BMW, already at the forefront of the first-class-sedan technology battle, has rolled out an iPerformance plug-in hybrid derivative of its award-winning 7 Series. A futuristic drivetrain may be an obvious development for this luxury car, but does it make sense in the South African context?
We like: Superb refinement, surprising performance, ride/handling balance, comfort levels
We don’t like: Tight rear legroom, narrow optimal operating conditions
- A turbodiesel Seven: If your usage patterns are not a good fit for the plug-in hybrid option, then look no further than the BMW 730d. It is similarly priced, offers similar-enough performance (has more torque) and sips fuel on those long out-of-town journeys.
- A hybrid S-Class: The updated Mercedes-Benz S-Class is around the corner, but until then the only plug-in hybrid offering is the S500e, which is significantly more expensive than the BMW. However, for somewhat less money you can have the S400h, a traditional hybrid (no plug-in recharge). The S-Class lags the 7 Series for tech, and the S400h can't match the 740e's performance. So why consider it? For less money you can have the long-wheelbase "L" version, which addresses the rear legroom issue.
Facts & figures
Price: R1 496 500 (July 2017)
Engine: 2.0-litre, 4-cylinder turbopetrol + electric motor
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
Power: 240 kW (combined)
Torque: 500 Nm (combined)
Fuel consumption: 2.1 L/100 km (claimed)
0-100 kph: 5.4 seconds (claimed)
Top speed: 250 kph (claimed)
What's special about it?
You'll have to look closely to identify a 740e, but the flap covering the charge point is the most obvious giveaway.
Of all the world's established brands, BMW is arguably at the forefront of incorporating advanced efficiency-optimised technologies into its "volume produced" vehicles. While BMW has invested research and development into aspects such as carbon-fibre body structures and EV-specific drivetrains in the past 10 years, the Bavarian marque has been quick to implement some of this tech on its more regular models. Enter the 740e, said to represent the "most rigorous implementation" of the company's Efficient Dynamics technologies. Essentially, it's a first class sedan with a Carbon Core, powered by the most powerful 4-cylinder engine ever fitted to a BMW, and borrowing many innovations from the company's i (EV) series cars.
The digital instrumentation features several displays, but the important one here is the range remaining on charge (far right).
You may sniff at the thought of a 4-cylinder engine in a 7 Series, but then again this is no ordinary "four". It is claimed to be the most powerful 4-cylinder engine ever fitted to a BMW and this TwinPower unit develops a whopping 190 kW and 400 Nm of torque across a wide engine rev range, stretching from 1 550 rpm to 4 400. But even this hardly tells the full story...
The electric motor, which is integrated into the 8-speed automatic transmission and which can also assume the role of a generator (depending on the drive mode), is rated at a maximum output of 83 kW and, more importantly, its 250 Nm of torque is available from zero rpm... It therefore delivers a very effective "boost" function and plugs any turbo-lag hole there may have been at the bottom of the rev range most convincingly.
In electric-only mode the maximum speed is 140 kph.
Mash the throttle pedal into the caroet and the four-pot emits a surprisingly vocal roar, the tone of which left a number of testers confused. The thrust (0-100 kph in 5.4 seconds) further heightens the surprise factor and, in our office at least, led to a few more queries about whether it was not really a 6-cylinder that lived under the long bonnet...
Needless to say, then, that the 740e remains a convincingly sporty (to drive) limousine. As is the case in the 7 Series' turbopetrol- and diesel-powered derivatives, the driver can toggle between various modes of the Driving Experience Control system, allowing for the selection of dynamics-, comfort- or efficiency-optimised settings. The 8-speed transmission (with paddle shifters), remains a star attraction, delivering smooth, swift shifts. Overall, and despite the vocal roar of the engine when provoked, the 740e impresses with its refinement and quiet cabin.
Traditional talents remain
Navigation is standard on this model and is clever enough to choose the most efficient routes for you.
The BMW 750Li Design Pure Excellence is our current Consumer Awards – Powered by WesBank First Class category champion, and much of what made that vehicle so impressive during judging applies to this 740e (save for the lack of the extended wheelbase and rear seat legroom).
