2010 BMW ActiveHybrid X6
2010 BMW ActiveHybrid X6. Click image to enlarge

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First Drive: 2010 BMW ActiveHybrid 7

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2010 BMW ActiveHybrid X6

Miami, Florida – There are a lot of good reasons to resist hybrid technology. I think the best one is to buy smaller. One can save fuel and emissions by buying a smaller, less powerful car. It makes a lot of sense – save fuel, save emissions and save money. It’s a powerful argument against a technology that promises to do the same thing, but at much greater cost.

Personally, I like technology and would describe myself as an early adopter. How else to explain why I’ve shelled out way too much money for powerful computers that quickly became underpowered or got involved in a publishing medium ten years before it became popular?

The original Honda Insight and the early Toyota Prius showed us that hybrids had potential, but I resisted my natural tech-geek tendency to jump right in. I aligned myself with those that felt the hybrid’s goals were admirable, even desirable, but not necessary to achieve them.

2010 BMW ActiveHybrid X6
2010 BMW ActiveHybrid X6. Click image to enlarge

Not until Honda began producing the Accord hybrid, a car that produced V8 power from a V6 engine while achieving the fuel economy of a four cylinder, did I get enthusiastic about the technology. Here was an application that appealed to the auto enthusiast in me. Similarly, Lexus’ GS 450h is a performance sedan that pleases that part of us that wants to go fast and that other part that really does care about the environment. Read our Hemi vs. Hybrid series to see why performance and fuel efficiency need not be exclusive.

But the Accord hybrid is gone, a victim of low sales, and with sales that can be counted on one hand each month I doubt the Lexus will last much longer. Apparently there are two schools of thought among hybrid buyers and those, like me, who see the performance potential in a hybrid appear to be a very small minority indeed.

Now we have the BMW ActiveHybrid X6. With combined system power measuring 485 horsepower and 575 lb.-ft. of torque, the ActiveHybrid X6 is the most powerful hybrid ever built. This is not what most people expect a hybrid to be. From its predominant power bulge (to cover the extra under hood equipment) to its fat 255/50R19 run flat tires, the ActiveHybrid X6 communicates power – and lots of it.

2010 BMW ActiveHybrid X6
2010 BMW ActiveHybrid X6
2010 BMW ActiveHybrid X6. Click image to enlarge

At the core of the system is a 407 horsepower twin turbocharged 4.4-litre V8, the same engine that powers the X6 50i. Where things get sophisticated, if not complicated, is in the two-mode active transmission, a unit based on an electric continuously variable transmission (as found in most hybrids), but employing three planetary gear sets and four multiple-plate clutches to provide seven fixed transmission ratios.

Two electric motors are integrated into this transmission, with slightly different power outputs, and operate independently with the mechanical components to maximize efficiency at low speeds and offline performance, as well as high speed driving. It’s like having two transmissions in one car – not that easy to understand and, sorry, not that easy to describe. But suffice to say it operates with the same precise gear changes that one would expect in a BMW.

The ActiveHybrid system is a full hybrid system, meaning the car will run on electricity alone up to 60 km/h and the engine will shut down automatically below 60 km/h. When starting off or driving at low speeds, one electric motor powers the car. When demand increases, the other electric motor fires the engine and then acts as a generator. When the engine actually turns on and off depends on load demands from other components and accessories, or on environmental conditions such as the grade of the road or the weight of your right foot.

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