While many people are running away screaming from new technology, we're happy to embrace the latest developments in order to discover for ourselves whether our performance future is bright or bleak.
As you know, we're onboard with diesel technology, having run a VW Jetta TDI as a project vehicle for the past year. We were also blown away by the BMW 335d when we had the chance to drive it. Diesel is a great way to save fuel and reduce our dependence on overseas oil. The high-torque engines also offer incredible durability and huge globs of torque to make them an entertaining drive.
Back in et 10/09, we also had the chance to drive one of VW's prototype fuel cell cars. It basically converts hydrogen into electricity to drive an electric motor and the only waste product is water. It wasn't many years ago that the concept of turning a gas into water and running a car on it was considered science fiction, but it's now science fact and versions of the fuel cell technology should be in production within the next few years.
While the VW fuel cell needed further development before it reached a production-ready stage, BMW wanted to introduce some of its leading edge technology that is either close to or actually in production. Again, we're stepping into a brave new world here, but the good news is that driving enjoyment has been preserved for enthusiasts. We may need to recalibrate our brains slightly, as you do with diesel, which requires a different driving style, but we will still be able to enjoy performance driving for the foreseeable future.
I understand and respect the hybrid concept. In fact, we compared the Toyota Prius to our Jetta TDI (et 4/09) and found that while consumption figures were similar for both cars during highway and sports driving, the hybrid came into its own in city traffic.
A small car getting great gas mileage makes perfect sense. But when you transfer that concept to an SUV, it gets a little hazy. For example, BMW claims its ActiveHybrid X6 reduces consumption by approximately 20% compared to a combustion engine alone, but is that enough? Is this designed to simply ease the conscience as you slip behind the wheel of your twin-turbo V8? When used in conjunction with the 400hp V8, the electric drive boosts output to 480hp and 575 lb-ft and can sprint to 60mph in 5.4sec.
On the other hand, it can drive solely on electric power up to 37mph thanks to a bank of NiMH batteries under the trunk floor. It also uses brake regeneration to charge the batteries. Official fuel figures are unavailable at present.
At $89725 for the hybrid, you could argue that the $20k you'd save buying a regular X6 V8 would pay for the extra gas for years to come. However, that's missing the environmental issues. But the $56300 300hp six-cylinder model is harder to argue against.
For now, let's assume you want a hybrid SUV... From the driver's seat, the AHX6 feels much like a regular X6 xDrive5.0i. The acceleration is within a whisker of its sibling, since the extra torque of the electric motor is cancelled by an additional 500 lb it carries. And you do feel the weight in corners, where the AHX6 certainly isn't as nimble.
Undoubtedly, we're not the target audience for a $90k SUV. This is just as well, because we can't see the point of buying one. Its hybrid technology doesn't offer much advantage over a smaller-engined SUV, while the penalty of price and weight are a big obstacle.
The best thing about the AHX6 is that it's a pioneer. As the battery technology improves, weight will come down and volume will reduce pricing. At that point, it'll be more suitable for the X3 or X1, where the compromises will be fewer.
Now this is more like it: a small, fun car designed to explore the practicality of an electric vehicle in urban environments. At present, BMW is using the car in field trials, making them available to selected customers in NY, NJ, LA and cities in Europe. Customers lease the vehicle for one year before returning them. They must report regularly on living with the car so BMW has an idea about what customers expect from such a vehicle.
Customers get a charging box in their garage that will recharge the car in 2.5 hours. On a full charge, the Mini E has a range of 150 miles from its 201hp electric motor. It can sprint from 0-60mph in 8.5sec and hit 95mph, but using its full performance quickly depletes the battery.
Although you lose the rear seats to the battery pack, and weight increases by 660 lb over a Cooper S, the Mini E retains much of its characteristic driving behavior. The torque of the electric motor gives it zippy acceleration, and the extra weight doesn't overwhelm the handling.
From what we understand, the field trials are getting great feedback, with many local governments adopting the Mini E to carry out their own trials on electric transport. And since zero-emissions vehicles make the most sense on short city commutes, it appears we could soon be seeing production versions of the Mini E once the obstacle of price and battery longevity have been resolved. It also appears that not every home has access to the high-output electrical supply needed for the fast chargers. But the Mini E is doing a good job of proving that entertaining, practical electric transport is within reach.
If you're not prepared to wait or pay for new technology but want to cut your carbon footprint and avoid traffic jams right now, one of the best ways to do this is swap four-wheels for two. And one of the most exciting new machines to arrive on the scene is the
We've been covering it on eurotuner.com in some detail. The headlines are world-class output with 193hp from this one-liter engine. What's more, it weighs just 404 lb, will retail for a competitive $13800 and features a Race ABS system that combines ABS with traction control in four selectable modes.
Better known for its off-road endurance and touring motorcycles, perhaps the single biggest surprise with the S1000RR is that BMW is taking on the established Japanese motorcycles makers in the most competitive market sector, and has backed up its bravado by entering the World Superbike Championship, achieving very respectable results in its first season.
In our opinion, it would have made more sense for BMW to align itself with Ducati. They could have charged a premium for a similarly exotic machine, and if the bike failed to win races, only Ducati would have been beaten them. Whereas, tackling the Japanese head-on is more risky and potentially more expensive. However, BMW needs to sell more bikes to younger owners - the average age is around 50 at present. By selling technology the majority of younger sportsbike riders understand and can afford, they might just pull it off. Certainly, we can't wait to throw a leg over the Munich Missile.
With so many production hybrids looking fugly (Prius, Insight, etc), BMW is keen to associate its new technology with high performance and exciting exteriors. Its Vision EfficientDynamics concept (revealed in depth at eurotuner.com) is a great example of this.
Its exo-skeletal bodywork was inspired by aerodynamic lessons learnt during BMW's F1 experience. More importantly, a three-cylinder turbo-diesel engine and two electric motors make the Vision capable of M3 performance with a fraction the M3's emissions.
The striking concept has a projected 356hp thanks to 163hp from the 1.5-liter three-cylinder turbo-diesel engine mounted ahead of the rear axle.
The hybrid drivetrain features two electric motors, one on each axle. The rear motor produces up to 51hp and 214 lb-ft, while the second motor is capable of 80hp and 160 lb-ft of torque. However, an overboost function allows the driver to increase this to 112hp for a 30sec boost and 140hp for a 10-sec power enhancer.
These figures equate to 356hp and 590 lb-ft, making it capable of 0-62mph in 4.8sec and 155mph top speed.
At lower speeds, only the electric drive functions. The diesel engine can be the sole power source or can work in conjunction with the electric drive to generate the impressive acceleration above. Alternatively, the diesel engine and a Brake Energy Regeneration system can be used to charge the electric battery pack as well.
The battery packs run through the middle of the car, while a 6.6 gallon fuel tank is located in the rear of the central chassis tunnel. Running on diesel alone, the Vision is able to cover about 400 miles. It also has a range of 31 miles in all-electric mode, giving it an overall range of up to 431 miles. Its fuel consumption equates to 62.6mpg in the European test cycle.
This truly is a fascinating concept, and clearly this technology could see production in 5-10 years, with perhaps a version powering a future M3.
Another fascinating concept is BMW's ActiveE. It's an electric vehicle based on the 1-Series Coupe designed to retain its original driving characteristics. It will also provide four full-size seats but have a diminished luggage capacity of 7cuft.
Like the Mini E, it will form the basis of a second trial fleet of electric vehicles that will take over when the Mini E is retired. It will be leased to customers for real-world field tests and the new electric motor, located in the rear axle, will deliver 170hp and 184 lb-ft to accelerate it from 0-60mph in 8.5sec.