Effortlessly smooth, well-engineered and dynamic enough to earn its blue and white badge, the ActiveE shows BMW is taking electric power seriously. This plug-in 1 Series Coupé may have a weight problem hampering its performance, but the drive experience points towards great things from BMW's lightweight i3 electric Megacity Vehicle in 2013.
In the metal 4/5
The ActiveE is instantly recognisable as a BMW 1 Series Coupé, but with Tron-esque silver and blue graphics over Alpine white paintwork to illustrate its electric heart. It stands out aesthetically from its combustion-engined siblings courtesy of a completely closed rear apron (no exhaust or tail-pipes here of course), plus a sizeable bonnet bulge to accommodate the car's engine bay battery.
Inside it feels like any other 1 Series, namely a fine fit and finish to go with an unfussy layout. Importantly, this ActiveE offers rear seating; something BMW's previous electric effort - the MINI E - lacked in order to house its energy storage unit. Boot space is down from 370- to 200 litres due to the second of its three batteries - the third being mounted where the gearbox would usually sit.
Driving it 3/5
Refined, effortless and quick enough when asked, the ActiveE impresses more than it excites. Its synchronous electric motor is practically silent, yet with 250Nm of torque from standstill it offers smooth shove to propel its 1,815kg mass to 100km/h in nine seconds and on to 145km/h. No gear changes and only tyre noise lessen the driving experience, but it's hard to fault how damn refined it all feels.
Your driving style has to be altered as lifting off the accelerator activates the energy recuperation mode, rapidly slowing the car with some force. With experience, the brakes barely need using such is the aggressive nature of the system, while cruising requires a gentle lean on the throttle to ensure smooth progress. Positively, after an hour of battling Munich traffic, the new driving style had become second nature.
The ActiveE is a car aimed for city life with a 160-kilometre range and four to five hour full charge time, but BMW thankfully has stayed true to its driving principles. Rear-wheel drive, 50:50 weight distribution and BMW's typical confidence-inspiring chassis tuning makes enthusiastic cornering fun - if no match for the far lighter and more conventionally-powered 1 Series offerings. Under braking, it's clear you've got a lot more weight to haul to a stop.
What you get for your money 4/5
BMW won't actually let you buy one of its ActiveE electric cars, but over 1,000 left-hand drive examples are to be leased to drivers in the USA, Europe and China. So importantly, what BMW gets for your money is invaluable feedback to pour into making its i3 electric Megacity Vehicle of 2013 a success.
Equipment-wise, BMW has given the ActiveE lightweight 16-inch wheels to shave the kilos, while the cabin is treated to electric reminders with blue contrasting seams on the leather seats, and more of those circuit-inspired graphics for the dash.
The ActiveE is a big step forwards for BMW in the electric car stakes, but must be seen as a go-between before the mass-produced i3's arrival. Crucially, the forthcoming electric five-door, four-seater mini-MPV will be of carbon fibre reinforced plastic construction. Using the same powertrain as the ActiveE, the i3's dramatically lower weight will make it a sprightlier performer.
BMW is not a company that messes around. The ActiveE is an admirable field test to make sure the i3 is market-leading in the electric car stakes when it arrives, but in its own right, this electric 1 Series is a compromise. Its weight hampers its abilities. Even so, what we have here is a brilliantly engineered electric powertrain in a dynamic luxury coupé. For those seeking zero emissions motoring, BMW's ActiveE is worth getting your name down for.