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

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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