Words: Shawn Molnar
Photos: Alan Martin / Shawn Molnar
Never did I expect this. With nagging pessimism I accepted the keys to BMW’s new ActiveHybrid X6. At 5,688 lbs, how could this be “sporty” as in “Sports Activity Vehicle” or SAV as BMW have coined it?
Giant 20” Aero-wheels draw me in; seductive lines and powerful curves catch my attention. Is there more to this vehicle than meets the eye? Has BMW reconciled the weight penalty with decisive handling? What is the focus, the purpose of this complex vehicle – that is to say, “where is it at home?”
From the open highway to extra urban commuting, mild off-roading to the race track, we put BMW’s ActiveHybrid X6 through its paces. Read on to discover how BMW’s ActiveHybrid X6 performed through 10 days of our in-depth testing.
Impressions as a Daily Driver:
Like so many of life’s finer things, caviar, cognac and cufflinks notwithstanding, I found BMW’s ActiveHybrid X6 to be an acquired taste. The persistent pessimism I tried to suppress did not immediately disappear. Form must follow function; that being the case, why is the X6 sitting so high? Why does it weigh so much? The real question here is: what is the X6 trying to accomplish?
Since the majority of your time behind the wheel will be spent running errands, commuting to work, grocery shopping and picking up the kids, our daily driving impressions will be the first box we check mark.
Some of the basics to look for in a daily driver are as follows: ease of ingress/egress, maneuverability, visibility, fuel efficiency, utility, comfort, and excitement. Here’s how the ActiveHybrid X6 measures up.
Technology has advanced to a level that allows unprecedented comfort and convenience. Approaching the X6 from a distance, it is aware of your proximity and all doors can be unlocked with the touch of a door handle. Sliding into the supportive driver’s seat, you are now one button away from 480 hp. Making a quick stop at the corner store? Simply place one fingertip on the exterior handle, and the doors are locked – keys never leave the linty-depths of your pocket.
Once underway, features such as a rear backup camera and park distance control keep paint on the body, and money in your wallet. Difficult parking maneuvers no longer exist as the trajectory lines on the backup display move with steering input – allowing you to see where the X6 will be if driven in reverse at a given steering angle. Blind spots are under the careful supervision of parking assist detectors; as you approach an object in drive or reverse, audible alerts help you to maneuver within a safe distance. Suddenly the large footprint and honking shoulders of the X6 are shrunk to near compact car sizing.
As a hectic day in the city wears on, the high ride height of the X6 suddenly makes sense. Ingress and egress from the vehicle is effortless, the seat height is near standing position. No climbing into an SUV or dropping into a low slung car; errands are a breeze when you can slide in and out of the X6 so easily.
Nothing can slow you down, things are going so smoo… TRAFFIC JAM! Oh crumbs, we didn’t see that coming. Surely the X6 is no match for the monotony of bumper-to-bumper gridlock. Think again. The X6 strikes back with a brilliant info-tainment system, offering real-time traffic updates and alternate routes around jam-ups. But even if the stop-and-go driving persists, you won’t mind as you relax in the quiet isolation that the luxurious interior offers. Our test car came adorned with custom teal stitching on Ivory white Nappa leather, giving a light, expansive feel to the cabin. Quite honestly, few people enjoy living space as fashionable and vogue as the interior of this SAV.
The automated rear gate is very helpful as you often have your hands full when accessing the rear storage area. The X6 swallowed camera gear, tripods, ladders and duffel bags with room to spare. A maximum 1,350 Liters of cargo space is available with the rear seats folded down.
Once things start moving again, the ActiveHybrid X6 slices through traffic like few cars I’ve ever driven – ease of city driving is impressive. A stiffly sprung suspension keeps the X6 on its toes; steering response is immediate and very sharp. The X6 feels like an eager lion, ready to pounce through city streets. Don’t let its size and weight fool you – this is one nimble SAV. The elevated seating position allows for great visibility as you peer over the rooftops of cars ahead. The urban jungle is this lion’s domain.
While cruising along something magical happens: silence fills the cabin. Tire hum and wind noise are the only audible sounds (and just barely) as you glide along the roadway. With sufficiently charged batteries, the ActiveHybrid X6 turns its engine off, relying on electric power for propulsion. This happened several times approaching speeds up to 60 km/h! At a full stop, the engine will consistently shut off, conserving fuel and reducing emissions. Birds sing loudly, trees clap their branches in approval! Okay, it’s not that “green” with city / highway mileage of 12.6 / 10.3 L/100 km (18.7 / 23 mpg) respectively, but considering the size, weight and ready performance of the ActiveHybrid X6 we are left impressed with the efficiency it achieves.
