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First drive: 2012 BMW ActiveE Prototype by Henny Hemmes +VIDEO

PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)
2012 BMW ActiveE i3 Prototype

By Henny Hemmes
Senior European Editor
The Auto Channel

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2012 BMW ActiveE i3 Prototype

MUNICH - October 8, 2011: At the end of 2009, BMW presented the ActiveE, a concept that was under development as part of Project-i initiative . Under this project, the German car manufacturer started up the research and development of an electric Mega City Vehicle, which this summer was unveiled as part of the new “i”sub brand and baptised i3.

   • SEE: Original Project-i story
   • SEE: World's First Look: BMW iBrand i3 and i8 Concepts

The electric ball started rolling for the BMW Group with the Mini E, that I drove just before the Los Angeles Auto Show in November 2008. A test fleet of over 600 units has been on the road since 2009, and beginning this December the second version of models will be tested: the BMW ActiveE. The first cars will be rolling out of the Leipzig plant, which is scheduled to build about 1,100 units.

The BMW Group gathered useful information from the test drivers concerning the use of the electric Mini in mega cities such as Los Angeles and New York, and they expect to get as much feed back from the ActiveE test drivers. This will be the last part of Project-i before the launch of the i3 in 2013.

Out of the total 1 Series EV units produced, 700 will go to California (Greater L.A. area, San Diego and San Francisco), New York, New Jersey and Boston. Europe gets 250 units; China, 100; and 50 will be split between Japan and South Korea.

As with the Mini E, the BMW ActiveE will be available for a two-year lease at $499 per month, with a $2,200 deposit. There will be no restriction on miles.

BMW of North America expects that many Mini E test drivers will want to move up to the first electric BMW. One of them will be the guy who has already driven some 56,000 miles with his MiniE. (For people who love statistics: Up until now, the Mini E test fleet has driven more than 99,000 miles.)

Components developed in-house
Yesterday, the ActiveE was available for the first test drives in and around BMW’s home base Munich. Unlike the Mini E that has a huge air cooled battery pack replacing the rear seats, the ActiveE has four seats and a useable luggage compartment of 7 cu-ft. The extra space is a result of dividing the fluid cooled battery pack in three parts and placing it where you would normally find the combustion engine, the fuel tank and under the tunnel. The 1/6-2/6- 3/6 division guarantees an ideal weight 50/50 distribution and a somewhat lower center of gravity than that of the standard 1 Series.

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2012 BMW ActiveE i3

The electric motor including transmission with differential is integrated into the modified rear-axle support of the ActiveE and will also be used for the i3. In the ActiveE it delivers 125 kW/ 170 bhp and 184 lb-ft. of torque, but in the i3 this may be different.

ActiveE project leader Bernhard Hofer said: “It was important to us to build the electric synchronous motor ourselves, as well as the other components. The li-ion 32 KWh battery pack has been developed with SB LiMotive. Al the other components including transmission and power electronics have been developed in house.”

More sophisticated
The cockpit of the ActiveE is no different than the conventional 1 Series. The white interior looks nice and matches the white body. The car is ready for take off after pushing the start button on the dashboard. A quick look at the instrument panel confirms the electric motor is ready and you can shift the stick in the center console to Drive. The rev counter has been replaced by a gauge that tells you if you use or recuperate energy or if you are cruising. You can also choose what you want to see in the display; for example, the status of the battery, or how much energy you have used.

After hitting the road it becomes immediately obvious that slowing down by releasing the accelerator pedal is much more sophisticated in the ActiveE than in the Mini E, where the deceleration is much stronger. In this vehicle the feeling is more moderate and you get easily used to it after driving for just a couple of minutes in the city. Then, it is easy to judge how much time, or distance, you need to come to a standstill at a traffic light without braking - or to slow down so much that you can keep the car from rolling forward before the light turns green.

The ActiveE also has an position of the accelerator pedal that allows cruising, or ‘gliding’ as BMW calls it.

Even with a weight of just over 4,000 lbs, the acceleration is excellent. The car sprints to 62 mph in 9 seconds and reaches 37 mph in just 4.4 s, because torque is instantly available. Its top speed of 90 mph is sufficient to go with the flow on the German Autobahn.

The ActiveE feels heavy and solid and very stable in corners and long fast bends. There is one thing to point out, however. The power steering provides a very vague feeling when driving slowly in a straight line. You can move the steering wheel somewhat from left to right but not much is happening. But at speed the feel is much better and the car reacts quickly to any steering input.

During our 35 mile trip, I gave the ActiveE quite some welly and including driving past and behind the lens of our photographer, the battery still had 58 percent of its capacity, enough for another 50 miles. This means that under normal circumstances it will be easy to cover 90 miles on a fully loaded battery.

As I stated earlier, similar to the test drivers of the Mini E, the test drivers of the ActiveE will probably provide some important feed back that will be useful for the development of future electric vehicles of the Bavarian brand.

Watch the complete i-Brand i3 and i8 Concept Press Conference