None of the BMW owners I know ever disappoint in their BMW driverish-ness. They want speed, luxury and prestige, but also to be relevant and hip, sometimes even edgy. When I was a teenager in the late 80's, my best pal Ben, drove a 1973 BMW Bavaria, and he drove it like the ultimate driving machine it was. He's now a proud, car-less New Yorker, but back then, how would he have felt about BMW's recent announcement?
At the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) in Detroit, BMW will introduce the Concept plug-in ActiveE. Based on the 1-Series Coupé, it will be introduced as a production model in Paris in September and then part of a limited private and fleet leasing program in 2011. The company seems willing to risk tarnishing its long-held image as the ultimate driving machine in order to accelerate into the next gen of energy efficient vehicles, but is it worth the risk?
Ben and I grew up in the car-centric Dallas, Texas, and when we were 15, his over-committed parents decided he needed a "hardship license" to take himself to and from his all-boys' school, which I'll call St. Michael's. When Ben told his parents that his license plate, SMEG, meant St. Michael's Educated Guy, they believed him. They also believed that he was just driving to and from school.
To get from the sleepy North Dallas burbs to the clubs in the "Deep Ellum" section of downtown, everyone had to take the Dallas North Tollway. Ben would pile as many rowdy kids into the car as possible (I think we had 13 in that car at one point), and get the BMW up to 70 in a matter of seconds. He'd then pull up to a car in the next lane, look over in full "Wanna race?" style, and then promptly slam on the brakes, leaving the other driver completely baffled about where we'd gone, and us laughing in hysterics, but safe. THAT is a BMW.
So can BMW still be that BMW with its second project i vehicle? According to BMW, the ActiveE, "offers the driving pleasure which is characteristic of BMW automobiles." Knowing its drivers' steep expectations, BMW learned from the mistakes of its first gen, proprietary Lithium Ion battery, namely its unruly size and hot and cold temperature-sensitivity issues after a similar leasing program with its original project i vehicle, the MINI E.
Using the MINI E as a guinea pig was smart; there was less to lose reputation-wise given the vehicle's slightly wacky image, and now, with knowledge under their belt, and a switch in emphasis to rear-wheel drive, BMW may just be able to retain the 1-Series BMW-ness, and if they're lucky, maybe eventually upgrade it.
Let's talk about the stats that would have excited Ben's perpetual shotgun rider, Chris, aka Silly, a BMW driver in his own right back then, now a criminal defense attorney who would be a modern-day vigilante if he wasn't up late reading law briefs and changing briefs of a different sort for his toddler. The ActiveE's proprietary electric motor has a maximum output of 170 bhp and its maximum torque of 184 lb-ft is available from standing. According to BMW, the electric motor is fully integrated in the rear axle, and the power electronics are located above the motor. Without a drivetrain and fuel tank to take up space, there is more room to store energy.
And while the 13 of us couldn't squeeze in--especially now, what BMW calls, "the intelligent arrangement of the drive components" allows for four full-size seats (unlike the MINI E's two) and a luggage compartment volume of 7 cubic feet. Hmmm. Sounds like a good place for a pony keg.
At 3900 lbs (about 650 pounds more than then 2010 128i), a low center of gravity and an axle load distribution, the vehicle has what BMW calls, "everything it requires to provide the dynamic driving properties and agile handling in the style of the BMW 1 Series." With its ability to go from 0-100 in less than 9 seconds, Ben and Silly would have been happy, but curious about its braking ability, and without having been publicly road-tested, its de-acceleration rate is still unknown. I guess the Deep Ellum tollway game will have to wait.
Despite the hours spent watching "The Jetsons", a teenager in 1986 would not have been able to fathom a car going for 100 miles per every 4.5 hour charge from a home wall box or public charging station, but our 2010 brains know that it limits the vehicle to urban and suburban driving, though BMW is trying to change the perceptions of drivers with, "range anxiety." That being said, "The Jetsons" would have been impressed that an ActiveE driver can use a mobile phone to check the charge status of the battery, search for public charging stations and activate the air conditioner or heater. But perhaps it would take someone from the actual future--not just animated characters--to understand the car's exterior.
Designed like 1 Series Coupe, it has leather seats and a cool, modern, e-car instrument panel with cool, e-car displays, but what is up with that exterior paint job? BMW politely describes it as a "clearly recognizable differentiation from the serial production model of the BMW 1 Series Coupe." Um, I should say so, fellas. I know that Ben and Silly wouldn't be caught dead in that thing. Can you pick up chicks in a car that reads, "Efficient Dynamics?" Maybe. With the car not out on the roads until 2011, maybe you'll do great with chicks from the future.