In practice, driving in electric mode requires a very timid right foot. If you get eager with the gas pedal, the engine will quickly turn on, abruptly ending your hypermiling fun. If patient and smooth, the electric motors can slowly push you away when the lights turn green, all the way to a maximum speed of 60 km/h. We don’t suggest you try this in heavy traffic though, as cars behind you will not be as impressed as the surrounding birds and trees. An inspired detail of the ActiveHybrid X6 lies in its trick two-stage gas petal. 95% of petal travel is within the realm of the internal combustion engine – the X6 will intelligently discharge, or charge the battery pack depending on the instantaneous driving demands. But push the petal to its last 5% travel and you will feel it ‘click’, unleashing the full force of the electric motor, in addition to the V8’s mighty 400 hp. This creative design allows you, the driver to communicate your intentions to the vehicle, as if to say, “all ahead full, all hands on deck!” This hybrid throttle petal design is ingenious and very intuitive in use, a throwback to the KERS buttons (Kinetic Energy Regeneration System) on F1 cars of yesteryear.
Speaking of two-stage petals, the brake petal found in the ActiveHybrid X6 is also two-stage, allowing the electric motors to charge the batteries as they slow the vehicle, hence capturing otherwise lost kinetic energy. The petal operates surreptitiously from one mode to the next; its transition from regenerative braking to friction braking is completely undetectable.
Our biggest complaint about this drivetrain? From a dead stop, the split second delay required for the engine to turn on can leave you feeling like the gas pedal is not well connected to the engine. Of course, this is only noticeable if driving more than 4/10ths pace through city traffic. This can be remedied by putting the drivetrain in sport mode, wherein the X6 will not shut the engine off at a complete stop. If in a hurry, pushing through stop and go traffic and stop signs, sport mode is the best choice – offering the immediacy you’ve come to expect from a BMW’s throttle response.
A unique challenge presented itself: mild off-roading was required to position the X6 for a photo-shoot. Steep grassy hills were on the menu, and the X6 devoured them. The solid weight and rigidity of this SAV paid dividends. While the terrain was relatively light, the X6 felt more than up to the challenge. With appropriate tires, we could imagine the X6 going much further off-road.
More than the Sum of its Parts?
Now that we’ve gotten the formalities out of the way, let’s cut to the chase: what about the driving experience? Allow me to recollect a few of my favorite moments behind the wheel.
The sky falls dark, city lights begin to sparkle; it’s Friday night in the big city. A few friends pile in for a night on the town. It’s not long before exclamations and superlatives fill the cabin. A heavy dose of throttle? “Ohh MY!” Crank up BMW’s high fidelity sound system? “I feel like I’m in the club!” Cruise at 50 Km/h, engine off, in perfect silence? “Amazing.”
The electricity in the ActiveHybrid X6 pervades more than just the drivetrain – it fills the cabin and charges all passengers. This is an exciting car to drive. Remember that cool/nerdy kid in High School who wasn’t a jock, but could out-run the entire foot ball team? Who didn’t try very hard but aced every exam? The kid who kept his eyes on the ball while all the girls had their eyes on him? Meet the ActiveHybrid X6, it is an anomaly that succeeds in everything it does – and with personality!
To mention the features list of a fully equipped X6 would add three pages to this review; suffice it to say that every possible creature comfort is on board. A stand out feature? I would have to give the X6’s 10 speaker, 2 sub-woofer stereo system the nod, it really is fantastic. All genres of music come to life with clarity and rich, deep sound – it’s one more thing I fondly remember about the X6.
While it may sit high off the ground, you can see that the X6 always has its muscles flexed. Curves in all the right places are accented by sharp, powerful lines. Even at a stand still, there is an illusion of movement. This transcends the sheet metal – you can feel it from the driver’s seat. This is an aggressive vehicle, it has real curb appeal. Short of an exotic, few cars will attract so many looks from the sidewalk – people were constantly “rubber-necking” as the ActiveHybrid X6 slipped through down-town Toronto.
Many a press car has spent time in my driveway, but it’s the X6 that many of my friends and family keep asking about. “I miss that Hybrid 4X4.” Yes, I miss it too.
