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2010 BMW ActiveHybrid X6: First Drive
BMW’s hybrid X6 is both redundant and ridiculous
By Mark Atkinson, Photography by BMW, May. 24, 2010

When rival automakers collaborate on future technologies, there’s a huge risk involved. Trying to merge workforces, corporate cultures, language and time-zone issues all fight against the potential gains. The recent tie-up between Daimler and Renault-Nissan promises great things, but could seriously blow up in everybody’s face.

FAST FACTS

1. With an advanced two-mode hybrid system the ActiveHybrid X6 makes 480-hp and 575 ft-lbs of torque, enabling a 0-60 mph time of 5.6 seconds.

2. Despite the extra power, acceleration isn’t that much better than the X6 xDrive50i due to the addition of 400 lbs of weight.

3. Fuel economy is rated at 17/19-mpg (city/hwy).

4. Pricing starts at $88,900 – just $100 less than the X6 M.

5. The ActiveHybrid X6 is the second BMW hybrid to hit the market, with the first being the ActiveHybrid 7 Series.

The BMW ActiveHybrid X6 is the fruition of the long, expensive and unsuccessful partnership with (then) Daimler/Chrysler and General Motors to create a hybrid-electric powertrain that would be suitable for use in large, heavy trucks and SUVs. It’s the same system found in GM’s Tahoe/Yukon/Escalade triplets, the Silverado and Sierra pickups, and the Chrysler Aspen/Dodge Durango sport-utes. However, the only model to find any measure of success in that pile is the Escalade; the rest either languish on dealer lots because the price premium is too high, or the models are killed altogether, like the Aspen and Durango.

Putting this highly complex and expensive system on a vehicle as in-your-face as the X6 says more about BMW’s feelings on the matter than any press release. Making your niche model exponentially more niche-y is a sure way to lose money. But this way, BMW can write off the loss as an investment in burnishing its ‘green’ credentials with those who think “Hybrid” must mean “good for the environment.”

PLENTY OF POWER, NOT MUCH EFFICIENCY

If anything, the X6’s hybrid system is there solely to improve its performance credentials, with very little effort aimed at increasing fuel efficiency. If BMW wanted to create a city-friendly hybrid, it would not have started with the 400-hp twin-turbocharged 4.4-liter V8 found in the regular X6 xDrive50i.

The vehicle’s trick transmission acts like a seven-speed automatic, and incorporates two electric motors that come on either independently at low speeds or in concert with the gasoline engine. When that happens, total horsepower rises to 480 while torque is a smooth 575 ft-lbs from 1750-4500 rpm. BMW claims the 0-60 mph sprint is accomplished in 5.6 seconds. Such similar performance to the xDrive50i can attributed to the portly 5,765-lb curb weight, which is an increase of about 400 lbs.

Like other hybrids, the X6 does use regenerative braking to help recharge the large battery pack mounted under the rear cargo area, which can then be used to motivate the big Bimmer itself. The whole mileage debate gets irrelevant anyway – the 300-hp xDrive35i gets 20 mpg on the highway, which is better than the 19 mpg for the ActiveHybrid model. Even the regular xDrive50i gets 18 mpg. BMW claims that it’s the urban environment where the beast will see the most improvement – up to 17 mpg. But that’s in a lab, not in the real world, and real-world drivers can expect numbers closer to 13-14 mpg.

X6 HYBRID HAS STRONG POINTS, BUT IS ULTIMATELY REDUNDANT

Performance is similar to other X6 models, which is to say lively for such a large vehicle. BMW uses its xDrive all-wheel drive system and the standard Dynamic Performance Control to great effect. DPC varies the power sent across the rear wheels – known elsewhere as ‘torque-vectoring’ – to give the Bimmer some very decent reflexes. Even with the elevated seating position, the ActiveHybrid X6 has the best-in-class moves when it comes to on-pavement action. No big ‘ute should have steering this accurate.

The X6 already does the BMW thing very well – adding extra weight and more power simply cancels itself out, although the absolute limits are likely more easily reached in the ActiveHybrid.

Aesthetically, the ActiveHybrid gets unique 20-inch five-spoke Aero wheels, and gets an exclusive Blue Water Metallic paint choice too. And don’t forget the slew of extra badges on the doors and rear tailgate. Inside, it’s standard X6, which means nice materials, comfortable seating for four, and that sloping rear roofline that trims huge amounts of space from the rear cargo area.

PROHIBITIVE PRICING

As expected, the ActiveHybrid X6 charges a serious premium, with the base price starting at $88,900. Equipment levels are generous to compensate, including an excellent 16-speaker audio system, 20-way power heated front seats, ambiance lighting, a power moonroof, self-closing tailgate, park distance control, navigation system, dynamic cruise control and a very generous list of standard safety equipment. But that’s still a $22,000 jump over the xDrive50i. There’s no way the fuel savings and extra toys could ever justify the added costs.

Get jiggy with the options – and yes, since it’s a BMW there are definitely options – and you can get to within a few grand of six-figures.

THE VERDICT

BMW will face two big problems: one from inside and one from outside. Internally, the face-melting 555-hp X6 M can be had for only $89,000 – a mere $100 more than the ActiveHybrid. Sure, there’s no fuel-saving equipment on board, but the M is lighter and simpler mechanically, and sure to hold its value better. And it delivers on the extra horsepower with serious – if slightly insane – grins.

The external challenge will come from the new Cayenne Hybrid, which should offer performance up to Porsche’s exacting standards thanks to a supercharged V6 borrowed from Audi, and will be able to cruise at up to 85 mph using only the electric motors to maintain momentum. That would make for an interesting group test...

But anyone who puts forward the necessary dough to take home an ActiveHybrid X6 should be under no illusion that they’re saving the planet, special light-blue paint or not. If BMW were to chop $10,000 off the price, that would make the pill a little easier to swallow, but we suspect that won’t happen soon.

LOVE IT
  • Extra power
  • Electric-only drive
  • Loaded with frills
LEAVE IT
  • Far too expensive
  • Extra weight
  • Niche within a niche

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