What is it?
An electric powered version of the BMW 1 Series coupe called the ActiveE. To be produced exclusively in left hand drive in numbers totalling no more than 1100 at BMW’s Leipzig factory.
The hi-tech two door is set to be offered to customers on a two year/31,000 mile lease scheme similar to that undertaken with the earlier Mini E.
Unlike the Mini E, which largely used off-the-shelf electric drive technology, the 1 Series ActiveE has been conceived in close partnership with a series of system suppliers that will also play an important role in the establishment of BMW’s new i brand and its initial i3 and i8 models.
The 1 Series coupe has been heavily modified to accommodate the Active E’s electric drive system. Among the more significant changes is a new crash structure up front and altered transmission tunnel down the middle of the steel floorpan.
Power comes from a brushless electric motor mounted at the rear in the space usually taken up by the differential of the standard 1-series. Produced at BMW’s Dingolfing factory, it produces 170bhp and 184lb ft of torque the moment you depress the throttle – 33bhp less but 24lb ft more than the Mini E’s electric drive system. By comparison, the 118d coupe’s 2.0-litre common rail diesel engine kicks out 143bhp and 221lb ft.
Electrical energy to run the motor is provided by three separate banks of lithium ion batteries. Together they possess an overall capacity of 32kWh and provide a peak current of 400 amps.
The battery cells hail from a joint venture company created by Korean giant Samsung and German based electronics specialist Bosch called SB LiMotive. The so-called control electrics, the brains of the whole system, are located in the boot, which shrinks to just 200-litres.
In a move BMW says was prompted by lessons learnt with the Mini E, the batteries receive liquid cooling to ensure constant performance. Recharging is via a plug-in socket located behind the traditional tank flap. Using the 32 amp charger that BMW offers has part of the 1 Series Active E lease deal, it is claimed to take between four and five hours on a standard 240 volt mains.
Drive is channeled to the rear wheels via a single speed transmission. Oddly given the investment BMW’s i brand has made into lightweight construction technology, the 1 Series ActiveE retains an all-steel bodyshell without any aluminium or carbonfibre. The standard rear bench seat has, however, been exchanged for the same pew as that used by the 1 Series M coupe, which is claimed to save 5kg. Still, kerb weight is put at a portly 1850kg.
What’s it like?
A little underwhelming at first sight owing to the lack of styling changes over the standard 1 Series coupe. You notice a bulge in the bonnet to accommodate the front-mounted battery, a uniquely styled front bumper, spurious lack of tail pipes at the rear and a slightly higher ride height. But besides some distinguishing graphics, that’s about it.
In the driver’s seat, it also feels like any other 1 Series coupe… until you hit the starter button, release the manual handbrake and flick the gear lever into drive.
The delivery of power from the electric motor is silken smooth and terrifically refined. The only hint of its operation is a distant whir under acceleration. On the run, it is the sound of the tyres, rolling across the bitumen, wind roar around the exterior mirrors and the odd ping as stones are flung into the wheel housings that provides the main sensation of speed.