A Lap of Mosport:
Now we turn our attention to the unfettered performance of BMW’s ActiveHybrid X6. Of course, when a vehicle packs this much performance, it is downright irresponsible to test its limits on public roads, so we ventured to Mosport International Raceway for several laps of the tight, twisty 2.4 km “B” circuit.
Did we mention the “tight, twisty” nature of this track? Surely these corners must reduce the large, heavy X6 to a wallowing pool of jello. Not so. Even as all 5,688 lbs of X6 weighs down, the firmly sprung sport suspension pushes back at all four corners. Steering feel is sharp and sensitive, no vehicle of this size even comes close to the telepathic feedback found through the steering wheel. A front/rear weight distribution of 51:49 offers perfect balance, the ActiveHybrid X6 turns in quickly and sharply – there is very little understeer until the limit! It may show otherwise on the scales, but this BMW feels very light in your hands.
Massive 385 mm front / 345 mm rear (15 / 13.5 inch) brake discs burn off momentum, exhibiting no noticeable brake fade after several laps. From stand still, 100 km/h (62 mph) arrives in a scant 5.6 seconds, going on to achieve an electronically limited top speed of 210 km/h (130 mph). The two mode 7-speed automatic gearbox will dance to the beat of any driving rhythm – it never feels a gear behind and holds gears appropriately to corner exit.
Exiting from the apex of a slow right-hander, we press on past the last 5% of the throttle petal’s two-stage travel. And the result? An additional 80 hp and 125 ft-lbs of torque is unleashed ala Robert Kubica’s old KERS equipped F1 car. With both internal combustion and electric engines pulling together, an astounding 480 hp and 575 ft-lbs of torque scorches the racetrack! Yes, BMW’s ActiveHybrid X6 is the world’s most powerful production hybrid – and it shows. Driver skill notwithstanding, the ActiveHybrid X6 even managed to outpace and “blue flag” an E46 M3 while lapping the track. This from an upright, all-wheel-drive four-door SUV of sorts with over 1000 Liters of cargo space? This BMW has earned its roundel.
So what is the weight penalty for the additional battery pack anyway? 83 kg (183 lbs), well placed low and aft of the rear axle – contributing to the impressive balance of this vehicle. In a straight line, we’re convinced of the hybrid’s performance enhancement – that second ‘click’ of the gas pedal unleashes a real surge of acceleration. In the corners however, we estimate this advantage would be short lived, adding extra heft for the brakes, tires and suspension. All in all, the hybrid drive left us very impressed at the track, with quick ‘recycle’ time of its modest 2.4 kilowatt-hours battery capacity. Lap after lap, the system added additional thrust and all parameters remained in line while being actively cooled by an elaborate liquid cooling system.
For most potential buyers of the ActiveHybrid X6, track day excursions will be few and far between. For this reason, we see the added efficiency of the hybrid drive as a real asset, far outweighing any weight penalty associated with it during daily driving. Though, offer us the European Diesel version, and we may be forced to rethink the entire equation.
If you do sign on the dotted line, we hope that the above recollection gives you the confidence to try your hand with the ActiveHybrid X6 at your local racetrack. Remember, you’re only 75 hp short of the X6///M, with 74 additional ft-lbs of torque.
A Two Hour Tour:
With our destination dialed into the slick i-Drive based Nav system, we headed off for the open road. Another facet of this BMW’s personality was about to show itself: a relaxed tempo that carried us for hours on the highway. With 7th gear engaged, the ActiveHybrid X6 sliced through the air with a very slippery drag co-efficient of 0.36. Of interest, both 6th and 7th are ‘over drive’ gears while 5th gear is direct. This gearing allows for increased highway efficiency across a greater window of cruising speeds. We easily met, and exceeded the EPA highway mileage of 10.3 L/100 km (23 mpg) while rolling down the highway at a fixed 100 km/h (62 mph).
As the miles rolled on, we found the 20-way adjustable front seats to be exceedingly comfortable and supportive. Any body shape can be perfectly coddled in these soft, perforated leather seats; they will mold to anyone’s body after enough buttons have been pressed. Speaking of all those buttons, 3 driver pre-sets are available, so you won’t spend the first 20 minutes of every journey getting prepped in the pilot’s seat.
The sure-footed nature of this SAV contributed to a confidence inspiring drive. Passing transport-trucks could not upset the composure of the X6 on the highway, and it proved impervious to cross-winds. Again, this added to the relaxed nature of the ActiveHybrid X6 on the open road.
