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Taking a Spin in an Electric BMW

FALLING trees may not make a sound when nobody is there to hear — but the sound not coming from the BMW ActiveE poses an equally profound riddle. Even in full sprint, the rear-drive coupe has absolutely no exhaust note.

That’s because the car doesn’t have a tailpipe — or an engine, for that matter. It’s the first 100 percent electric Bimmer, offered to 700 Americans who will help BMW evaluate its electric technology.

I recently spent a week driving one of the first production units around the San Francisco Bay Area, and never stopped marveling at the muted whir, like a jet turbine’s, from the 125-kilowatt electric motor. Which poses the question: Is a BMW any less of an ultimate driving machine if it is silent?

The limited-production ActiveE — only 1,100 will be produced globally — weighs a hefty 4,000 pounds, some 800 pounds more than the BMW 1 Series on which it is based. But the ActiveE carries its bulk with near-gymnastic dexterity. I thoroughly enjoyed tossing the two-ton Teutonic subcompact between the lanes of the Bay Area’s bridges, up and down San Francisco’s steeply pitched streets and along the winding roads of Berkeley’s hills.

Acceleration from a stop to 60 miles per hour comes in an unremarkable 8.5 seconds, but the feel behind the wheel — especially the swift and smooth-as-silk surges from 0 to 30 m.p.h., and from 50 to 80 — was blissful. The steering response is everything you would expect from a BMW.

A well-calibrated suspension helps to counter the extra weight. Dave Buchko, a BMW spokesman, said, “Our engineers are really good at selecting shocks and spring rates that provide well-controlled jounce and rebound.”

Removing the engine and related parts lightened the 1 Series donor car, but installing a 32 kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack added back 992 pounds. The 192 battery cells are crammed all over the place: under the raised “power dome” hood, along the driveshaft tunnel and where the fuel tank used to be.

The added bulk takes a toll on driving range. Yet I managed at least 80 miles of charge every day, even when flogging the system. Driving with more restraint took me closer to 90 miles.

One evening I took a two-hour highway spin, averaging 49 m.p.h. Using the Ecopro setting — which dials back the throttle response, but not to a compromising degree — I went 101 miles with 9 percent of the battery charge remaining, according to the dashboard monitor. Plugged into a 240-volt circuit, the on-board 7.7-kilowatt charger provides an empty-to-full charge in about four hours.

The interior is quintessential BMW, with tasteful materials, austere but useful displays for information like the battery state-of-charge and attention to detail that extends to each meticulous stitch in the leather upholstery.

“It’s a step up from the Mini E,” said Rich Steinberg, BMW’s manager of electric vehicle operations and strategy in the United States. “It’s got leather. It’s got navi. It’s got cruise. It’s got heated seats. It’s got satellite. All the things you’d expect from BMW.”

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