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2010 BMW X6 ActiveHybrid (BMW)
2010 BMW X6 ActiveHybrid (BMW)

2010 BMW X6 ActiveHybrid

This Bimmer a pale shade of green Add to ...

Save the planet? Puullleeease. That's not the point here, not with this Ultimate Driving Machine.

The 2010 X6 may be what BMW calls an "ActiveHybrid," but this is no Toyota Prius taxicab. The Prius is all about fuel economy, low emissions and, as Toyota quaintly puts it in the advertising, building a car that "makes things better."

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The X6 ActiveHybrid is all about making things better for people who like to bury the throttle: 0-100 km/h in 5.8 seconds or faster and a top speed of 210 km/h .

Sure, BMW has thrown in a modest fuel economy boost (11.6 litres/100 km combined, versus 14.3 combined for the X6 xDrive5.0), but BMW's first execution of the two-mode hybrid system developed with General Motors, Chrysler and Mercedes-Benz (when the latter two shared a dugout) is a go-fast, high-tech ride. Its purpose is not to make oil sheiks poor for lack of sales, but instead to showcase BMW's engineering prowess - especially the sophisticated software that controls the transmission.

Here's a number you should remember: seven. While the other companies involved in developing this hybrid system (General Motors and the former DaimlerChrylser) use only the four physical gears inside the transmission, BMW exploits the hybrid-electric drive's CVT capability to add three virtual gears. Voila: the X6 ActiveHybrid in reality has seven distinct gear ratios, eight if you include the one used for regenerative braking - the one that generates electricity to charge the battery while braking.

In most ways, the ActiveHybrid is a marvel. Heck, even the price tag is astonishing at $99,900, plus $1,995 for freight. The X6 xDrive5.0 lists for $80,900, plus freight, but its combined horsepower and torque numbers are sad compared to the hybrid's: 480 hp/575 lb-ft for the hybrid, versus 400 hp/450 lb-ft for the non-hybrid.

This lightning-fast BMW most definitely looks the part, too. Let's start from the inside out.

The driver has a view of a power-flow meter in the main infotainment screen and it's an eye-popper. Want to know where all the juice is going? There's your answer. Want to know how much juice there is in the battery? A small gauge in the lower part of the tach tells you. How much electric boost are you using? Look at the gauge. What energy are you recapturing when braking? There's a gauge for that.

It's enough to make one almost overlook the fact that this hulk of a crossover wagon has just a four-seat layout and only 470 litres of cargo room. Big on the outside, small inside.

Moreover, the aggressively sloping roof forces one to twist a neck to climb inside, and once there, the downward shape of the rear hatch limits visibility. Love the seats and instruments and the latest iteration of iDrive is fairly intuitive to use. But there is this little matter of getting in and out and seeing what's to the side and behind. Both are compromised by the design.

As for the exterior, look at that bulging "power dome" in the hood. It's a necessity, providing room for a box of electronic odds and ends that manage the electric drive. In the old days, a couple of years ago before hybrids came along, a bulge like that would give clearance for a supercharger or a high-rise manifold. Not now. We're officially in the 21st century.

That does not mean gasoline engines are obsolete, but they are starting to play second fiddle to computer electronics and electric motors. Here, the fiddle is a 400-hp, twin-turbo direct-injection V-8 pulled straight from X6 xDrive50i. Lovely engine. The two turbines sit happily in the "V" between the cylinder banks, where they are perfectly placed to improve throttle response.

What you won't find under the hood is a jumble of drive belts running the accessories. No, all those ancillary systems run on electric power. This results in a modest fuel economy gain, because there is less drag on the engine pumps and compressors and so on.

Another thing you can't see is the extra weight. The hybrid X6 is a portly 2,580 kg, while the non-hybrid is a still-hefty 2,390 kg. Obviously, batteries and electric motors account for the extra 190 kg, but BMW also opted for a liquid cooling system for the battery pack. In exchange for weight, cost and complexity, the system allows quick battery charges and discharges.

Make no mistake, this hybrid is a flyer. Despite all the bulk, the ActiveHybrid jumps at a stab of your throttle toe. Torque-y electric motors are the reason why. Whooshing away, you'd hardly know you are steering - holding onto a thick and satisfying wheel - a slope-y hatchback that is almost as heavy as Howard Hughes' Spruce Goose. The electric steering here is sharp, and taught and precise and superb.

Meanwhile, the braking is steady, linear and not at all jerky and jumpy like the braking in so many other hybrids. Remember, hybrids have electric motors that essentially go into reverse (generator) mode when you are decelerating. It's all about capturing kinetic or heat energy. In most hybrids, the generators let you know when they are working, but not here. BMW has magically made energy recovery invisible.

A few details about the electric drive piece: at low speeds, this hybrid can run on electrics alone. In fact, the electric motor has two drive speeds. There is even a noticeable downshift when the vehicle slows.

BMW, in fact, says you can drive this hybrid at speeds up to 60 km/h and for distances up to 2.5 kilometres, electric-only.

Apparently for durability reasons (or you might say to hold down potential warranty costs), the hybrid system only taps half the power available from the electric motors (60 kilowatts or 80 hp). If you're aggressive behind the wheel, you need that gas engine, too.

And who would not be tempted to push the boundaries in this rig. The power is too great and the handling too nifty to ignore. If you want to be a pious greenie, don't bother with this Bimmer. Perhaps a clean diesel is more up your alley, or some lesser hybrid.

But if you want the latest in go-fast technology, and are willing to pay for it and a considerable amount of standard equipment, this is one ride that will satisfy your need for speed.

Just remember that if you want all the luxury goods standard in the United States, you need to jump on the Executive Package ($5,500): soft-close doors, a head-up display, a rear-view camera, pearl leather instrument panel, Sirius satellite radio and the best BMW Individual audio system. But what's $5,500 in this scheme of things, really?

jcato@globeandmail.com

2010 BMW X6 ACTIVEHYBRID

Type: Full-size hybrid crossover wagon

Price: $101,995

Gas engine: 4.4-litre V-8, twin-turbo

Horsepower/torque: 400 hp/450 lb-ft

Electric drive: Two electric motors

Horsepower/torque: 91 hp/192 lb-ft for one, and 86 hp/206 lb-ft for the other

Transmission: Seven-speed automatic

Drive: All-wheel-drive

Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 12.6 city/10.3 highway; premium gas

Alternatives: Acura MDX, Cadillac Escalade hybrid, Infiniti FX, Mercedes-Benz ML450 hybrid, Porsche Cayenne, Volvo XC90, Land Rover Range Rover Sport, Audi Q7

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