When the sun faded away to a night-time drive, powerful Bi-Xenon headlamps lit the way. Ambient interior lighting creates a very elegant aura, and the amber lighting of all key instruments proves easy on the eyes. Typical BMW ergonomics are present, everything is placed exactly as intuition would grant it. Of course, the elevated seating position again proves advantageous – allowing you to look far down the road, over the rooftops of most small cars.
In short, the ActiveHybrid X6 is soothing to drive over long distances; it proved to be a great companion on the open road.
Where’s The Beef? Qualms and Quibbles:
After a few days with the ActiveHybrid X6, my initial pessimism turned to pure adoration. There is so much to love about this car. But to be fair, we must outline a few areas we saw for improvement.
Firstly, the very large moon-roof is a delight, adding an expansive feel to the cabin. Where we found issue was once it’s opened. The large pop-up wind deflector is made of mesh, creating a high-pitched whistle at speeds over 50 km/h (31 mph). I sometimes found myself in the mood for open-air motoring, but quickly closed the moon-roof to silence the additional noise. We presume this mesh is necessary to prevent bugs and pebbles from being captured between the two large slabs of glass – layered one on top of the other when open. We look to the standard serrated plastic pop-up deflector to show how it’s done – this deflector is found on all non-panoramic BMW moon-roofs.
Next, we took issue with the “Comfort Access”, keyless entry. While it worked well 90% of the time, we found it would occasionally require several attempts to lock the doors, particularly when rainy conditions made the door handles wet. Was this partially down to “user error?” Could be, but we haven’t noticed this on other BMWs we’ve tested since then.
Lastly, while the front seats provided ample space in all directions, I found rear-seat head room to be limited. At 6’2 I found myself either having to slouch, or tilt my head to one side so as to fit in the back seat. Those 6 feet or less should have no problems finding comfort in the rear seats, but those among us who are taller will find the front seats more accommodating.
Clearly, we are stretching to find fault with this fabulous vehicle – these are very minor nit-picks found after our exceedingly critical eyes combed over this car.
BMW’s ActiveHybrid X6 went on to exceed all expectations. What at first seemed like a contradictory mix later proved itself an ingenious design. This BMW is so good at everything, it doesn’t have to fit a specific niche – it defies categorization.
Where is this BMW most at home? Rolling through the urban jungle – of which it is king. The ActiveHybrid X6 loves to cruise along city streets, making the most of its hybrid drive and sharp, sporty handling. Of course, we also found it quite at home on the open road and on the racetrack.
In the ActiveHybrid X6, BMW has combined a convincing mix of personality, style, performance, efficiency and practicality. The advanced technology found within will have you thinking “spaceship” – but carve a few corners and you’ll be thinking, “BMW.”
Base Price (MSRP in Canadian Dollars): $99,900
Weight: Curb weight 2580 kg (5,688 lbs), Weight distribution 51% Front / 49% Rear
Engine Specification: 4.4 Liter Reverse-Flow Twin-Turbo V-8 (N63) 400 hp @ 5,500 rpm / 450 ft-lbs @ 1,750 rpm Max Hybrid Output 480 hp / 575 ft-lbs
Electrical: Nickel Metal Hydride Battery (83 kg), 2.4 kW hrs, 288 V, 2 Mode 7 speed transmission
Body / Suspension / Drivetrain Layout: Length Width Height (4877 / 1983 / 1697 mm), Front Double Wishbone / Rear Multi Link Suspension, Front Engine / AWD
Performance: 0-100 km/h (0-62 mph) 5.8 sec, Top Speed 210 km/h (131 mph) electronically limited, Power to Weight Ratio 12 lb/hp
Fuel Consumption: City / Highway milage of 12.6 / 10.3 L/100 km (18.7 / 23 mpg), Drag co-efficient 0.36 (Cd)
A special thanks to BMW Canada for providing the ActiveHybrid X6 for testing.
In no particular order, we would also like to thank the following professionals for their contribution to this article:
Alan Martin, Photographer – www.refractionarts.ca
Shawn Molnar, Photographer – www.bmwblog.com
Andre Hebert, National Makeup Artist, Dior Canada – firstname.lastname@example.org
Kate Eaton, Int’l Model – www.kindustry.wordpress.com
Tyler Thomas, Hair Stylist – www.statussalon.com