Hybrids are ostensibly all about efficiency. These vehicles typically have space-efficient body designs — witness a certain popular Japanese hybrid that packs midsize sedan and cargo room within its compact footprint. Of course, hybrids also have power plants that make them anywhere from 50-100 percent more fuel-efficient than the equivalent gas-only sibling. The 2010 BMW ActiveHybrid X6, however, thumbs its large-nostril nose at those dictums.
We'll cut to the chase. The ActiveHybrid X6 weighs 5,765 pounds, seats only four, has a maximum cargo capacity of just 60 cubic feet (a Honda CR-V has 73 cubes) and its twin-turbocharged V8 helps earn EPA fuel-economy estimates of just 17 city/19 highway mpg and 18 mpg combined. Oh, this bad boy also starts at nearly $90,000. By comparison, its non-hybrid X6 xDrive35i sibling rates 15/21/17 mpg and costs less than two-thirds the price of the ActiveHybrid. The 35i is also much less complex, less portly and still plenty fast (it'll run zero to 60 mph in 6.3 seconds to the ActiveHybrid's 5.5 seconds).
So where does all this analysis leave the 2010 BMW ActiveHybrid X6? Though you won't find it on this Bimmer's nav system, we're going to go out on a (green) limb here and say "No Man's Land." We honestly don't get the X6. Sure, if purchase price is not a concern and you like the idea of driving a near-500-horsepower hybrid (regardless of its actual green-related inefficiencies), check it out. But if you really love this vehicle's swooping fastback styling and aren't worried about passenger/cargo capacity, save yourself $30 grand and just get the aforementioned X6 xDrive35i.
If, however, you're looking for an upscale European SUV that actually has a measure of practicality and gets decent fuel mileage, you could just consider the X6's less dramatic X5 xDrive35d sibling that offers a powerful yet efficient diesel engine and seating for up to seven. Along those lines, there is also the diesel-fueled Mercedes-Benz ML350 Bluetec. You might argue that we're missing the point of the ActiveHybrid X6 — which actually is our point.
Despite being tasked with moving the 2010 BMW ActiveHybrid X6's considerable mass, the 480-hp (that's the 400-hp twin-turbo V8 plus the hybrid system's electric motors) power plant vaults this X6 to 60 mph in just 5.5 seconds and through the quarter-mile in 13.6 seconds. Despite those impressive numbers, there's a minor lag when you boot it as the various electronics figure things out (and ostensibly minimize driveline shock).
Power is transmitted via a rather complex combination of a continuously variable transmission (CVT) and a conventionally geared unit. The CVT operates under light loads (in concert with the electric motors) while the fixed gears step in under heavier loads. This is all fairly seamless in operation, and the seven-speed automatic in our test car delivered smooth if somewhat slow shifts. Switching to Sport mode held the lower gears longer but didn't quicken the gearchanges themselves all that much.
Despite the hybrid technology, with all that weight, power and performance, you really can't expect to get good fuel economy. Though this is a full hybrid (meaning it can be propelled solely by electric power), we found it tough to get much past 15 mph or so before the gas engine kicked in. If you just breathed on the throttle, it was possible to go faster on pure battery power, but that was a rare occasion. Answering the $90,000 question, we averaged just over 16 mpg in mixed driving against EPA estimates of 17 city/19 highway and 18 combined.
With its massive brakes (the front rotors measure 15 inches) and tires, the X6 was able to come to rest from 60 mph in 117 feet during our instrumented testing. That's an impressive performance, a number we'd more expect from a compact sport sedan, not a 3-ton SUV. But the brakes were oxymoronic in action — a bit touchy initially yet with a soft, long-travel pedal action, which is quite uncharacteristic of a BMW. It's likely due to the hybrid's complex braking system, which (as is typical for a hybrid) incorporates regenerative braking to charge the battery pack as well as myriad electronics that make for an artificial feel. All that said, you quickly acclimate, and the brakes are very responsive when you need to haul it down in a hurry.
