guy, congratulations!

I see BMW's commitment to EVs as very impressive. Mini E and ActiveE total production makes more than 1,700 cars. I understand it doesn't sound like much, but look at the others. That's more EVs than Ford, Honda,Hyundai or Volkswagen have ever made.

About fast charging, I'm expecting all plans regarding high-speed chargers in Europe to be scaled back, there's simply no money for them. 230V 32A current is available at every home, that's good enough.

· Anonymous (not verified) · 3 years ago

Laurent,
Actually, Ford has made quit a few more EVs than this throughout its recent 20 year history. They produced about 100 Ecostar Electric in the mid 90s, about 1500 Electric Rangers starting in the late 90s, and hundreds (if not thousands, I don't know the exact number produced) of cars under the TH!NK brand (City and Neighbor) before they sold the TH!NK name in the early 2000s not to mention their hydrogen fuel cell fleet. Up until recently, when the Leaf passed them, I believe Ford had produced more electric vehicles in the last 20 years for the US market than any other manufacturer.

· · 3 years ago

Tom, Has BMW released a spec sheet on this?

· · 3 years ago

I didn't count the Thinks as Fords. I thought they made less than 1,000 electric Rangers. 1,500? that's good then.

· · 2 years ago

BMW opened the application process today for the two-year MINI-E lessees. On or about December 1st they will begin taking applications from anyone that lives in one of the available markets: Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco, Sacramento, New York , New Jersey, Boston and select areas of Connecticut.

If anyone that lives in one of the participating markets and is interested in leasing one, register at the BMW website(http://www.bmwusa.com/ActiveE) and you will be sent a notification email once the application process begins in about ten days. The lease cost is $2,250 down and $499/month for 24 months.

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