EVolution: MiniE to BMW ActiveE to BMW i3

3 years ago by Chris Neff 13

MiniE

MiniE

AC Propulsion EBox

AC Propulsion eBox

My introduction to EVs began back in the Summer of 2008 when I was lucky enough to be at an event with the AC Propulsion eBox, I even got a chance to drive it, though not very far or fast, it was enough for me to realize EVs were something special. As a car guy, performance is key.  After hours of rides in the eBox and a brief stint of driving it myself, I wanted one…simple.

I got my chance the following year when the MiniE was offered as a field trial by BMW. When the time came for me to grab one I did not hesitate. I remember the day I picked it up at the dealer, there it was, just sitting there waiting to be driven. It was a good looking package, subtle yellow plug graphics, a badge number and a slight hood bulge to clear the electronics underneath, the interior had attractive yellow highlights throughout. I could not wait to turn it on and drive it. I quickly signed the papers, grabbed the key, got in and started to roll away.

I was really careful at first, just eased out onto the street, after about 100 feet I floored it….whoa!!!!!! 200+HP and 160+ foot pounds of torque went to the front wheels and I was hanging on…absolutely an amazing silent rush of power, there was no turning back, EVs would now be in my future. BMW did this one right, the aggressive regen and one pedal driving took about 30 seconds to adjust to and then it became instinct. Imagine being in 1st gear all day silently and no vibration, that’s what it’s like.

MiniE

MiniE

*Editor’s Note: This post also appears on Chris Neff’s “My BMW i3” blog.  Check it out by clicking here.

As much fun as the MiniE was it had its faults. The MiniE was truly a conversion, there was no back seat because that was where the 35 kWh battery sat. Pop the hood and there was a golden box with wires here and there, we were warned not to take it through puddles or car washes….so what, this EV was still a blast to drive. I loved surprising supposedly quick cars at the light, sure they could take me past 50 but under that I had the distinct advantage of instant power, no need to downshift and silent take off that confused minds. Nothing felt cooler than stomping the juice pedal at 30mph, breaking the front tires loose and pulling away from the guy behind me in a rush of electrons.

The MiniE was just raw, meaning it rode firmly, the heater was just adequate and the AC was so-so, not a lot of storage and this was not a car for long trips, even if you could find charging stations, it was a bit tiring to drive long ways.

Best MiniE moment

I went to the dealer to get my plates and as I got out this guy ran up to me and said “Is that what I think it is, you actually got one?” He was talking on the cell and continued telling me he and his friends have been talking all about this car and never saw one, then he got back on the phone and said “Man you will never guess what I’m standing next to.”

BMW ActiveE

BMW ActiveE

Next up was the BMW ActiveE. This was the 2nd phase of BMWs EV test program and it was a converted 1 series. It took me just one brief test drive to realize this car was far more civilized than the MiniE, this one would drive on the highways comfortably. The ActiveE was down on HP (170) but up on torque (184) and it was also up on weight, a whopping 4,000 pounds, but it was rear wheel drive which made it more sporty. Fortunately the BMW engineers spent more time tweaking this ride and it drove extremely well for its heft, it glided along the roads effortlessly and you could push it hard in turns. It felt like it was carved from a solid piece of metal as it had frame reinforcements throughout. This added to the capabilities of the chassis, it took whatever you could give it.

Charging From a Potato?

Charging From a Potato?

With that said it was not as fast as the MiniE but much more refined and it handled like a BMW. The EV also stood out, it had circuit graphics all over it which I really liked. To help clear the battery up front there was an aggressive hood bulge which many 1M drivers asked how I got. The interior was a light grey leather with blue highlights, very tasteful. It also had BMWs iDrive system for gadget fun.

Since the ActiveE was more of a of a drivers EV I took lots of long trips in the ActiveE, having a standard J1772 did not hurt, and its refinement meant I was not fatigued after a long trip. I often did 80 miles or more and sometimes I did that daily for months….in the MiniE I probably would not have been as excited to do that. In fact, in the two years I had the ActiveE I did over 30,000 miles, 80% of that in just over a year until my long commute changed, that is a lot of EV driving and it saved me $1,000s in gasoline costs. The ActiveE actually became the main car for me and my family…my red sports car sat in the garage.

Those graphics on the car made it a real stand-out, unmistakable that this was a special BMW. Often I’d be approached or even followed, police too, so they could get a close look at it. Folks in my town knew me by my car, I showed it wherever I could, it was an amazing experience all around. Unfortunately the party has to end and the ActiveE will be going back.

