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The BMW ActiveE: a great EV but a better BMW for snow

How is the ActiveE in the winter, I get that a lot, mostly because it is an EV and also because it is a BMW. EVs are known for losing range in cold temps and BMWs are just known for losing it in snow, most or at least in the past, have been rear wheel drive. So after driving in more snow storms than I care to remember I can tell you that the ActiveE performs better than expected though there are some drawbacks.


First let me point out the ActiveE is a prototype EV, a conversion from a 1 series that was never intended to reach production so there were some ‘items’ modified or ‘rigged’ to make it run like an EV. Some of these are a bonus, some not. Let’s start with the range challenges. In extreme cold, with the heater on, heated seats on and Eco-pro mode off (I’ll talk about that later) my range drops by as much has 40%, more if I’m driving through snow or ice. Instead of getting 100 miles, I get 70 or less. End of the world stuff, not really, there are some tricks the ActiveE has. The main one is preconditioning and it is by far the most important feature in the ActiveE during winter weather.

Preconditioning allows you to warm up the ActiveEs batteries and interior while it is plugged into a Level 2 charger. You can program it from inside the cars command center or the iPhone app. Since batteries are less efficient cold warming them up before you go can extend range and since the cabin is warmed up too you don’t need to blast the heat which by the way is electric, you guessed it, pulls from the batteries. The process pulls energy from the Level 2 charger and not the car. If I skipped preconditioning I would probably get less than 60 miles.

I can precondition anywhere I am plugged into a Level 2 with power, if I can’t plug in, like for example at my work the batteries cool down so I park the car in the sun. Even if it is below freezing the sun shining on the car keeps the batteries at a warmer level then if there were no sun. Wear warm clothing, use the heated seats more than the heater. Just use common sense and use the Eco-Pro mode which reduces power, reduces climate control too, but reduced power uses less energy.

Ok, so all of this sounds pretty tiresome focusing on efficiency right? Well maybe, but one big plus of the ActiveE in snow is the Eco-Pro mode, here is why. ActiveEs are 4,000 pounds of rear wheel drive BMW 1 series with low rolling resistance all season shoes and instant torque – 189lb-ft – and an aggressive regen that feels like you just downshifted to 1st gear for engine braking. They do have a 50-50 weight distribution but at first look this EV is not set up to handle snow well, so I thought.

My first test was the Pulaski Skyway in NJ, which is dangerous in the dry. It was snow and ice – fun. I’m happy to report the ActiveE held the line and did great, I was really impressed. The ActiveE works in snow as long as you know your limits. I was pretty nervous at first, my biggest concern was the regen, it is aggressive and as soon as you let off the accelerator it kicks in and all I could think about was the rear wheels locking up on snow and I’d spin out or it would disengage when the computer detected slip and I would suddenly coast forward. I couldn’t be more wrong, the electric brain in that car adjusted the regen perfectly, I did not slip and remained in full control.

Next concern was accelerating, I have instant torque, not good but in an EV its different. EVs have no transmission that means my right foot is connected to the drive wheels – drive by wire truly is just that in an EV - I have total control of how much power I give or not. There is also no slack when you lift off of the accelerator like in a gas car. The power simply stops. It is like I am one with the rear wheels and as an added bonus I have that Eco-Pro which cuts the power. So imagine rolling off of snow in 3rd gear with complete control of your power output, you get the picture, the ActiveE goes where no other rear wheel drive BMW can. How about those limits I mentioned? It is 4,000 pounds, good for traction, not so good for slowing down quickly in ice or snow, momentum is not your friend when slowing down. Going up a hill without enough momentum may get you stuck. So plan ahead, look beyond your hood, you will be fine.

In conclusion as an EV the ActiveE in winter snowy weather performs as expected but as a BMW it performs better than expected.

Written by Chris Neff