For enthusiasts, there haven’t been any serious EV options—other than the very limited, expensive Tesla Roadster—especially if you don’t want a range-extended plug-in packing a gasoline engine.
Nissan has teased us with some EV performance possibilities, like the NISMO Leaf, and the ESFLOW Sport EV concept, but with limited-production models like the MINI E, and now the Active E, BMW looks poised to show that EVs can have a little more performance character.
In California this past week, we got a short drive in a 2012 BMW ActiveE—from the first group of demonstration models BMW has received in North America. But Green Car Reports’ editor John Voelcker already managed to get a drive in the first ActiveE delivered in North America, a couple of weeks earlier; so with his green assessment in mind, we aimed to get a quick impression of how the ActiveE holds up as a performance-flavored EV.
Even after just a short spin, our impression is that the ActiveE is a step in the right direction—more balanced, predictable, and sprightly in the way that drivers will find familiar and intuitive. BMW’s other effort, the MINI E, was really a conversion, and while it felt eager and surprisingly fun to drive, the constant whine of the powertrain, an accelerator-pedal delay, super-intense regenerative braking system, and a stiff suspension made the MINI E less docile than you might imagine it being, if you’ve had even a short drive in the excellent gasoline versions.
The ActiveE is essentially a standard BMW 1-Series Coupe, converted to all-electric drive. But as opposed to the Mini E, it’s better integrated and feels much less like a conversion or a kit.
Turn on the ignition, and there’s no noticeable buzz or whoosh; even though the battery pack uses liquid cooling, we heard no evidence of it during our drive.
Quiet and quick off the line
The ActiveE’s 125-kW electric motor system, which makes 170 horsepower, and 184 pound-feet of torque from a standstill, propels the Coupe with an initial gusto you won’t find in the gasoline versions. Unfortunately that’s only for the first 10 mph or so; by 40 mph, it’s clear that you could be moving quicker in a gasoline car. All said, BMW says that the ActiveE can accelerate to 60 mph in about nine seconds.
A 32-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack is packaged in the drive tunnel and under the rear seat, allowing a driving range of about 100 miles (94 miles according to official EPA ratings). As with the other 1-Series models, back-seat space is tiny, and the cost of the conversion is that (see our pictures) there’s very little trunk space.