Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Review: BMW X6 ActiveHybrid

BMW have dived into yet another segment of the automotive field, that of the hybrid. They are not new to green motoring, as massive amounts of capital and R&D have been invested into the companies successful diesel vehicle lines, while all-electric versions of both BMW's and MINI's are currently undergoing consumer testing for future production. However, the power that a hybrid vehicle has in todays eco-fanatical market is a strong one, one they have now joined.

In typical BMW style, the first hybrid to adorn the spinning blue and white prop badge has a heavy dose of performance injected into the recipe. Hybrids are most often known to be overweight and underpowered vehicles, however the ActiveHybrid X6 is packing 480 hp and an earth moving 575 lb-ft of torque. The ActiveHybrid version of the X6 has made no sacrifices in the name of a eco-friendly monicker. It is exactly the same as the regular 4.4L V-8 powered X6, with the addition of a NiMH (nickel-metal hydride) battery pack located under the cargo area floor, some minor tuning and a hybrid electric propulsion system.

Like many hybrids, the X6 has to deal with the added weight of the extra hardware mounted on board. With all the standard luxuries that you expect with any BMW, the X6 balloons to 2,580 kg in weight, something that does present a handicap in several area's. One area is this has effected is the low speed electric only drive. With a good charge on the battery, the X6 can be driven lightly under purely electric power, up to 60 kmh. However, the added weight makes the technique of keeping as much load off the throttle a tough affair, and only the most patient drivers will be able to get the most out of the batteries charge.

The ActiveHybrid is considered a performance hybrid, however, a hybrids purpose is fuel efficiency. As BMW already have an industry leader in the form of the X5d, the X6 weight strikes once again, as I averaged 12.1L/100km in the X6, and 9.2L/100km in the X5d. As the X5 is by no means a slouch in the performance department as well and has the advantage of more cargo space, better visibility and by my accord, better looks than the X6.We may have ourselves an inter-brand rivalry building here.

While driving in the city may be a tricky affair, in terms of getting the most out of the electric drive, driving on the highway is an absolute pleasure. The steering is as direct and communicative as any BMW, and those seats are the best in the business. The acceleration potential of the X6 is something to behold despite the weight. The big raspy V-8 barks, the electrics spark to life and the big X6 effortlessly powers forward down the road to the surprise of unsuspecting  motorists. But there is a draw back with the X6's abilities. Like most luxury vehicles, the drivers sensation of speed is quite dulled, this matched with massive power, and with three different variables to distribute power, I found that the X6 would often gain up to 40 kmh of speed on the freeway without my knowing. The highly recommended heads-up display showing my speed in the windshield tipped me off to the situation just in time to rectify it before coming across a radar wielding officer.

Likewise, I was unhappy with the brake pedal. A brake pedal in hybrid vehicles is only used to tell an onboard computer how hard you want to brake, it then directs that information to both the regenerative braking system on the electric motors and the actual brakes themselves. As such, the brake pedal has zero feel and pourly connects the driver to the vehicle. It felt like there was a balloon stuck underneath the pedal. Also, I'm never a fan of the active brake force adjustments which changes the force of braking used.

There is no doubt about it, the ActiveHybrid X6 is an impressive bit of kit, and a great vehicle that proves hybrids can be exciting vehicles. However, with the quality of the X5d available for over $30,000 less then the ActiveHybrids $99,900 starting price, it may not be the right choice for those looking for the best fuel efficiency. The  ActiveHybrid will be attractive to those with an insatiable appetite for a high performance crossover, with the unique coupe look couple with the stigma of driving a hybrid. 

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