First Drive: BMW ActiveE Electric Car Prototype

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A couple of weeks ago, BMW invited me to come to Munich and take part in the first drive of production versions of the BMW ActiveE, their second battery electric test vehicle.

A bit of background: I've been something of a high-profile MINI E pioneers, maintaining an active blog about my experiences, displaying the car at every green transportation expo I can make and frequently speaking to various press outlets about my time with MINI E #250.

The folks at BMW noticed the attention I've received, and they have frequently checked in on my blog to get feedback about my opinions on 28 months I've spent driving it around northern New Jersey--as much as 33,000 miles a year.

Many might think a car with a range of up to 100 miles wouldn't be sufficient for such high mileage. Well, as the 30-month program comes to an end in December, my odometer shows just shy of 70,000 miles, and any doubts that I may have had are long gone.

Once we arrived at the event in Munich, BMW executives introduced the ActiveE with a brief description of the company's three-step process to bringing e-mobility to the public.

First, the MINI E was created to gather data and analyze feedback from the program participants. That information helped shape the ActiveE, with the lessons learned from the ActiveE leading into the company's battery electric car for retail sale, the 2013 BMW i3.

BMW representative Tobias Hahn told the crowd two or three times: "While you are driving the ActiveE, I want you to imagine this exact same powertrain in a car that weighs 600 kilos (1,300 lbs) less."

Even though it was an ActiveE event, BMW's goal here is clearly to set the stage for the BMW i3, with the ActiveE as the final step before BMW enters into volume production of electric cars.

I was able to drive the ActiveE 25 miles on a preselected route, leading from our pickup point to BMW's research & development center. Most of the route was on city streets--not necessarily the best choice for thorough testing, but perhaps chosen because BMW envisions a majority of their electric-car customers doing this type of driving.

BMW ActiveE electric car, Munich, October 2011; photo by Tom Moloughney

BMW ActiveE electric car, Munich, October 2011; photo by Tom Moloughney

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The i3 has been called the "Megacity car," and BMW does not expect many of its buyers to come from rural areas where you often need to drive long distances on highways.

One section of our route was on the Autobahn, and I was able to get a good feel for the car's power. I'd say it was a tad slower than my MINI E but much smoother, both when accelerating and while regenerative braking took place.

The ActiveE's electric traction motor produces 170hp and 184 lb-ft of torque, so it's not underpowered by any means--but its 4,000-pound weight keeps it from being as nimble as the MINI E.

The regenerative braking strength is slightly lower than the MINI E's, which by far has the strongest regen I have experienced on any electric car. However, the ActiveE's was still very strong--much more so than a Nissan Leaf or Chevrolet Volt's.

After just a few minutes with it, I was able to return to the one-pedal driving style I have come to enjoy using in my MINI E.

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