2010 BMW ActiveHybrid X6: World's most powerful hybrid

It's said that it was a very brave man – or a very foolish one – who first thought to eat an oyster. In that vein, I wonder onto which side the first to buy a new BMW ActiveHybrid X6 will fall.

Bal Harbour, FLA.–It's said that it was a very brave man – or a very foolish one – who first thought to eat an oyster. In that vein, I wonder onto which side the first to buy a new BMW ActiveHybrid X6 will fall.

The ActiveHybrid X6 is one of two new hybrids in BMW's first step up to the gasoline-electric plate. Both are based on the priciest models in the company's lineup: the X6 SUV (BMW prefers "Sport Activity Coupe," or SAC, even though it's a four-door), and the 7-series sedan.

But while Canadian pricing hasn't been released – ActiveHybrid (AH) X6 goes on sale in December – BMW says it will be priced closely to the X6 M. That means about $100,000, or some $19,000 more than the X6 xDrive50i. Expect more buyers who originally looked at an X6 M than those who considered the 50i.

Contrary to hybrids like Toyota Prius or Honda Insight, fuel economy is more a byproduct than a goal here. The hybrid starts with the twin-turbocharged 4.4 L V8 from the xDrive50i, then tucks two electric motors into the transmission case. Unlike the ActiveHybrid 7, which is a "mild" hybrid and can't run solely on its battery, the first of the AH X6's electric units powers the vehicle at low speeds, so it runs silently and emission-free on electricity alone.

But put your foot into it – the AH X6 hauls butt like nobody's business when asked – and the electricity and gasoline combine to produce 480 hp and 575 lb.-ft. of torque, which BMW claims is the world's most powerful hybrid.

By comparison, the plain 50i makes 400 horses and 450 lb.-ft. The hybrid makes less horsepower than the X6 M's 555 hp, but it tops that model's 500 lb.-ft. of torque. The M version still has the edge on acceleration, though: zero to 100 km/h in 4.7 seconds, to the hybrid's 5.6 seconds, since the hybrid components add a hefty 250 kg.

Fuel economy? Canadian figures aren't out yet, but in European testing, the AH X6 returns a combined rate of 9.9 L/100 km (28 mpg). That's a different method than what we use, so by comparison, the xDrive50i rates 12.8 (22 mpg), and the M rates 13.9 (20 mpg), in the same European test.

For most buyers at this price, it isn't about fuel costs, but rather fending off hostile glares from small-car owners via the surprisingly restrained hybrid badges – the equivalent of movie stars who trip over themselves to be photographed in a Prius, before heading back to their oversized, air conditioned, swimming-pool-equipped and irrigated-gardened homes in the desert.

Equally up in the AH X6's nosebleed territory is the $94,775 Cadillac Escalade Hybrid. Far more wallet-friendly is the Lexus $58,900 RX 450h, but those two aren't up in the X6's go-fast performance category. Neither is the all-new Mercedes-Benz ML450 Hybrid, which contains a V6 engine that produces V8-style power with four-cylinder consumption. It was launched in the U.S. on Nov. 16, but only on lease; you can't buy one outright.

By the end of the decade, Porsche will also be in the game, with a full hybrid based on its 3.6 L V6 engine. Unlike the AH X6, which runs on electricity up to about 60 km/h, the Cayenne is expected to get up to 120 km/h on battery, with a European test figure as low as 8.9 L/100 km (32 mpg).

All but Lexus and Porsche share common DNA: the hybrid components were developed by a joint venture of BMW, GM and DaimlerChrysler at a technology centre in Michigan.

Driving the AH X6, it's hard to believe that so many systems work together as well as they do. Although there's a slight bump when the gasoline engine starts at idle – it's not as smooth as Lexus's start-up – the system switches seamlessly between electricity, gasoline or a combination when driving, the mode indicated by a screen display and a blue strip on the tachometer.

The two-mode transmission blends the gasoline and electric power. For the driver, it's a conventional seven-speed automatic that can be left in Drive, or shifted via wheel-mounted paddles.

Electricity is stored in a nickel-metal-hydride (NiMH) battery hidden below the cargo floor, where a spare tire would normally be found if the vehicle didn't have run-flat tires, and with no loss of cargo space.

That's one of the reasons why BMW debuted the system on an SUV, which can accommodate the large battery required for electric-only propulsion.

Still, as good as it works, the AH X6 seems primarily about the show. I've never really understood the X6 family: the company put its finest driving dynamics into a top-heavy vehicle, and then undermined its utility, the SUV's main reason for being, with sloped-back styling that renders the back seat pretty much useless for full-size adults. Calling it a "coupe" is relatively accurate: this is a big vehicle for two people.

The company says it premiered the AH X6 in this expensive Miami suburb because of the area's lifestyle.

Indeed, the high-end stores, beach-front condos and Dolce & Gabbana-sunglassed drivers (who, en masse, have no idea what a turn signal stalk is for) probably makes up the most accurate snapshot of this hybrid's market.

Here in Canada, it'll be interesting to discover exactly who sees the pearl in BMW's latest oyster.

Travel was provided to freelancer Jil McIntosh by the automaker.

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