Best ActiveE moment

Driving to a Cars and Croissants, NJ exotic car meet, for the first time with my ActiveE and having 8 to 10 people running behind me before I even got a chance to park and talk to me about the car.

The ActiveE was a great car but there was something even better, worlds ahead, just around the corner, the BMW i3.

I Expect To Take Delivery Of My BMW i3 REx Sometime This Week

I Expect To Take Delivery Of My Solar Orange BMW i3 REx Sometime This Week

Admittedly when I first laid eyes on the i3 I was like…oh no way, how could they make it look like that, it does not scream BMW but econo-hatch. Well over the weeks of seeing pictures and getting an up close and personal look at the car I began to like it more. There are a lot of details, you just need to find them. My last concern were those tires, talk about retro, like 1907 retro, those were some skinny tires, how in the world can this EV even ride on those. I soon got a chance to find out and on a racetrack. Yes a racetrack, BMW asked me if I’d be interested in riding around in the i3 on a racetrack with a professional race car driver…..ummmm let me think about that…OK!!

I won’t go into details of that racetrack day, you can read all about it on my blog www.myactivee.blogspot.com but I will say I was extremely impressed, as was the pro driver, Erin Crocker.

I can tell you the BMW i3 is indeed worlds ahead of the ActiveE and makes the MiniE feel like a soap box. It is fast, it has the same power as the ActiveE but is over 1,000 pounds less in weight. Other than being flung around in the i3 for hours at its limit I also got to drive it. As soon as I pressed the accelerator I could tell this was a finely tuned EV, it just felt right. The power is linear, the regen steps in seamlessly, the steering is connected to you and those brakes are incredible. The i3 rides extremely well and yes, even with those skinny tires, it handles like it’s on rails. The interior is roomier than you would expect and the carbon fiber details are really cool.

Ready For Track Day

Ready For Track Day

Best i3 moment

Track day….all of it

The i3 is packed with tech, from its cool features to the carbon fiber shell to the modern interior to its ability to hold the track. I was seriously impressed. Just one thing was missing, no hood bulge.

The EV had evolved into a seriously interesting daily performance driver in less than 5 years.

Visit my new i3 blog at www.mybmwi3.blogspot.com to see my Solar Orange i3……eventually

Tags: , , ,

13 responses to "EVolution: MiniE to BMW ActiveE to BMW i3"

  1. GeorgeS says:

    Wow.
    What a great write up.
    Thx Chris Neff.

    I’m an old hot rodder and have a Volt.
    Loved the story about the “hood bulge.”

    Remember when Chevy had the active “air induction” hood bulge on the 67 Chevelle?

    1. Chris says:

      Thanks George….I used to have a few muscle cars back in the day. After driving an EV for years now I don’t miss the V8 rumble. EVs are a different drive and it is good different. Still I like hood scoops and hood bulges 😉

      That instant EV torque, turbine sound and feeling the tires grip for mercy under full acceleration in near silence is intoxicating

  2. no comment says:

    i think that the biggest objection to the BMW i3 is not the appearance of the car (although for that kind of money you want something better looking than that; because it looks like the kind of cars that are less than half the price); the biggest problem is the limitations of the vehicle. the i3 provides a nominal 80 miles; even less if you want to take advantage of the fast acceleration. so as a practical matter, you have to account for the fact that there are going to be conditions under which you will probably get less than 50 miles on a charge. so then you add this REx variation, but when you are in REx mode, you are basically driving a golf cart – so it isn’t a mode that you would want to be in for regular driving. but the point of the REx is not so much for regular driving, but to allow you to get to a place where you can recharge. then you have to wait for the battery to recharge before you can continue on…and you are paying 50 Grand for this.

    that there are people who want to buy this thing, EV enthusiasts, &c. but you’ve just got to wonder what the prospects of this thing being anything more than a niche vehicle.

    what is all the more crazy about the apparent enthusiasm about the BMW i3 is that if you were to change the nameplate, to say, “Chevrolet”, this car would have been roundly condemned as inadequate. the possibility that a mere nameplate change could result in a 360 degree difference in reaction leads me to think that the reaction to the BMW i3 is more about marketing than about substance.

    1. Chris says:

      I’m going to have to disagree with you here.

      I’m a car enthusiast first and foremost, if EVs were not fun to drive I would not have one, simple. The savings in fuel and eco factor is the bonus but again for me driving experience first and EVs drive great.

