Part 2: Living with BMW ActiveE – 10,000 miles on odometer

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Now that I’ve been driving my BMW ActiveE for nearly four months, I’ve had it long enough to confirm my initial positive thoughts. It is …

Now that I’ve been driving my BMW ActiveE for nearly four months, I’ve had it long enough to confirm my initial positive thoughts. It is simply the best daily-driving electric vehicle I’ve had the pleasure to experience, and I have driven just about every production electric vehicle recently produced.

Of course I added the term ‘daily driving’ because having driven a Tesla Roadster, I have to say there is nothing else quite like it for pure electric exhilaration. However, the lack of any usable space and fact that you basically have to fall into the drivers seat and then climb out of it really eliminates it for my consideration as a daily driven vehicle. Sure, I’d love to have one in the garage to take out on the weekends and even to the track, but as for what I drive as my everyday vehicle, the ActiveE is a much better electric choice.

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My odometer rolled passed 10,000 miles last week. It was actually the 108th day I’ve had the car which puts me on a pace for about 33,000 miles per year. That might surprise some people who haven’t had any experience with electric cars. While I’m out with the car I get stopped all of the time by curious people who have all kinds of questions. The usual ones that everybody asks are: How far can it go?  How long does it take to charge? How much does it cost to charge?

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When I tell them it will go about 100 miles per charge, plus or minus about 20 miles, many people respond, “Oh, so it’s good as a secondary vehicle for short trips to the store and basically for driving around town, right?” Actually, no that’s not right! I use my ActiveE for basically everything I need a car for. I’ll drive it 32,000 to 35,000 miles per year which is just about double what the average American drives in a year.

Yes, once every couple of months I need to drive farther than the range will allow, and I simply swap cars with my wife for that day. Most households have more than one car and in most cases one of them can certainly be an electric vehicle. I do however know people that have only one car and it’s electric. They will rent a car for the day or join a car sharing service like Zip Car for the rare occasions they need a vehicle with a greater range.

As for me, I installed a Level 2 EVSE (charger) where I work so I can plug in and charge while I’m working. I live about 32 miles from my job so I have about a 65 mile round trip which the ActiveE can accomplish under any condition, but if I need to drive more during the day, it’s very convenient to be able to plug in and “top off” when I arrive at work. After my commute to work, it takes about 1 1/2 hours to be back to 100% charged. This allows me to drive the car basically as much as I need to and there have been days I’ve driven it over 200 miles.

So for me, I don’t feel like I’m on a ‘100 mile leash’ at all. I’m not that unique either as many others I know charge at work either from an EVSE they have, one that their employer installed, or they use a public charger that is near their place of employment. These public chargers are popping up all over. Just a year ago there were practically none inNew Jerseyand today there are about sixty of them. Plugging in is very easy and I definitely prefer it to driving to a gas station and filling up. It takes less than ten seconds to grab the connector and slide it into the charge port.  Plus, I’m plugging in at home or at work, so I don’t have to go out of my way to refuel and it costs much less than gas, about $4 to $5 to drive 100 miles.

The ActiveE is really a joy to drive. It has instant torque and smooth acceleration, a feeling you just can’t replicate with a gasoline powered car. It kind of feels like you’re being pulled along by a string, as opposed to the car itself applying the power. That’s partly due to the lack of gears (most electrics including the ActiveE have a single speed gearbox) so there is no shifting, and the fact that the cabin is nearly silent with the exception of a very slight whine, similar to a jet engine as it powers up. The strong regenerative braking allows you to drive with one pedal about 90% of the time and when you actually need to use the friction brakes you’re usually going under 10 mph.  This “one pedal driving effect” is something I believe most pure driving enthusiasts will really enjoy.

The car also handles superbly, considering it weighs over 4,000lbs. BMW was able to maintain nearly a perfect 50/50 weight distribution despite the radical reconstruction necessary to accommodate the three separate battery packs, power electronics, electric motor and all the frame reinforcement necessary and you can feel the balance when cornering.

One of the few disappointing features is the car’s launch mode. When I read in the owners’ manual that the car has a launch mode like some other BMWs, I immediately thought of my time driving the Tesla Roadster. The off-the-line acceleration is just startling. Electric motors have instant torque available from a standstill unlike their internal combustion counterparts. The ActiveE’s 184lb-ft torque isn’t available from a standstill because BMW has programmed the car to delay full power until you are moving a bit, I guess that’s so we aren’t burning through tires all of the time and putting too much stress on the powertrain.

