BMW i3 Versus BMW ActiveE – Real-World Range Test


Now that BMW has begun to deliver some BEV i3s to the ActiveE Electronauts, some of those in the ActiveE trial lease program who haven’t yet gotten their i3 have been asking how the i3 compares to the ActiveE. Questions on ride quality, acceleration, handling and charge rate have been asked, but the biggest concern is: How does the range compare? After all, with electric vehicles, range is paramount.

So, I got together with Michael and Pamela Thwaite who just last week picked up their Ionic Silver i3 and we mapped out an 80-mile loop that would include roughly 50% highway and 50% secondary and tertiary roads. While everybody has different driving needs and patterns, it was our hope that this course would provide an evenly balanced mix of different driving conditions. That being said, this wasn’t a carefully controlled scientific experiment.

We didn’t weigh ourselves to make sure both vehicles were carrying the same weight, we didn’t calibrate our speedometers or record the barometric pressure, so please don’t bother commenting on why this was a flawed experiment because it wasn’t perfectly controlled. We did make sure we had proper tire pressure, we took turns following and leading each other and we tried our best to maintain the same constant speeds. We met on Saturday morning at my restaurant which has two ChargePoint EVSEs in the parking lot and after about two hours of charging, we set out with Pamela driving their i3 and my wife, Meredith, driving my ActiveE. Michael and I were the co-pilots so we could live blog the event, post pictures on social media sites and make sure we stayed on course.

BMW ActiveE Versus BMW i3 - Charging Prior to Range Test

BMW ActiveE Versus BMW i3 – Charging Prior to Range Test

*Editor’s Note: This post originally appeared on Tom’s “The Electric BMW i3” blog.  Check it out by clicking here.

BMW ActiveE Showing 100% Charge

BMW ActiveE Showing 100% Charge

BMW i3 Showing Full Charge

BMW i3 Showing Full Charge

With both cars fully charged, the ActiveE showed an estimated 86 miles of range, while the i3 predicted 98. Which will be more accurate?

It was a warm, cloudy day with temperatures in the 80’s. We knew we would need the air conditioning so we agreed to both use it only when we were driving over 45 mph and under that we would just open the windows. The first stop, about 20 miles in, was the headquarters of BMW of North America. We figured it was an appropriate destination and since it was a Saturday they wouldn’t mind us parking in front of the main entrance for a photo op. We were pleased to find a life-sized i3 decal applied to the glass of the front doors. BMW is evidently proud of their first all electric vehicle. At this point we had both used 19% of the available battery. I was surprised the i3 was holding its own, especially since that leg was about 75% highway. We did drive the speed limit on the Garden State Parkway though, sticking to about 60 mph. I’m sure if we drove faster the i3 would have used more battery than the ActiveE. Still, I really expected the ActiveE to jump out to an early lead since we were driving at highway speeds for most of the first leg.

i3 activee

At BMW HQ in Woodcliff Lake NJ – Note the i3 overlay on the doors

The next leg of the journey would be about 40 miles, with the first 30 miles or so on all secondary and tertiary roads and we would end up in Denville, NJ. Michael and I were trading texts during the way and for at least the first 20 to 25 miles of this leg (a total of 40 to 45 miles driven) we were still nearly dead even in battery state of charge with the ActiveE having a 1% advantage with battery state of charge. On route to the Route 80 leg (which would be our highest speeds of the day and all uphill) we were driving on Route 23 at 50 to 55 mph and the ActiveE started to gain an advantage of a few more percent.

i3 active e 2

Driving the back roads of Bergen county was a pleasure on a sunny Spring day.

Then came the blow that the i3 couldn’t recover from. Driving on Route 80 upgrade at the 65 miles an hour speed limit for about 10 miles finally gave us the separation we expected. We were 60 miles in (59.8 exactly) and the ActiveE now had a 6% state of charge lead (46% to 40%) and a predicted range of 9 more miles (40 miles to 31 miles). This clearly reinforces what many of us imagined. The i3 is a warrior on low speed driving, but at faster highway speeds it’s a bit out of its element and the range will be substantially compromised. At highway speeds the weight of the car isn’t nearly as important as its aerodynamics, the exact opposite of low speed driving where weight influences energy use much more. The lightweight i3 has a respectable Cd of .29, but it is tall and has a large frontal area which increases its CdA (the combination of drag coefficient and frontal drag area) making it less than ideal for cheating the wind resistance at highway speeds.

