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The new BMW ActiveE is an electric car based on the BMW 1-Series Coupe, and is BMW’s second electric vehicle key learning project after the MINI E which made its debut in 2009.

BMW has used data obtained from the MINI E’s lease to learn user behaviour, customer acceptance as well as requirements for an e-infrastructure. From MINI E usage patterns, vehicle usage for the electric MINI only differed marginally from that of comparable MINI Cooper and 116i users. Basically the conclusion was that an electric city car with a range of about 100 miles with an expanded interior space would meet virtually 100% of the mobility needs of urban drivers.

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There are quite a few MINI E leasers who will be “upgrading” to the BMW ActiveE, and perhaps later to the new BMW i3. The ActiveE willl be offered with a 24 month/50,000km lease period, and will fill the gap until the launch of the BMW i3.

The main purpose of the ActiveE is to approve the new electric power train and battery. As opposed to the MINI E where BMW worked with a third party to supply the EV components, the BMW ActiveE’s electric power train is an in-house development, and will also be used in the upcoming BMW i3.

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The ActiveE is produced together with other normal BMW cars in an in-line assembly process at their Leipzig plant. BMW has designed a 1,100 car production line for the ActiveE there. It is still a conversion vehicle like the MINI – this means BMW took a chassis designed to house the power and fuel components of a regular international combustion engine and converted it for electric use. As the chassis is not optimal for EV usage, the ActiveE ends up weighing a massive 1,815kg – compared to the purposes EV built BMW i3 Concept which weighs just 1,250kg.

Now for some tech specs – the BMW ActiveE has its electric motor integrated into the rear axle. Peak power is 125kW while maximum torque is rated at 250Nm from standstill. The electric motor has no transmission, so its 12,000rpm redline can take the car up to about 145km/h. The car hits 100km/h in 9 seconds, which isn’t particularly fast but brisk enough not to feel underpowered.

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Power is provided by a 32kWh lithium ion battery with a total of 192 x 40 Ah cells supplied by SB LiMotive. It is liquid cooled and separated into three storage packs to help the car achieve a 50:50 axle weight ratio. Charging time is approximately 10 to 12 hours on a 230V/12A power supply, or as low as 4 to 5 hours on a 230V/32A power supply. The battery pack provides an New European Driving Cycle pattern range of 205km, or a customer driving average range of 160km.

We had a chance to try out the BMW ActiveE in Munich recently. It was a pretty rainy day and the route was designed to simulate a typical city commute of about 35km, so we didn’t exactly get any opportunities to test out the 50:50 weight distribution of the car, if you know what I mean. But we came away with findings on how the ActiveE tackled city car duties.

Firstly, this car is quiet. Really eeriely quiet. Ease onto the throttle and you get a diesel like surge in acceleration, except all you can hear is a soft whine from the electric motor, kinda like how one of those new direct drive motor washing machines sound like. Throttle response is very good, but it takes some getting used to because there’s some really strong engine braking upon releasing the throttle.

This is because ActiveE puts its motor into reverse to become a generator to recharge the batteries upon lift-off. If you leave the throttle closed, the car will eventually come to a stop pretty quick – you have to keep the pedal pressed to coast and the engine management will adjust the power needed to maintain your speed accordingly. The engine braking is so strong that you can probably control the car’s stop and go within the city using the accelerator pedal alone, and indeed I managed to do this for quite some time.

We managed to hit the top speed of about 145km/h while on a straight highway section – check out the video above to see that happen. There was no drama, but of course if you plan to drive this car at 145km/h often don’t expect much range out of the batteries.

The iDrive screen has lots of information on how much power you’re using and how much range you have left but it’s kinda hidden in the menus. But info on range and remaining battery charge can be had at a glance as BMW has appropriately reworked the instrumentation panel gauge to show battery charge instead of fuel tank level.

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The car felt just like any other BMW – there was no odd feeling of any weight imbalance because the EV components were mounted strategically, as well as low in the chassis to help lower the center of gravity. Everything else also functioned like a regular internal combustion engine car, down to the air conditioning system which worked well. It was a cold rainy day of course, so I don’t think the air conditioning system needed to work much.

The ActiveE doesn’t ask much from the driver in terms of getting adjusted to the idea of driving an electric car instead of a car with a normal engine, other than the fact that you should remember to charge it.