BMW EV Driver Reflects on Final Days With ActiveE

By · March 24, 2014

Tom Moloughney with End Is Near sign

Drivers leasing the BMW ActiveE will soon be asked to return their cars.

The U.S. launch of the BMW i3 only a few weeks away. That means the days are numbered for the BMW ActiveE, the company’s 1-series test platform for electric car technology.

BMW will likely use some of the returning ActiveEs for DriveNow, its car sharing service, but most of the cars will be decommissioned. As much as I enjoyed participating in the ActiveE trial lease program—and the MINI-E program before that—I have not enjoyed the part where I have to give the car back. But all the “electronauts,” as BMW calls us, know that returning the car is part of the deal.

As much as I'm going to miss the ActiveE, I don’t feel the same as when I returned my MINI-E. I really loved that car.

The MINI-E wasn't as sophisticated as the ActiveE, and it certainly wasn't as well engineered. It didn't have heated leather seats or a thermal management system. You couldn't set it to precondition the cabin’s climate, and it didn't have a back seat or a trunk. But it was one helluva fun little car.

Growing Up

With the ActiveE, I feel a little like I traded in my sneakers and t-shirt for a pinstripe suit. I might look better in the suit, but in my opinion, the ActiveE lacked a little of the soul the MINI-E.

That's not to say I haven't enjoyed my time with the ActiveE. When I first leased my ActiveE more than two years ago, there wasn't another electric car I would rather have had as my daily driving vehicle.

I have been luckier than other Electronauts because my cars had very few problems. Others haven't been so lucky. One of the goals of the ActiveE program was to find technical problems. We did find weaknesses, which were corrected for the i3.

Part of what I miss from the MINI-E is the performance. The ActiveE holds its own, but it's not really a fast car. You get the great instant torque acceleration that electric cars provide, but at 4,000 pounds, it's just too heavy for the 170 horsepower motor. Zero to sixty times of nine-plus seconds doesn't cut it in my book.

Tom during his MINI-E days.

Tom during his MINI-E days.

The MINI-E was a full second faster from zero to 60 than the ActiveE. The difference in drive feel was even bigger than a second. The i3 on the other hand is about a second faster than the MINI-E. That makes it a full two seconds faster to 60 mph than the ActiveE. Shaving 1,300 pounds off the weight off the ActiveE, while using the same motor, makes a huge difference.

The i3 also charges faster than the ActiveE. It now takes six hours to fully charge the ActiveE. That equates to about 15 miles per hour of charging. On the other hand, the i3 will likely get me around 25 miles per hour of charging.

At the same time, the i3 also has more interior volume than the ActiveE. It has roomier front and rear seating, and more cargo space.

The Long Goodbye

When I say goodbye to my ActiveE, it will be the last time I am forced to return an electric car. From now on, my EV ownership will be solely decided by how long I want to keep it, and not by a manufacturer’s expiration date.

I have absolutely no regrets about participating in BMW's trial lease e-mobility programs. It’s been a fantastic ride. For the past five years, I have had the opportunity to drive two great electric vehicles. I’ve driven 140,000 all-electric miles.

I am inspired by how far we've come since I got my MINI-E in 2009. At that time, the only choice to drive electric was to buy a $110,000 Tesla Roadster or build your own EV conversion. Now there are more than a dozen cars that plug in. They range from a high-end luxury sedan that goes 265 miles per charge to plug-in hybrids that fit many family budgets.

There’s no doubt about it. The electrification of the automobile industry is underway.

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