2012 BMW ActiveE: First Drive

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If you’ve driven a Nissan Leaf, you’ll agree that while the near-instantaneous torque provided by its electric motor system from standstill can be intoxicating in itself at first, the Leaf is SO not a performance car. With soft, Prius-like dynamics and Prius-like looks, the Leaf appeals to the green crowd, no doubt, and not really to those who enjoy driving.

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.

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