These are interesting times we’re living for car enthusiasts. That may seem obvious but today’s events with GM’s restructuring China officially becoming the largest consumer of cars and “hybrid” and “alternative energy” finding acceptance in the American car owner’s lexicon – the last time the automotive world saw such drastic change was the 1973 Oil Crisis.
That focal point of history and a page in time marked for change, it brought about wider acceptance of the smaller, efficient Japanese and European cars while American car manufacturers began the decline that has placed them in the perdicterments we see today. In 1973 – BMW managed to be toward the forefront of making efficient yet fun engines and, like they did nearly 37 years ago – they aren’t about to give up the game at another critical point in man’s continued development of the car.
BMW has continued to devote resources to alternative energy sources as a means of staying ahead of the curve in an everchanging game – as demonstrated by the ActiveE officially unveiled last week at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. The ActiveE, a fully electric 1 Series, encapsulates much of what BMW has achieved to date with alternative energy technology. With EfficientDynamics systems such as regenerative braking and Liquid Cooling for the batteries – the ActiveE will be the most technically advanced BMW on the road once in service an experimental car – just like its predecessor the MINI E was.
Interestingly, beyond the fully electric powertrains of both the Active E and MINI E, the two cars begin to deviate. The Active E is refined – a more complete vehicle where the MINI E was still in a more experimental phase. As some of you may remember, we were able to try a MINI E out this past November in a effort to see how a fully electric near “mega city car” would operate. Generally, we came away impressed with the MINI E as a car that was more than up to the task of providing a generally fun driving experience despite a lack of sound and a loss of some of the driving dynamics due to the awkward, cumbersome lithium ion battery pack seated amidships of the MINI E.
However, that battery pack is where the MINI E began to show its still slightly-ragged edges as an experimental car. While the powertrain is fully electric and easy to engage and use, the car was compromised somewhat in terms of the driving dynamic – an odd feeling as that is typically at the top of a priorities list by BMW. While the MINI E is surprisingly fun to drive in utter silence, it did feel a bit vague and uncertain of itself as you aimed for apexes versus blasting around in a straight line – again, it is hard to blame that feeling on anything other than the massive battery pack the MINI E is tasked with carrying to keep the front wheels pulling you along.
This is where the Active E gets exciting though. By building and refining the foibles of the MINI E, the electric 1 Series manages to check all of the right boxes in terms of performance that has become a trademark of BMW. The two largest factors showing the intent of the Active E, from an enthusiast standpoint, are the 50:50 weight distribution and a rear-wheel-drive platform, hallmarks in the history of BMW performance.
Which makes us very interested in the ActiveE. “When I see a bird that walks like a duck and swims like a duck and quacks like a duck, I call that bird a duck.”
So – it drives like a BMW, feels like a BMW and almost sounds like a BMW?
That’s pretty close and that’s what piques our interest in this car. Is efficiency worth the sacrifice of a throaty inline-6 waiting for you at the flinch of your right foot?
Maybe – but we’re anticipating that BMW finds a way around that as well.
The ActiveE is the culmination of many things that you aren’t supposed to see in a life time. It’s the car of tomorrow, of the future, that will be cruising the streets shortly. This is a car for tomorrow that will allow the world to drive it today and do so with the style and most of the performance we expect from the same type of cars sitting in our driveways. As we continue to build our Mega Cities – BMW will be there – waiting for us with their progressive cars and technologies and ready to adapt and give us the cars we want that will suit our lifestyles and those of an always demanding and ever-changing marketplace. It is 1973 all over again and BMW is prepared to show the world with the ActiveE that they’re still ahead of the game and will not relinquish that role anytime soon.
Now if they could just engineer a 3.5L M1 exhaust note into the cars…