Thursday, July 26, 2012

Things that go bump in the night (well, anytime really)

The best laid plans of mice and men oft go astray – Robert Burns
My ActiveE was back at the dealership recently for its first service appointment.  Like so many others before me, I was provided with an ICE loaner.  I was already working on a blog post comparing and contrasting a BMW EV to a BMW ICE that mirrored the content of a certain beer blog, when an EV guru beat me to the punch.  Throughout this blog I’ve striven (not entirely successfully) to make sure that my posts are unique, or at least don’t infringe too much on others that have blogged about their ActiveE or other EV before me.  But in this case I was stuck - not only was the content too similar, but it was written by a Rock Star (at least in the BMW EV community).  There was just no way to publish that post without looking like a chump.  I guess it could have been worse – I could have hit publish right around the same time as 'It's True, I've Become an EV Snob!' hit cyberspace and/or it could have been written by Ed Begley, Chelsea Sexton or Michael Thwaite (no offense Tom).  Anyway, enough about what could have been and on to what ‘is’.  And by 'is' I mean a post that ended up the complete opposite of the original plan...

From ghoulies and ghosties and wayyyyy too heavy EVs
And things that go bump in the night
Good Lord, deliver us!

It was with great anticipation that I drove to the dealership to drop off the ActiveE for its first service.  That anticipation was around what my loaner would be.  I had visions of a 6 series (serious optimism), a Z4, or a Mini.  Mostly though, I wanted a manual transmission.  My hopes were dashed, however, when I got to the transportation desk.  No manual transmissions in the Courtesy Vehicle fleet, and all they had left when I got there were 3 series.  Anticipation, meet ‘reality’.  Reality wouldn’t have been quite so bad if I didn’t have a 60 mile ride home (aka a $20 round trip fuel cost) to think about how I got stuck with the one vehicle I really didn't want.  On the upside, regardless of what vehicle I had gotten (other than a Mini) it provided me the opportunity to drive a current BMW ICE to see how it compared to the ActiveE. 
Still having some ICE in the driveway that gets driven occasionally, I was well aware of the short comings they have that are quickly highlighted when driving an EV for any length of time.  Vibrations, awkward automatic transmission gear changes, noise, tailpipe emissions, brake wear, oil changes - the list goes on and on.  What I was interested in were the differences when it was apples to apples rather than Audis or Ford Rangers to BMWs.
Oddly enough, when I subtracted out those things that are onerous about an ICE I learned something I really didn’t expect.  I learned that the ActiveE isn’t a BMW.  Sure, there's a Roundel and it looks, feels and smells like a 1 series (at least until you start it), but it’s not a BMW.  The conversion from ICE to EV stripped the car of its soul.  You may remember me saying that the ActiveE weighs as much as an Abrams tank.  While I’ve always found that weight very noticeable, I didn’t realize how bad it actually was compared to the rest of BMW's models.  I’m not sure if it’s just the weight or a combination of the weight and rigidity, but it’s immediately apparent when moving from it to a BMW ICE.
As noticeable as this issue was just driving around, I was really surprised when I got to work in the 328.  Employees here seem to love to speed on site, and with the amount of pedestrian traffic we have, the company was forced to install more speed bumps than are probably necessary to control speeds.  I go over at least 7 of them in the tenth of a mile that I drive on site, and in the ActiveE you essentially have to come to a stop to traverse them otherwise the shocks/struts can’t deal with it.  If you chose to go over those speed bumps any faster, it is at your, and the vehicle’s peril.  When I came to work in the 328 I wasn’t really paying attention and hit the first speed bump at speed (i.e. 15 mph).  And you know what?  You could barely tell that I went over a speed bump.  It is a physical impossibility to have the same experience in the ActiveE, and it doesn't even require a speed bump.  Typical bumps that are present in manys road can be filling rattlers in the ActiveE.

As I've said before, this is a field trial so it's not surprising that compromises  were made with the ActiveE, and we've known that weight was one of those compromises since the beginning.  Even if it were a permanent compromise, I'd still choose it over a BMW ICE because the pluses outweigh the minuses (at least to me).  I fully expect, however, that these issues won't translate into the i3 and that it will be a real BMW.

Until then, I'll continue to drive around in a 'long-leggedy beasty' that goes bump in the night.


  1. You should not worry about writing on the same content. I posted an Active E vs. 1 series on my blog 2 months before Tom M. did. We all can, and should, post not he same topic from time to time because it still will offer different points of view.

    For example, your the first to say the E is not a BMW. I was reluctant to agree with you at first, but I see your point. Although I will say that the added weight makes the car feel more stable and seated on the freeway compared to the lighter-weight 1 series (which feels like it bumps around a lot). But maybe I am so thoroughly converted I can't bear to admit the truth.

    Great article!

  2. It should say "we all can, and should, post ON THE same topic..." My mistake.

  3. I actually didn't mind killing my original post idea. While the Budweiser v. Real Beer analogy was a good idea in my head, it somehow lost something in translation to paper (or cyberspace as the case may be). I'm much happier with the way this post ended up.

    In the end I still was able to get my feelings out on ICE v. EV by intimating my thoughts are almost identical to Tom's and including a link to his post (more blog traffic for him potentially). For those of us in the field trial that part wasn't too important, but for any readers I might have who haven't made the leap to an EV I felt that was critical.

  4. I applaud your honesty! I heard a few people comment on how the ActiveE was a great BMW but I shied away from commenting... Actually, I though "Oh no, I don't think it's all that great." I assumed that it was probably just me and left it at that. I figured that, having driven the MINI E and the Tesla for a couple of years, I must be setting my expectations too high. Then I realized, I can't say that either, I'll just look like a snob!

    They lifted the suspension height a little on the ActiveE, gave in bouncy tires and didn't seem to tune the suspension much beyond stiffening it for the extra load - I hope they didn't otherwise I've just offended someone else. All in all, it rides ok, it's quiet, smooth and refined but, throw it into a few twisty turns and it quickly runs out of ideas - In a fast right, left, left climb over crest that I experience each night coming home, I often feel like I'm herding cats trying to keep it all following the road and not spilling onto the next lane.

    I don't know what the remedy is, I'd like to see what happens with some lower profile tires but, the MINI E road on fairly tall rubber and it cornered like an angry wasp. The low mounted batteries and drive train should have made it hunker down but not so.

    Anyone from Lotus in the group here?