Also un-BMW-like was the X6's steering feel (or, more accurately, lack thereof); it was heavy and lacked the communication between pavement and hands that we expect from a Bimmer. In normal driving, the ActiveHybrid X6 feels almost agile — turn-in is fairly quick, body roll is minimal and the hybrid tracks precisely around bends. Push it harder and the fact that it weighs nearly 900 pounds more than the X6 xDrive35i becomes evident. The hybrid, for example, ran through the slalom at about 61 mph versus the 35i's 65 mph, though in fairness the 35i has an advantage. The latter comes equipped with BMW's Dynamic Performance Control (which can instantly vary the torque distribution to any wheel), a feature unavailable in the hybrid due to its packaging constraints. Furthermore, the stability control steps in seemingly early, though considering the mass here, we don't blame them for going with a conservative calibration.
Getting in and out of the 2010 BMW ActiveHybrid X6 can be a hassle. The running boards are more a hindrance than a help, as they're too close to the door sills to be effective. The bottom of the rear door openings is narrow, requiring a little fancy footwork to pass through. A power-closing door feature is offered, but it isn't necessary, as the doors are not that heavy and swing closed easily enough. Most of the time, we found ourselves just shutting the doors in normal fashion, rather than gently almost closing them just to let this feature finish the small task.
The "multicontour" front seats adjust six ways to Sunday. No, that's wrong. They actually adjust 20 ways to Sunday, allowing you to customize shoulder, thigh and lumbar supports as well as backrest width. With the ability to tailor the seat to accommodate anyone from a jockey to an NFL linebacker, everyone on staff found great comfort and support in our test car. The two backseats are well-shaped and comfy as well, though folks over 6 feet tall may find leg- and headroom tight.
All the basic controls are fairly intuitive. The climate controls can be operated via standard buttons on the center stack or through the iDrive multifunction controller. Using the latter allows one to fine-tune the airflow to satisfy the most persnickety passengers, but shutting it off still involves BMW's annoying method of toggling down the fan speed. The audio system likewise offers a number of ways to work it — through iDrive, the center stack controls or via the steering-wheel-mounted buttons. Though the navigation system was similarly user-friendly, we had to repeat voice commands a few times. We also had a hard time hearing the voice prompts sometimes; this problem would be eliminated if the radio's volume was decreased to a greater degree when the prompts were issued.
Standard front/rear park assist as well as a rearview camera (which offers a handy overhead view in addition to the normal dead astern shot) take all the worry out of parking a vehicle with rearward visibility about equal to a Lamborghini Murcielago's. That said, we were surprised at the lack of a rear wiper.
As mentioned before, cargo capacity is disappointing for such a big vehicle. With the rear seats in use, capacity stands at 25.6 cubic feet. Fold 'em down and that expands to 60 cubes. That maximum capacity is down 15 cubic feet compared to the X6's X5 sibling. Still, a foursome's golf bags will all fit behind the backseat. As there is no rear center seat, a child's car seat cannot be placed there. Junior's seat will easily fit in reverse-facing mode in either outboard seat with all but the tallest folks up front.
Design/Fit and Finish
The ActiveHybrid X6's styling tends to polarize onlookers. Some think it brawny and sculpted while others see it as a giant caricature. The rakish roof line does give it the look of a large coupe in profile, if you squint a bit. Either way, this X6 does make a statement, which is undoubtedly a draw for some buyers.
The cabin is hard to fault, with attractive, high-quality materials everywhere you look. Even the large, useful door pockets are well finished, with soft-touch material.
Who should consider this vehicle
We're stumped here. If it's the impractical but unique styling that attracts you, we'd once again suggest that you choose the much less expensive X6 xDrive35i, which still provides strong performance and overall more satisfying driving dynamics. However, if you're not really looking for a big (small, even) fuel economy or emissions advantage but still must have a hybrid version of the X6, this is the only game in town.
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