BMW ActiveE Readout

BMW ActiveE Readout

BMW i3 Readout

BMW i3 Readout

The final 20 miles were about 30% highway (this time down hill most of the way) and 70% secondary roads with about 4 miles of stop and go, traffic light to traffic light driving. We decided to make one last stop at an appropriate destination which happened to be along the way. We stopped at the Thomas Edison National Historic Park in West Orange. What would be more appropriate for an electric car challenge anyway?

After the quick stop we headed back to Nauna’s and finished the day driving exactly 80 miles. The ActiveE won the range challenge by 6 miles. Here are the final statistics:

2011 BMW ActiveE
Remaining SOC: 27%
Estimated miles remaining: 22
Trip efficiency: 4.1 miles per kWh
Total miles: 102


2014 BMW i3
Remaining SOC: 20%
Estimated miles remaining: 16
Trip efficiency: 5.4 miles per kWh
Total miles: 96

BMW ActiveE and BMW i3

BMW ActiveE and BMW i3

So, adding the mileage driven to the remaining mileage, the i3 ended up with 96 miles of range and the ActiveE with 102. The i3 actually came very close to predicting the actual range and was only off by 2 miles since it predicted 98 miles of range when it was fully charged that morning. My ActiveE actually beat its range prediction by 16 miles, but that is because my regular driving route is mostly highway, so the car has learned to predict the range based primarily on high speed highway driving.

All in all, the i3 fared about as well as I expected. It is an incredibly efficient electric vehicle and is in fact now the most efficient car sold in America. However the ActiveE has a battery that is nearly 50% larger (21.6kWh’s to 32 kWh’s) than the i3’s battery and, in the end, battery size beat efficiency. If the i3 had just a couple more kWh’s, I’d be writing a different ending.

BMW has been billing the i3 as its “Megacity” car. That was even the codename during development and they weren’t kidding. It is much better suited to live its life on congested city streets than it is roaming the high speed highways of the US and the Autobahns of its homeland. I would speculate the i3 will only go about 70 miles if driven all highway, and that’s at the 65 mph speed limit. If you were to increase that to 70 or 75 miles, then the range will likely drop to 60 to 65 miles. However, if you were to drive on secondary roads at around 35 to 40mph, I suspect 100 to 110 miles would be easily attainable in moderate temperatures when you don’t need the air conditioning or heater much.

So, if I were rating the range of the all electric BMW i3, I’d say 60 to 110 miles, conditions provided.

BMW ActiveE and BMW i3

BMW ActiveE and BMW i3

One last no-so-small detail. The i3 we used is brand new, while my ActiveE is 28 months old and has 20,100 miles on it. Based on my recorded data, I believe its battery has lost between 8% and 9% capacity. If you factor that in, it’s clear that while my two-year-old ActiveE has slightly better range than a new i3, it had a substantially better range when it was new. Probably about 15% more, which actually coincides with the EPA range ratings for both vehicles.

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34 Comments on "BMW i3 Versus BMW ActiveE – Real-World Range Test"

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Just to clarify for anyone wondering.. The EPA range for the two cars is:
-BMW Active E = 94 miles
-BMW i3 = 81 miles.

I had to look it up since I didn’t see it mentioned anywhere in the article.

Re: the ActiveE has a battery that is nearly 50% larger (21.6kWh’s to 32 kWh’s) than the i3′s battery

That is a major difference. Too bad they did make the i3 at least 24-25 kWhs so it would be a 100+ mile car. Psychological boundary I bet for many. It’ll be very interesting to see how the batter holds up.

So battery capacity drops by almost 10% in just 20K miles. I don’t know if I’d like that…


Thanks for the helpful write up.

When you stopped after 80 miles, how was the i3 SOC determined?

Interesting test.
(somewhat OT but)Looks like the trees are finally coming out back east and it’s over 100 here is AZ soon.

Is the Active e on a 3 series Beemer?

Why didn’t they add another 15-20 kWh in the i3? It would be optimal with it’s low weight and allround efficiency.
It wouldn’t make that big of a change to the price tag anyway.

