The 2010 BMW X6 ActiveHybrid's saving grace is that unlike the General Motors hybrid SUVs and pickup trucks, there's no foot tall "hybrid" decal above the rocker panels (to be fair, you can get them without it). "ActiveHybrid," the BMW way of doing full hybrid powertrains, appears in subtle little chrome badges below the X6 moniker. This makes it hard for smug Toyota Prius drivers from getting angry over your "green" dual electric-motor crossover sport/utility coupe rated 18 mpg combined. They'll dismiss you as having another fast and expensive Bimmer, and they'll be accurate. Smoke a Prius from the stoplight with a 5.6-second 0-62 mph launch before the driver can read those little badges.
The introduction of the X6 ActiveHybrid -- BMW's first full, dual-mode hybrid -- begs for the same debate that has made GM's hybrid trucks anything but a Prius-like success. Why bother hybridizing such a big, heavy, powerful conveyance? Whether or not you think it's a good idea, the answers are obvious. A.) Because fuel efficiency that's just shy of 20 mpg is better than fuel efficiency that's just shy of 10 mpg, and B.) because BMW can, and it can do it without diminishing performance.
The X6 ActiveHybrid begins with BMW's smooth and powerful twin-turbo V-8, itself a bit of a fuel-saver in that it renders the automaker's even thirstier V-12 superfluous. On top of those turbos tucked into the eight's vee is a box containing high-performance electronics for the hybrid system. That explains the power bulge in the hood, the only visual hybrid hint beyond the subtle badges and optional Bluewater Metallic paintjob. A new "power-split" transmission has two electric motors and three planetary gearsets. BMW says the "power-split" transmission acts like a pair of CVTs, one handling lower speeds and the other handling the higher speeds, with seven-step gearing that can be controlled by the steering wheel controls. The two electric motors put out 91 and 86 horsepower.
The battery is nickel-metal hydride and liquid-cooled, capable of 2.4 kilowatt hours storage.
ActiveHybrid offers four drive modes; e-mode, or all-electric, up to 60 kp/h (37-mph) depending on the charging state, e-boost, which uses the battery to boost the twin-turbocharged engine, the power-generation or charging state, which of course includes brake regeneration, and the drive state, in which the internal combustion engine and the electric motors are putting their all into powering the crossover.
It's rated at 480 horsepower and 575 pound-feet of torque. Who needs a 555-horsepower, 500 pound-foot X6 M?
How does it work? Pretty seamlessly for anyone accustomed to BMW's powerful, large and bank vault-heavy X5 and X6. In a largely stop-and-go urban drive and freeway drive in Miami Beach and surrounding environs, the X6 ActiveHybrid felt like a softer-edged X6 M. We felt a regen-induced drivetrain jerk just twice in about 150 miles. As a fuel-sipper, though, it's less impressive, shutting down the gas engine at stoplights, like a mild hybrid or a Euro-spec car with a stop-start system. Feather-foot the throttle from the stoplight, and you get maybe three yards of electric-only drive. We never got near the 37-mph optimum all-electric speed.
While Metro Miami offers scant opportunity to handle any car or truck, one fast onramp revealed a bit more compliance than what we remember of other X6s. The ActiveHybrid does have stiffer shocks and springs than conventional six and V-8 models to accommodate an extra 550 pounds for the hybrid system. The hybrid battery accounts for 187 pounds of that added weight.
Added suspension compliance is welcomed in the X6, which has erred on the side of harshness, to now. The ActiveHybrid's new electric power steering is more impressive, and BMW is pretty proud of it. It has the kind of steady, light touch combined with positive feedback that you'd expect of good BMW steering. Again, this comes with the caveat that quick turns on our route were few and far between.
Fast or full-throttle launches, and freeway 65-mph to 90-mph passing acceleration is very impressive -- it feels quicker and faster than the conventional twin-turbo 4.4-liter model, and just a bit shy of the M. Driving the X6 Active Hybrid presents a conundrum. On one hand, the hybrid system wants you to feather-foot it around town and urge the fuel economy meter up (ours was a European-spec model...our best fuel economy of 12.7-liters per 100 kilometers fell short of the European cycle official average of 9.9-liters per 100). Your average will go south once you get the ActiveHybrid on the open road and use all that boost, from the twin turbos and the battery. If you don't want to use this X6 in that manner, you're much better off shopping your local Toyota dealer.
It's hard to not think of the X6 ActiveHybrid as BMW's argument in favor of turbodiesels. Its 17/19-mpg EPA rating falls shy of the X5 xDrive 35d's 19/26 mpg (although the badge is far less cumbersome). Then there's the price, which seems to try and prove that clean diesel is much more cost-effective than hybrids. The X5 diesel starts with less standard equipment, at $52,025, while the X6 ActiveHybrid starts at $89,775, fifty bucks more than the X6 M. The X6 ActiveHybrid is almost fully equipped though, so rest assured you'll be able to keep the bottom-line out of six-digits. The standard iDrive-controlled navigation system includes a screen graphic showing the four drive modes.
And so, it's a niche-within-a-niche vehicle. BMW will sell fewer than 5000 X6s in the U.S. this year, which means that ActiveHybrid versions are likely to sell in the hundreds over the next year. The system can be adapted to other BMW engines, although it's not designed to be upgradable to lithium-ion battery technology. BMW is considering an X5 ActiveHybrid, but says it has no plans for other models beyond that. Considering the X6 ActiveHybrid has more torque and nearly the same power as the M, that it's an uber-niche model by any standard and that its distinctive, polarizing shape stands out in any fleet of cars, maybe the X6 should have been a hybrid-only model.
|2010 BMW X6 ActiveHybrid|
|Vehicle layout||Front-engine, AWD 5-pass, 4-door, SUV|
|Engine||4.4L/480-hp/575-lb-ft twin-turbo DOHC 32-valve V-8, two electric motors|
|Curb weight (dist f/r)||5700 lb (mfr)|
|Length x width x height||192 x 78.1 x 66.5 in|
|0-62 mph||5.6 sec (mfr est)|
|EPA city/hwy fuel econ||17/19 mpg|
|CO2 emissions||1.09 lb/mile (est)|
|On sale in the U.S.||December 5, 2009|