However, when I saw this launch mode my thoughts were of full torque and long smoky burnouts! It wasn’t to be. After initiating launch mode, and getting further excited when the little checkered flag appeared, the car lurched off the line pretty much the same as it normally does. I haven’t officially timed the car in and out of launch mode but I can tell you it feels about the same and if it is faster, it isn’t by much. On my wish list for the 2013 BMW i3 is a true launch mode. I’d like to be able to switch on launch mode and get all 184lb-ft torque right from a standstill.  Give us that, and we’ll do our best to show off just who has the ultimate driving EV!

I maintain a blog about my experiences living with an electric BMW and it can be found at:

Part 1: Living with BMW ActiveE

19 responses to “Part 2: Living with BMW ActiveE – 10,000 miles on odometer”

  1. Best license plate, ever.

    • Tommolog says:

       Thank you. Whenever I’m stopped at a red light I look in my rear view mirror and about 30% of the time the person behind me is taking a picture of it and giving my the thumbs up!

  2. Manny Antunes says:

    Tom, you left out the part where we installed the higher capacity batteries and motor! And how you’ve had your activeE at 115MPH ;))

    See ya tomorrow morning.

  3. Gerhard goedhart says:

    Im intending to buy the i3as soon as possile and am very happy with this positive news!!!
    Having been driving BMWcars for over 35 years i strongly believe in this paradigm shift ,BMW will forever be my joyof driving …for sure  

    • mckillio says:

      Since the ActiveE can get about 100 miles per charge @4000+lbs, I’m disappointed that they’re going to use fewer battery cells in the 2800lb i3 to only get the same mileage.  The i3 would still be lighter with the extra batteries and could get crazy mileage.  

      • Tommolog says:

        I think there are a couple reasons why they took this approach. First and most importantly, using less batteries will reduce the cost of the car. Secondly, the batteries are very heavy, and lugging around another 300lbs of batteries when you really don’t need to use them except on rare occasions reduces the efficiency all the time. The MINI-E trial program and the ActiveE program are proving that a 100 mile BEV is enough for most people.
        However it it isn’t, you can order the i3 with an optional range extender engine. After you have depleted the batteries the range extender will turn on and maintain the state of charge. The car will then go 100 mile on battery and another 100 miles with the range extender. BMW calls it the REx option.
        I don’t need it even though I drive a lot. I’ve found that a 100 mile BEV is perfect for me.

  4. Great series of articles!  Dont you have to lease these?  If so, what’s the mileage limit.  BMW must love that you’re racking up the miles on this test bed for the i Series

    • Tommolog says:

       Hi Chuck, thank you! Yes, they are all leased. There is no mileage limit, because as you say, the more miles the more data and info I provide form them. The whole point of this program is to test and refine all of the components that will be in the i3 late next year. We have already identified issues and BMW is fixing them.

  5. vali cristescu says:

    great article and plates.
    i hope you realize that you are only swapping one kind of pollution for another. last time i checked mining rare earths was so polluting that only china does it. also in my state 95% of electricity is produced by coal burning power-plants. i guess i will pull in for fuel every 550 miles in my 335d until the wheels fall off.

    • Tommolog says:

      Vali, there are very little rare earth materials in the ActiveE. It has Lithium ion batteries which are 100% recyclable and the little rare earth materials are used in the electric motor. China does have a lot of RE materials, but they are certainly not the only country producing them. Also, I have a solar array on my home so I’m charging the car with renewable energy, not coal generated electricity. However, the US DOE has done many studies that can be found on their website that show how an electric vehicle, even under the worst conditions(electricity form 100% coal) is at the worst equal in emissions to the best hybrid gas car(prius) and better than any pure gas or diesel car.
      Plus, every year the electric grid gets cleaner as more and more renewables get introduces, yet the supply chain for gas gets dirtier and dirtier every year as we need to drill deeper and deeper and further offshore to fine the crude.

      • vali cristescu says:

        all your arguments are valid. if i ever buy a house i want a solar panel too.
        I stand corrected, Li is not a rare earth. it is however not abundant enough for the ActiveE or leaf or the volt to be the next Model T:
        97% of world rare earths production is done in china. it is expected that most of the 2012 RE production will be swallowed by Chinese electronics industry.
        Emissions do not matter that much – even if you were to get a majority of westerners to buy electric cars you will still have the rest of the world buying gas/diesel until all oil has been exhausted (think BRIC countries). i also wonder how the activeE would compare to, let’s say, the 116d or the mini diesel in europe that are rated 60mpg hwy.
        i believe that EVs will remain a niche vehicle for the foreseeable future (i would gladly buy one if it really had the versatility of gas/diesel – think 600 miles on a tank of diesel fuel or the 425lb/ft of torque in my 335d and the smiles that come with that)

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