No space. i3 is too small.

You could fit 5 to 8 kw in the place of the stupid range extender.

How are the range and battery displays on the I3 ? it has no % remaining. Did you use a smartphone app to see the % ?

Drag is huge, for the uninitiated. +1 for pointing out frontal area can negate whatever cd a car achieves. Resistance goes up at the square of velocity, and you were going 65, not the sometimes 75 mph speeds cars travel in that area. Tom, it will be interesting, and helpful, to at some point establish the REx mpg loss, as a function of speed. Thanks for the write up.

lol @ the active e’s headlights almost being bigger than the tires smh

what were all these guys thinking designing these electric cars, why why WHY do they make them look so odd

Why do they look so odd?! To scare people away:

Nice article Tom. It’s amazing that you put so little miles on your Active E.

This article corroborates everything what I have read and learned so far: That leasing a Leaf is a better value for money. Same range, lot cheaper, and not mention those crazy suicide doors in i3.

The problem with a 60 to 90 mile range EV, is that the lower end 60 mile range that you will encounter may be dozen times a year will hurt you. So in the end these are all 60 mile BEVs that go farther on a good day. And I say that having driven a Leaf for over 36k miles (over two Leafs).

Great Write Up! Thank you for doing this. It proves many thoughts I have had about i3 vs. some other EVs on the market. BMW should have really given this car a bit more thought in terms of using it for family with two kids in the back, a better trunk to fit a stroller and yes one other important part. We have HIGHWAYS in America. We also have to use them to get to work. Not sure what the long term outcome will be for this car, while it is revolutionary on so many fronts it fails on every day practicality.

I still like the I3 more and more I look at it.
Did you find much of a difference between leaf 1 and leaf 2 ?

Trip efficiency: 5.4 miles per kWh . . . Damn, that is impressive! Well done BMW! Others need to match this or beat it. And you should be able to beat it by building a more aerodynamic vehicle than the tall & not-so-aerodynamic i3.

That CFRP stuff seems to really help. With such efficiency, you can get away with smaller battery packs and thus keep the cars reasonably priced.

The low weight (mass) also is responsible for the amazing acceleration and handling of the i3. That is not consodered in this article.

Oh . . . one things about these tests is that you can never really do them accurately since it is hard to subject the cars to identical driving and those ‘state of charge’ values at the end are from the guess-o-meters with all sorts of biases & heuristics such that you really don’t know how accurate they are.

I guess you could do a good test by driving the cars until they refuse to move any further. But that is probably not good for the cars.

If these two vehicles were both on the market for the same price, I would choose the Active E over the i3. I bet a lot of people would also. It will be interesting to see how the i3 sells compared to the Mercedes B class. Two premium EV’s, with the same price, with the B class having more range and conventional styling. I bet it sells better.

Range is not the only consideration in purchasing an EV or any vehicle, There is a large list of performance and aesthetic measures to evaluate.

Acceleration, handling, efficiency (fuel cost), charge time, utility, styling, safety etc. The i3 wins all of these categories over the Active E. And that does not include sustainability of process and materials which the i3 wins handily over every vehicle on the planet .

i3 is an easy choice over Active E. It will be interesting to see how the B-class stacks up in total performance.

With regards to EV enthusiasts, I agree with the factors you mention, but with regards to mass acceptance by your average consumer, I still think range trumps all and having over 100 EPA miles is the minimum most would accept (which I have with my Rav4 EV).

When BMW was working on i3 (megacity) we were led to believe that it will have 100 miles of range. They haven’t delivered on that promise.

I hope BMW has plans to up their game in a couple of years.

“5.4 miles per kWh”

I say “WOW”. That is some nice efficiency that most plugin cars won’t get “easily”.

I wonder how much farther you would have gone with Eco Pro Plus mode?

Is it just me? The DTE # on the i3 cluster looks real small( the digits) and hard to see , the battery charge bar is big at he bottom but lacks segments or granularity seems they coul have done better
Also , Nissan dis a great job with LBW , vlbw , turtle notifications
Anyone know what happens on an i3 BEV as you approach low batter?

For my own curiosity, is it that critical that the Active E has a few miles more range when it is inferior in every other measurable and meaningful way?