First Drive: BMW ActiveE reviews first drives electric green news bmw
BMW ActiveE. Click image to enlarge

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Review and photos by Mike Schlee

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BMW ActiveE

New York, NY – It is the stuff dreams are made of: a mid-engine BMW 1-Series featuring a 49:51 front/rear weight distribution and a motor that will sing all the way to a 12,000-rpm redline. That’s the beauty of an electric vehicle—the electric motor can be placed anywhere and scream through the rpm range. But not so beautiful is the weight penalty associated with all that electric hardware and the 192-cell battery pack; the ActiveE weighs in at a portly 1,819 kg.

The ActiveE is a special run BMW 1 Series that is more a showcase of their electric motor development than an actual production vehicle; only 700 units will be produced and all have already been spoken for in the USA. The ActiveE has the motor sitting directly on the rear axle, which allows them to eliminate the transmission. Instead, the vehicle is direct drive, meaning the motor sends power directly to the wheels. Interestingly, the vehicle will roll backwards from a stop when on an incline like a conventional manual or SMG transmission.

First Drive: BMW ActiveE reviews first drives electric green news bmw
First Drive: BMW ActiveE reviews first drives electric green news bmw
BMW ActiveE. Click image to enlarge

Thrust comes from a synchronous electric motor that produces 170 hp and 184 lb-ft from 0 rpm. This is good enough to propel the ActiveE from 0–98 km/h in a claimed 9 seconds. The power delivery itself is not that far off from a BMW 128i in real world applications, and out of Eco Pro the amount of the thrust is quite deceiving. The rear tires will break loose in the wet under full throttle thanks to the early application of torque, but for the most part, there is an initial lag from throttle tip-in to forward movement.

As can be expected from a purely electric vehicle, most operations are performed with minimal sound. Road, wind, and tire noise will be all that is heard while motoring down the road. However, except for the lack of engine note, every other aspect of the ActiveE is the same as a regular 1 Series. All the usual luxuries are present and accounted for like leather seats, HID lights, and BMW’s simplified iDrive system. Like the Focus EV, this is not a vehicle built from scratch as an electric special that is full of styling and technology tricks to achieve optimal range. Instead, it is just a regular car with a sophisticated EV drivetrain installed, albeit in a different than usual location. The engine’s rear-mounted location does eat into trunk space, which has been reduced to 200 L.

First Drive: BMW ActiveE reviews first drives electric green news bmw
First Drive: BMW ActiveE reviews first drives electric green news bmw
BMW ActiveE. Click image to enlarge

My time behind the wheel of the ActiveE was limited. I had just 3.2 miles of drive time to myself, but since it was around downtown Manhattan during rush hour, I was still able to spend 55 minutes behind the wheel. Regardless of total time spent in the cockpit, it is still hard to make an accurate assessment of this vehicle with so little time spent actually driving it as opposed to sitting at intersections watching the spectacle that is New York City driving. That said, I was able to get a good handle on the ActiveE’s regenerative braking system.

Like any vehicle with regenerative braking, this setup takes a while to adjust to. It grips hard when you lift off the gas, so much so that the BMW’s brake lights actually activate to warn motorists behind of the rapid deceleration. This is especially true in the Eco Pro mode, which does its best to extend the electric BMW’s range. If driven economically, and not near its 145 km/h electronically limited top speed, the ActiveE is good for roughly 160 km of operating range. When the car is depleted, expect a 4–5 hour recharge on a 240V stage 2 charger.

Being that my drive was a crawl around the insane metropolis of New York City, impressions on handling were nil. What I did notice was that the steering felt looser than most BMWs and the suspension felt smoother over the less-than-perfect New York roads. The latter could be a direct result of the higher profile tires than is common for a BMW– 205/55R16 low-rolling-resistance units.

It really is a shame that I couldn’t take this vehicle on a longer drive to get a sense of real-world range or more impressions on how it drives, because it really did feel like a great electric car. And that brings me to the next disappointment, the fact that the ActiveE is not for sale in Canada. However, if this is a taste of what the BMW ‘i’ lineup will be like, then I think BMW is definitely headed in the right direction with their EVs.