Yes, I am one of the “chosen” who are paying money for the privilege of driving one of 700 BMW ActiveE’s in this country. Now I realize how the Apple enthusiasts must have felt who camped out in front of an Apple store to grab one of the first iPads, not quite knowing what they would do with it. Except I didn’t camp out, I was just one of the people on a list.
So what’s an ActiveE? In essence it’s a modern Ford T: you can have it in any color you like as long as it’s white, and there are no other options to chose from. Luckily it comes standard with much of what BMW has to offer except for powered seats (which apparently drain the battery a lot) and an automatic garage door opener which I believe was just forgotten. And of course it’s electric.
The engine sits in the back, battery in front, which makes for excellent weight distribution. And it really is fun to drive. You will, however, need a second car: the ActiveE comes with no trunk space to speak of, and while its range of about 80-90 miles per charge (it’s advertised at 100 but I never get that) is enough for trips in the area you’ll always have to fall back on something else for the further places such as Philadelphia. There is a network of charging stations, free and paid, which in fairness I haven’t used yet, mainly because they only make sense if you are actually planning to stay 4 hours where you are going.
To make sure you get all the attention in the world BMW has plastered the car with a blue-and-gray circuit board decor. I usually insist on getting paid if a company wants me to advertise their stuff but given the circumstances of my decision to get the car itself I figured it wouldn’t even matter. And the decor is actually quite cool, which is perhaps the attribute that best describes the entire car. I am not even concerned about the white leather interior because it has COOL blue stitching. In short, BMW have their message straight to advertise electric cars as something you really gotta have.
Which really is the only argument to justify this car. With the high cost of a charging station, the monthly lease (they let you have the car for 2 years after which, I believe, they’ll get crushed), the fact that they keep the tax bonus, and the need for a second car the ActiveE makes little sense economically – an equally equipped 1 series BMW would doubtlessly be cheaper, even with the cost of gas included. Plus you’d have an actual trunk. Having an ActiveE also puts you on the next “chosen” list for the i3 expected to make its debut in 2 years but – after having seen it at an auto show recently – it remains to be decided if I’ll really want one.
So is the ActiveE a bad idea? I don’t think so. Much like 5 years ago the Prius was pointing the way in a new direction I am convinced that electric vehicles will play an important role in our near futures. Being able to pioneer the idea, to experience a well built prototype and have tremendous fun driving it on top it is worth the sacrifice, at least to me. I fully expected the car to break down sooner or later but so far it hasn’t, so congratulations to BMW for an incredible piece of engineering. With all the fun I am having I shall forgive you for the missing garage door opener – this time.
I’ll report periodically on my adventures as an Electronaut.