      The i3 is an amazing driving car, not just an EV, try one and you will see

      As for the REx it is not a golf cart when it is engaged, you can still drive it normally, just read the reviews and it did not slow us down on the track – my stomach can back that up. Folks are already reporting 70 to 80 miles range at highway speed in the REx before it kicks in, after it kicks in they hardly notice – Tom Moloughney – is one of them and he did a steady 70mph in comfort mode not eco pro plus and got 70 miles, in the rain at night, before the REx turned on. For those being careful they are reporting 100 miles. It is based on how you drive just like any car.

      When you do get up close to an i3 check out the details, the car is carbon fiber, the exterior details and the interior is amazing.

      All EVs are wonderful drivers, just like a gas car your comfort zone and desire for a car is what gets you to that point of how much you want to spend

      As for it being niche I don’t think so, there are more EVs on the roads than ever before, it is an exciting time.

      That Chevrolet brand you talk about has an EV, it is called a Chevy Volt and it gets about half (real world) EV range as the i3 and is less than half the price…it is a top EV seller because it is a very good car – brand aside

      EVs are not for everyone but for most they are especially if you have more than one car.

      1. no comment says:

        of course there are going to be people who think that the BMW i3 is worth the price, and obviously you are one of them. i never stated that nobody would buy an i3, but i do question how many people will buy one, especially at that price. playing to an audience of enthusiasts is not a good place to be from a market perspective.

        i don’t just write opinions about EVs, i actually own one in a cold weather environment, so i have insight into the limitations of EVs when it comes to range and weather. i would wager that a typical driver would have a hard time getting 50 miles of range in an i3 in cold weather, when they have to run the heater; and they would probably get less. if you are driving an i3 BEV, you can’t rely on wishful thinking when it comes to EV range, you have to deal with the reality that you are operating a vehicle that will sometimes be range limited.

        most people who drive automobiles just want to get where they are getting; they don’t want to have to think about the operational limitations of the vehicle. so while it is true that BEVs are definitely not for everyone, corporations also have a need for viable products in the marketplace. and while you are obviously happy with the BMW i3, i question how viable the automobile will be a market offering.

        even when weather is not a factor, there is always a trade off between performance and range. you can get really good acceleration in a Chevrolet Volt, if you always operate in sport mode; of course the problem is that you will also get a lot less range. if performance is what you really want, you are probably better off with an ICE, because in an ICE the refill time is measured in minutes, while in an EV, the recharge time is measured in hours. so in an EV there is a strong incentive to engage in energy efficient driving and to avoid showboat driving antics. so while you *can* do performance driving in an EV, they are better suited for energy efficient driving. in fact, the influence that EV driving has had on me is to engage in energy efficient driving: i try to get as much regen as i can, i avoid fast acceleration, i avoid fast braking and i tend to use ECO mode for HVAC.

        1. Chris says:

          So what you are saying is EVs work for you and you bring up a good point….they have made your overall driving more efficient… which is a bonus across all vehicles fueled by something. As for performance most of us do not drive all out all day long, but we like to know that extreme boost is there when needed and EVs offer that without the emotional penalty of burning fossil fuels IMO…yes you can argue about coal burning power plants but that is another topic.

          I too have struggled with cold weather and you bring up a good point there too and it shows why a REx or extended range EV makes sense especially if it gets butts into EV seats…the 10% of the time I need the REx will be worth the price of admission because I will have my family with me. Peace of mind is key there for me.

  3. Airton says:

    Great Story Chris, can’t wait to see your Solar Orange in the wild 🙂

    1. Chris says:

      Thanks…me too 😉

  4. Regulus Black says:

    It seems like every time I read comments about EVs someone will write “EVs are not for everyone”. Of course that’s true but no car or truck is “for everyone”.

    1. GeorgeS says:

      Yes, and the purpose of the story was to just fill us in on what it was like to be part of the BMW- e development program from the git go.

      The purpose of was NOT to sell people on the i3.

      So “no comment” missed the whole point of the article by giving us a comment we didn’t care to hear in the first place. I don’t understand why you would want to rain on somebodies parade like that. If you don’t like the car then just shut up and move on.

      Take your name to heart “no comment”.

      1. no comment says:

        if you don’t like my comments, you always have the option to not read them.

  5. Aaron says:

    I drove my i-MiEV to an i3 drive event. How can you say the interior is roomier than you expect? It feels even more cramped than my i-MiEV’s interior. Probably because the larger window area on the i-MiEV makes it feel larger.

    Make no mistake — this is not a roomy car by any realistic measure.

    1. I was wondering about that myself, Aaron, as I drive an iMiev. My guess is that the seating area has less headroom (I’m 6’4″) than the iMiev (which I fit in nicely – even in the back), and that cargo space with seats down is much more paltry than the 50 ft2 we get in the iMiev. Did you look at it with the seats down?