I have to take back everything I’ve ever said about electric vehicles. Being the hardcore BMW enthusiast that I am, I was skeptical about anything EV, even a model wearing the famous Roundel. Just a few months ago, I volunteered to be an Electronaut advocate (Designated Client Advisor) knowing that I will be among the first to drive the all-new 2012 BMW ActiveE.

What’s an Electronaut? It’s the term used to describe the very few proud owners of BMW’s “ActiveE Field Test”. A select group of early adopters in BMW’s foray into the electric vehicles market. Every tidbit of information resulting from the ActiveE trial will be used by the BMW i sub-brand. Similar to how the MiniE field test was used in engineering the ActiveE.

The Drive

How does it feel drivinging the 2012 BMW ActiveE? One phrase: TORQUE, and more TORQUE; all available from 0 rpm.

The 184 lb-ft of torque kicks in as soon as you mash the loud, maybe not so loud pedal, enough to propel the ActiveE to 60 mph in under 9 seconds.

Not as impressive as one would expect from a BMW? Well let’s look at the facts. The ActiveE is only available in MA, NY, NJ, CT and CA,  so with the high-traffic numbers in these regions, the 50 to 80 mph dashes aren’t so important. However, the ActiveE does make 170 horsepower which is enough to push the ActiveE to its electronically limited 90 mph.

What is important is that standstill to 50 mph takes as much as a the 128i Coupe with combustion engine. The handling and street feel is identical to a sport-package equipped 128i as well. On my short drive through the back roads of Bergen county, the ActiveE displayed the exact same characteristics that made BMW be known for: planted handling, driving dynamics and efficient braking. The ActiveE also uses the electromechanical steering found in the BMW 7 Series.

Inside, the 2012 BMW ActiveE comes with four seats. BMW also includes a series of luxury features that are not available as standard on other vehicles: Bluetooth, Sirius Satellite radio and leather upholstery with cool blue stitching.

What did BMW leave out? The 18 city /28 Hwy mpg rating of a 128i Coupe. Instead, you get 100+ mile range on a full 4-5 hour battery charge. BMW has found out through research that 100 miles is more than the average driver travels in a day. Therefore, the BMW ActiveE will be marketed as the ideal commuter in the areas it will be sold in.

The exclusive ActiveE trial is available to only 700 people in the United States. There are certain criteria that one has to meet, but essentially the ActiveE is sold on a first come, first serve basis.  AeroVironment, a BMW partner company, comes to your house to inspect your electrical system ($100 charge), gives you an estimate to install the charge station (roughly $2,000 installed) and you are set for your electric vehicle experience.

Furthermore, you will own a SAE J1772 charge station compatible with most electric vehicles currently sold on the market, but more importantly, compatible with the future BMWi cars. BMW intends to give all Electronauts first dibs on future BMW i cars like they are doing for the MiniE pioneers.

MiniE pioneers will get their cars around December 15th, while the rest of the customers will take ownership of their ActiveE vehicles starting mid-January 2012. Since MiniE pioneers helped gather the intel to help BMW engineer the ActiveE, it is only fair that they get first pick.

BMW does not offer the ActiveE for sale, but rather leases them through an attractive program. BMW Financial Services has a 24-month, unlimited mileage lease for $499 per month with $2,250 down. Yep, unlimited mileage! Sounds like something I need as a daily driver.

Sounds like a lot of hoops to jump through for an EV 1 Series Coupe, but I can assure you, it is worth it.