BMW ActiveE Electric Car, Seen Through Nissan Leaf Driver's Eyes

The e-mail pitch from BMW said, "Electronauts Wanted".

The goal was to get several hundred drivers to lease a new electric car, the BMW ActiveE, for two years to give BMW more real-world data on how people use these cars in the real world.

A total of 700 ActiveEs are on their way to America. The lease offer--with unrestricted mileage--will cost $499 a month plus a $2500 deposit. At the end of the lease, you will give back the car--this is a test, and only a test.

Since I was already a seasoned Electronaut with 14,000 miles behind the wheel of my all-electric Nissan Leaf, I signed up on the official BMW website, answered a few too many questions, and was approved for flight status.

I rushed over to my local BMW dealer for a test drive.

If you like the looks of the standard BMW 1-Series sedan, this car easily passes the beauty test, because that's what it's based on. The Leaf, with its bug-eye headlights and odd shape, is no match for a BMW in the beauty department.

But the ActiveE comes with an array of electric-car graphics and labels that shout, "Look at me, I'm a Electronaut!"

For those unfamiliar with the BMW 1-Series, it's a compact two-door sedan. Its four seats hold two adults up front and two small children in the rear. That's a nice way of saying that there's absolutely no legroom for adults in the rear.  There may be more legroom in the back of a Porsche 911!

Unlike the Leaf, which has light-colored environmentally friendly cloth for its seats, the ActiveE has leatherette throughout. That's the non-luxurious kind.

2012 BMW ActiveE - Driven in Monterey, February 2012

2012 BMW ActiveE - Driven in Monterey, February 2012

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The instrument panel is standard BMW, though it has a nicely sized navigation screen--which doubles as the information center for your electric running information.

It gives the required range numbers and battery information, but not much more--though a long study of the manual and some experimenting will let you adjust a remarkable number of settings and see various operating data.

The one thing it doesn't give you is a screen that tells you where the nearest charging stations are located.  This is pretty much a requirement for any Electronaut, and I'm sure the wizards at BMW will update their software and give drivers this vital information--in their next electric car, the 2014 BMW i3, if not in the ActiveE.

The ActiveE has plenty of BMW power.  Like all electric cars, the low-end torque is great, with lots of throw-you-back-in-your-seat kilowatts The car handles like a typical BMW 1-Series, with a stiff and sporty ride, minus the engine roar.  It's electric quiet.

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Comments (5)
  1. Bill, The ActiveE does map the nearest charging stations for you. I know, I've been driving one for the past month! I can also tell you unlike the LEAF, it actually does have a 100 mile range. The ActiveE has an EPA range of 94 miles compared to the LEAF's 73 so even the EPA confirms it.
    I've driven just about every EV out there and the ActiveE is the best one all around EV I've had the opportunity to drive so far - but I haven't driven the Model S yet ;)

  2. Thanks for the correction. The BMW team were not very fluent with the car's electronics. Also, good to know that the ActiveE gets the stated mileage.

  3. BMW should be delivering the ActiveE as real production vehicle instead of yet another trial run. I am sure the data the collected off the MiniE was enough of a proof of concept.

  4. Yes Spike the MINI-E was a proof of concept, amongst other things. The ActiveE has nothing to do with proof of concept anymore. BMW is going to be selling the i3 in about 20 months and the ActiveE program is field testing all of the components that the i3 will use. Everything is new: the ECU, the charger, the motor, the software, etc was all developed in house for the 2013 i3 and the ActiveE program is making all of these things are thoroughly tested before they sell the i3. The MINI-E used third party off-the-shelf parts and BMW wouldn't actually sell an EV without engineering all of the components in house, and that takes time to develop and test before they would sell a car with them.

  5. The ActiveE will have a Smartphone App to assist the driver in finding the nearest charging station. Numerous online resources also exist in locating charge points. Given the typical electric car range and driving habits, it won't take long for drivers to know the location of all local charging stations. Plus, more are added everyday.

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