Wow factor of BMW ActiveHybrid X6

With a starting price of a hundred dollars short of $100,000, the BMW ActiveHybrid X6 isn’t about saving money on fuel, rather an exercise in producing the most advanced hybrid system I have yet to encounter.

Automakers have been legislated to reduce the amount of fuel they use, across their entire fleet of vehicles by 2016, and the pressure to come up with technology outside of the traditional combustion engine is absolutely necessary in order to achieve these much tougher targets. Since the ActiveHybrid system utilized in the X6 is so sophisticated, and no doubt very expensive to produce, BMW has decided to absorb the additional costs into some of their most expensive units. So the question is, will high-end vehicle buyers be willing to ante-up even more money to drive a slightly more e fficient vehicle or will they simply buy a cheaper, more efficient vehicle?

The Ride

“Wow, what a vehicle!” is what I constantly muttered to myself as I drove this complex piece of machinery. The power is intoxicating, smooth and seamless, and in my opinion, BMW has developed the best hybrid I have ever driven. In fact, if one didn’t know, there are very few cues that this is a hybrid at all. The seamless nature of the drivetrain is nothing short of miraculous. What is at play is the same turbo charged 4.4L V-8 found in the conventional gasoline X6 with the “two-mode” system.

The Good, The Bad

Good: The sure-footed handling matched to the very smooth and powerful hybrid system provides a luxurious driving experience and, when pushed, provides eye-popping performance. co-developed with General Motors, Mercedes and Chrysler, integrated in and tuned to BMW standards. The torque is rated at a whopping 575 lb-ft and horsepower is 480. This is not a tame, laid-back hybrid but a fully engaged sports machine capable of running to 100 km/h in just 5.6 seconds. The hybrid system has the ability to run on just electricity up to 60 km/h and on several occasions, I was able to achieve this along with full gasoline engine shutdown when slowing to stop.

Bad: Buyers looking to save fuel will be much better served buying a diesel BMW X5 for just over $62,000.

The Skin

Since the X6 was introduced several years ago, I have been a fan of the unique styling and macho stance. Even though the X6 is essentially a sportier version of the very popular X5 SUV, the cropped roof, oversized wheels and bulging body panels make this a real head-turner. The Active Hybrid version is very easy to spot because of the beautiful blue paint, aerodynamic, and oversized, 19-inch alloy wheels and the large hump on the hood. Badging has been kept to a subtle minimum, which many BMW buyers will appreciate, unlike the Cadillac Escalade, which screams “hybrid” at every chance. It is worth noting that BMW does not allow buyers the ability to choose specific drivetrains for each of their X5 and X6 SUVs. The X5 is not available in hybrid form, and the X6 is not available with the very powerful and efficient diesel engine offered n the X5. This is likely done to keep buyers from cross-shopping, but I will point out that the fuel savings champ in the BMW SUV class is the X5 diesel, with a rating of just 9.3L/100km compared with this unit at 11.6L/100km, plus it costs almost $40,000 less.

The Cockpit

Another way to justify the lofty price tag is to equip the ActiveHybrid with one of the most sumptuous interiors one could hope to find in an SUV. The ivory-coloured seats and offset black panels provide contrast, at the same time providing a very inviting place to spend some time. After having a chance to drive this unit over hundreds of kilometres I can say that the fully adjustable seats, including shoulder support, leave the driver feeling no sense of fatigue.

Zack’s verdict

I loved my time with the X6 ActiveHybrid X6; it is truly the best hybrid I have ever experienced and a marvellous machine to drive. The problem BMW has is that they make so many good vehicles that cost less and have better fuel consumption numbers. The X5 diesel is a perfect example. It has a combined city and highway is one of the most comfortable vehicles I have had the pleasure to drive in a very long time. The meaty steering wheel feels solid in the driver’s hands, but some women with small hands might wish for an easier to grip steering wheel. The much maligned iDrive computer interface has been updated and now is one of the best systems on the market, because BMW finally decided to mimic the Audi MMI system.

The ActiveHybrid X6 might be a good fit for an executive who wants to be seen to “do the right thing” by driving a hybrid but also wants all the power and luxury that comes with a premium vehicle, though that is a very small market.

Photograph by: Zack Spencer, Canwest News Service