BMW ActiveE Electric Car First Drive: What's It Really Like? Page 2

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BMW ActiveE electric car, January 2012, New Jersey

BMW ActiveE electric car, January 2012, New Jersey

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We did the bulk of our 67-mile trip from Montclair to Chester, New Jersey, and back again in EcoPro, reverting to Normal for several acceleration and handling tests.

That trip, including a number of hilly roads and a few brief spurts of acceleration, used 88 percent of the battery capacity, for a real-world usage of 2.7 miles/kWh--not the best efficiency we've experienced.

Moloughney said he's eager to test out the car's range in warmer weather, and he suspects that with careful driving in spring temperatures, he'll be able to get more than 100 miles on a full recharge.

Smaller margin of safety?

Moloughney noted that in an early test of a completely depleted battery, he got only about 1 mile of additional range once the car's remaining-range indicator dropped to 0. BMW had estimated a margin of about 5 or 6 miles, he said, though he noted he did his tests on a day when the temperature was just 18 degrees F.

BMW ActiveE electric car, January 2012, New Jersey

BMW ActiveE electric car, January 2012, New Jersey

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After that, the ActiveE barely crawled until he was able to recharge enough to get him back to his house.

In the Mini E, by contrast, he said he knew he had a safety margin of 10 to 18 more miles.

EcoMode fogging

The one drawback to the EcoPro mode proved to be anemic seat heaters--they were nice and toasty in Normal mode--and occasional fogging of the glass.

Cabin heating and ventilation are major energy draws in any car with a high-voltage battery, so the "Eco" setting usually dials down those accessories a lot. Moloughney would prefer that the cabin heating be dialed down more, but the seat heaters retained at a higher power.

Brief blasts with the fan cleared up the misting, and the car's good insulation mean that it stays warm once the car was pre-conditioned while plugged in or the occupants had warmed up.

Moloughney also noted his irritation that the car cannot be set to pre-condition the cabin at the same time each day. The smartphone app only gives him access to a 24-hour window, with no recurring setting mode.

One awkward moment on our test underscored the car's developmental nature: Using both friction and regenerative brakes in two-pedal driving coming uphill to a stoplight, the car simply shut down, with a message on the display saying it had a powertrain problem.

Tom & Meredith Moloughney get keys to first BMW ActiveE electric car delivered in U.S., Jan 2012

Tom & Meredith Moloughney get keys to first BMW ActiveE electric car delivered in U.S., Jan 2012

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It rebooted itself and behaved fine thereafter, but Moloughney plans to seek an explanation from BMW about what happened. It is, he admits cheerfully, part of his role as a test driver for this new technology--or, as BMW calls them, an "electronaut."

The listed price of the BMW ActiveE is $59,500 plus an $850 delivery fee, for a total of $60,350. All 600 drivers, however, will lease the car for two years at a cost of $499 per month after a down payment of $2,250.

The ActiveE fleet of 600 cars in North America will be tested for two years, leading up to an expected September 2013 launch of the company's ground-breaking BMW i3 electric minicar

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