BMW ActiveHybrid X6: A pricey puzzle of a hybrid

Peter Bleakney reviews the $99,900 2010 BMW ActiveHybrid X6, the world’s most powerful hybrid.

  • Scenic cityscape of downtown Toronto Ontario Canada during a sunny day

The $99,900 2010 BMW ActiveHybrid X6 is a real head-scratcher. A Teutonic technological tour de force for sure, but one that flies in the face of reason. Actually, it flips the bird in the face of reason.

Let’s start with its form-over-function styling. When I first spied the X6 SAV (sport activity vehicle) at the 2007 Frankfurt Auto Show, I thought, “Now here’s a rig that fell from the top of the weirdo tree and hit every branch on the way down.” Like Heidi Klum in hip waders, it’s pretty on top, ugly on the bottom, and kinda useless.

Useless in that it only seats four (despite being longer than an X5) and offers limited cargo capacity due to the fastback roofline. I was unable to carry our golden retriever in the hatch without folding the rear seats down because there was no place for her fuzzy noggin.

Fair enough. The X6 is a niche executive-express thingy and BMW does offer the X5 for the more practical among us. And besides, a hybrid version of this uber-luxurious SAV must surely mitigate some of its blatant excess.

Yes and no.

While convention would have BMW hybridize the more fuel-efficient 3.0 L turbocharged six-cylinder version of the X6, they’ve gone and integrated the formidable 400 hp, 450 lb.-ft. 4.4 L twin-turbo V8 of the X6 iDrive50i with an extremely complex two-mode seven-speed transmission that houses two electric motors, three planetary gearsets and four multi-plate clutches. One motor acts as a starter/generator and the other provides additional thrust. Mode 1is for urban driving, while Mode 2 provides a more direct connection between V8 and the four wheels for highway and towing duties.

Bottom line: 480 hp and 575 lb.-ft. of torque. Say hello to the world’s most powerful full hybrid. Put your foot in it, the V8 howls and this Bavarian contradiction rockets toward the green horizon. The BMW ActiveHybrid X6 is not so much here to save the planet as it is to kick butt and take names while wearing the sanctimonious cloak of hybridization. Anyone want to go huntin’ for Lexus?

Along with a hefty $19,000 premium over the X6 xDrive50i, the ActiveHybrid gains a substantial 200 kg and lags 0.2 sec in the 0- to-100 km/h dash, which at 5.8 seconds is still bloody quick for a 2,580 kg ute. Claimed combined fuel usage (premium required) drops from 14.2 L/100 km to 11.6 L/100 km. I saw 12.2 L/100 km (23 m.p.g.) over a week of mostly highway motoring.

The X6, in all its iterations, has always handled better than any porky SUV has a right to, featuring meaty steering, well-controlled body motions and a surprising appetite for corners thanks to rear-biased all-wheel-drive and BMW’s first application of an active rear differential, which overdrives the outside wheel in a bend.

This ActiveHybrid feels pretty much the same, but you are aware of the extra lard — it’s a little less agile while cornering and the powertrain takes a beat longer to overcome the mass.

The nickel-metal hydride battery pack lives under the floor where the spare used to be, so this X6 rides on 20-inch run-flats. The ride is firm and gets pitchy on rough surfaces. On the highway, the ActiveHybrid tracks beautifully, but beware — it’s all too easy to glide into impoundment territory with this deceptively quick cocoon.

In all other aspects, this X6 drives like a typical full hybrid. There is a largely unobtrusive start/stop function, it will glide around a parking lot in silence, and once under way, can operate up to 60 km/h in electric-only mode for brief periods. I saw a lot of the latter while running errands in the ’hood and in stop-and-go traffic.

The feel of the regenerative brakes is a tad uneven — better than the Toyota Prius and M-B S400 Hybrid, but not as good as the Ford Fusion Hybrid.

The interior is what you’d expect of a $100,000 car, beautifully crafted and rendered here in ivory white napa leather. Of course, BMW likes to challenge with its ergonomic nuances (nuisances?) — the obtuse shift paddles, the one-touch turn and wiper stalks, the counterintuitive shift wand and iDrive take some getting used to. And why do you have to tug on the interior latch twice to open the door? This little annoyance drove the betrothed up the proverbial wall.

My ride sported the $5,500 Executive Package that adds head-up display, soft-close doors, rear-view camera with top view, upgraded audio with Sirius, and pearl leather instrument panel.

You can spot an ActiveHybrid X6 by its prominent hood bulge, unique five-spoke alloys and subtle badging (gaudy graphics optional), but I suspect this pricey head-scratcher will remain scarce as chicken lips. Further confusing the issue is the identically priced X6 M, offering 555 hp and 500 lb.-ft., from its 4.4L twin turbo V8.

Nonetheless, if you’re looking for a bulbous jacked-up four-seat luxo-coupe motivated by a ferocious twin-turbo V8/hybrid powertrain, your ship has just come in.

2010 BMW X6 Active Hybrid

Price: base $99,900, as tested $108,150

Engine: 4.4 L twin-turbo V8 and two electric motors

Fuel consumption: City 12.6 L/100 km (22 mpg), hwy 10.3 L (27 mpg), as tested 12.2 L (23 mpg)

Power/torque: 480 hp; 575 lb.-ft.

Competition: Cadillac Escalade Hybrid, Lexus RX 450h, BMW X6 M, M-B ML350 BlueTec, Porsche Cayenne Hybrid, Lincoln MKT EcoBoost

What’s best: Fast, agile, improved mileage

What’s worst: Heavy, complex, expensive, lousy rearward visibility, illogical

What’s interesting: Hybrid system co-developed with GM and DaimlerChrysler

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