First Drive: 2010 BMW ActiveHybrid X6

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2010 BMW ActiveHybrid X6, Bal Harbour, Florida

2010 BMW ActiveHybrid X6, Bal Harbour, Florida

"Our goal was to fundamentally change the view of hybrids," said Peter Tünnermann, project manager for the 2010 BMW ActiveHybrid X6. "We wanted to make a 'non-hybrid' hybrid."

In other words, a hybrid that didn't drive like a hybrid. And in that goal, BMW has succeeded admirably.

Drivers at the international launch of BMW's first hybrid-electric vehicle agreed that if the badges and instruments had been removed, they would have been hard-pressed to know that this latest X6 had electric motors and all sorts of software wizardry between its engine and the wheels.

Their only clue, in fact, would have been the fuel economy. No other X6 even comes close to achieving 20 miles per gallon in mixed use.

Engine and transmission

BMW's clear goal was "to build the BMW of hybrids," as Tünnermann said. There could be no compromise in power, performance, or driving experience.

The result turned out to be the most world's most powerful hybrid car. It has overall power of 485 horsepower and 575 foot-pounds of torque, from a combination of a 407-hp, 4.4-liter twin-turbocharged V8 engine and two electric motors of 67 and 63 kilowatts (91 and 86 hp).

2010 BMW ActiveHybrid X6 engine

2010 BMW ActiveHybrid X6 engine

That's the same engine used in the X6 xDrive 50i, minus belt-driven air-conditioning compressor and power steering pump, now both electrically operated so they work when the car runs on electricity alone. The engine's only remaining belt, in fact, operates the water pump.

The hybrid system uses similar components and much of the software of the Two-Mode Hybrid system developed jointly by General Motors, Chrysler, Daimler, and BMW.

But the Two-Mode in the BMW is light-years away in feel from the version found in such plebian transport as the full-size 2009 Chevrolet Silverado Hybrid and GMC Sierra Hybrid pickup trucks.

In fact, two families of Two-Mode development have arisen. And the version built by BMW and Mercedes-Benz differs quite a lot from the one used in GM and Chrysler sport utilities and pickups.

It uses a differently shaped housing, for one thing, since the tunnel for BMW's standard six-speed automatic in the X6 is longer and narrower than those in General Motors trucks. And it's built for both German partners in Stuttgart, by Mercedes-Benz, rather than in Cincinnati, Ohio.

More importantly, BMW has eliminated all "hybrid feel" by simulating seven fixed ratios. First, third, fifth, and seventh ratios are the four fixed gears of the Two-Mode transmission, while second, fourth, and sixth are simulated "gears" that programmed into the electronic continuously variable transmission, or eCVT.

Performance

It works. Under light, moderate, and full acceleration, the ActiveHybrid system's up- and down-shifts felt just like a standard automatic transmission. Engine speed was directly proportional to road speed in each "gear," rising and falling with throttle input.

Acceleration from 0 to 62 miles per hour is 5.6 seconds, equivalent to the xDrive 50i.

But the ActiveHybrid X6's liquid-cooled, 2.4-kilowatt-hour battery pack can also propel the car in electric-only mode up to 37 miles per hour and, under specific circumstances, for up to 1.6 miles.

2010 BMW ActiveHybrid X6

2010 BMW ActiveHybrid X6

Fuel economy

The gas mileage far exceeds any X6 with a V8 and BMW's standard six-speed automatic. During 120 miles of mixed driving, including freeway travel and a few brief speed runs, we averaged 20.4 miles per gallon.

The most economical mode was freeway travel using the cruise control, where we saw close to 21 mpg. Most hybrids typically get better fuel efficiency in the city than on the highway, but the 2010 BMW ActiveHybrid X6 can take advantage of electric assistance even at high speed.

2010 BMW ActiveHybrid X6, Bal Harbour, Florida

2010 BMW ActiveHybrid X6, Bal Harbour, Florida

Overall, BMW quotes fuel efficiency 20 percent better than a non-hybrid X6 with the same V8 engine and equivalent performance. The EPA rates the 2010 ActiveHybrid X6 at 17 mpg city / 19 mpg highway, whereas the standard X6 xDrive 50i comes in at 13 mpg city / 18 mpg highway.

The six-cylinder X6 xDrive 35i gets 15 mpg city / 21 mpg highway, but it's slower than the V8 models, and its combined mileage of 17 mpg is still less than the hybrid's combined 18 mpg rating.

Looks

The X6 is somewhat polarizing; people either love it or hate it. It's like few other cars on the road, that's for sure.

While it shares much of its understructure--and a factory in Spartanburg, South Carolina--with its X5 sport-utility sibling, the profile of the X6 is distinctly different.

BMW calls it a "sports activity coupe," which translates to SUV ride height and all-wheel-drive capability, but with only four seats, a fastback roof line, and far less cargo capacity.

We initially didn't like the X6, and plenty of people still feel that way. But after spending a day with the ActiveHybrid X6, either the shape is growing on us or we've simply gotten over the shock.

2010 BMW ActiveHybrid X6

2010 BMW ActiveHybrid X6

Ride and Handling

In TheCarConnection's review of the BMW X6 line, we lauded the "handling magic" created by the Dynamic Performance Control system. It integrates stability control into the all-wheel-drive control, sending varying amounts of power to each wheel to help with stability.

That system is carried over unchanged into the ActiveHybrid X6, which remains a smooth-riding and tenaciously grippy vehicle. Especially, as our review said, for a vehicle that's "still a big, heavy SUV."

And the 2010 BMW ActiveHybrid X6 is heavier yet, with the battery pack, transmission, and power electronics imposing a weight penalty of more than 400 pounds.  The total curb weight listed by the maker is 5,688 pounds, or almost 3 tons.

2010 BMW ActiveHybrid X6

2010 BMW ActiveHybrid X6

Equipment

The 2010 BMW ActiveHybrid X6 is priced at the top of the X6 range, with a base price of $88,900 plus a mandatory $825 destination charge totaling $89,725 before any options.

While that's more than $20K higher than the base X6 xDrive 5.0i, BMW's Tom Salkowsky pointed out that the typical X6 sells with enough options to take it to $80,000.

The 2010 ActiveHybrid X6 comes with roughly 20 standard features that cost extra on non-hybrid X6 models, including leather seats and trim, heated seats, four-zone climate control, heads-up display, rear-view camera, auto-closing doors and power tailgate, and 20-inch 'Aero' wheels.

A heavy hand on the list of 10 different options could push the price over $95,000. They include active ventilated seats, a rear-seat entertainment package, and an enhanced sound system. Sport seats and 19-inch wheels with all-season tires are no-cost options.

2010 BMW ActiveHybrid X6, Bal Harbour, Florida

2010 BMW ActiveHybrid X6, Bal Harbour, Florida

Miscellaneous

Fans of BMW's launch control mode, which provides maximum acceleration for a driver who puts the X6 into 'Sport' mode, brakes to keep the car stationary, and then revs the engine before releasing the brake, will be pleased to know it's present on the X6 ActiveHybrid too.

Conclusion

It's far from inexpensive, but BMW has managed something almost no other maker can claim: The company has built a hybrid vehicle, with the far better fuel efficiency that entails, that doesn't "feel" or behave like a stereotypical hybrid.

While the market has been skeptical of performance hybrids in the past--think the short-lived Honda Accord Hybrid--we suspect BMW will find buyers for the small numbers of the ActiveHybrid X6 that they're likely to build.

High Gear Media drove a manufacturer-provided vehicle to produce this hands-on road test. The manufacturer also provided airfare, lodging, and meals during the course of this test.

 
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