The current 7 Series marries traditional luxury with some of the most advanced features currently available in the market – the advanced Display Key and controversial Gesture Control functions are both included as standard, as are ConnectedDrive navigation, smartphone integration, inductive phone charging and LED headlights. We suspect that no 2 BMW 7 Series' will ever have exactly the same specification, given the length of the options lists and variety of trim packages on offer.
The control interface is neat, displays are crisp and the quality and authenticity of materials significantly improved from previous-gen 7.
Beyond its cabin opulence and advanced tech, it still represents a dynamic benchmark – while the ride is supple enough for its role as a First Class luxury limo', it also remains the car in this segment that you'd most like to hustle. In its sportier set-ups the body control is impressive given its size, the steering accurate (though somewhat one-dimensional in feel) and the "stoppers" more traditional in feel compared with other vehicles that offer regenerative braking tech.
Charging is uncomplicated
Using the standard charge cable the BMW 740e's batteries can be recharged in less than 4 hours from a domestic socket.
As standard the 740e comes with a cable for charging from a domestic wall socket. This cable lives in a bag in the boot, which at 420 litres is still of a very decent size. Using the standard cable the 740e can be recharged in under 4 hours. You can also get a BMW i Wallbox designed for higher currents, which will do the same job in less than 3 hours, or at a public charging station.
The (not-so) good
Limited real-world efficiency
As is the case with all these plug-in hybrids, prospective buyers need to make sure that their actual usage patterns will allow them to maximise the efficiency gains on offer from this 740e. Yes, you can travel for between 44 and 48 km on a full battery charge (according to BMW), and yes, you can travel at up to 140 kph on electricity alone, according to BMW, but those quoted capabilities represent extreme ability reference points.
The Driving Experience Control switches, as well as the eDrive button, allows the driver to set up the 740e's drive characteristics.
In reality, the 740e is best suited to execs travelling to and from the office daily, for shorter distances than the maximum charge range, or even better, if they have a recharge facility at the office. The quoted combined cycle consumption figure of 2.1 L/100 km is largely academic. Once you've run out of range, expect fuel consumption of around 9.0 L/100 km, which is higher than, for example, what would be achievable in a 730d. So, in short, the technology is impressive, but the maximum benefit would only be achieved by very few potential customers.
To assist owners in extracting as much efficiency as possible from the drive system, the 740e features an eDrive button which the driver can use to change hybrid drive settings. In Auto eDrive mode, the petrol and electric motors work together to achieve maximum efficiency. In this mode alll-electric mode at low speeds is favoured, with the petrol engine only coming into play at around 80 kph, or when the throttle is depressed with intent.
Loads of clever tech on offer, but extracting maximum efficiency out of the 740e will require a specific driving pattern and a dedicated owner.
Max eDrive mode switches to electric power only, but the petrol engine can be brought into action by pushing the accelerator pedal into kickdown. In this mode, the top speed is 140 kph.
There is also a clever Battery Control function that allows the driver to set the charge of the battery manually. For example, you can instruct the car to hold back on the usage of electric power while travelling on the highway, so that the silent, emission-free driving can take place around town.
Pricing & Warranty
The base (without chosen trim packs) BMW 740e sells for R1 496 500, but several other option packs are offered. The warranty is a 2-years/unlimited km one, with a 5-years/100 000 km maintenance plan also included in the deal.
Arguably the 7's best angle – it remains the most athletic and dynamically sporting of the luxury sedans to drive.
We continue to admire the BMW 7 Series – in many ways it is a groundbreaking car, and as in all such cases, some of the tech will find favour, and some not (most notably, perhaps, gesture control). BMW must be applauded, however, for bringing its most futuristic innovations to market so swiftly. In the case of the 740e, the addition of the advanced plug-in hybrid drivetrain is an obvious next step for a car which is already a technological benchmark.
We were impressed by the power delivery and refinement of the drivetrain – particularly the 4-cylinder petrol motor. If you were thinking of purchasing a 740e, but had reservations about its ability to deliver a sparkling drive, then there's no need to worry anymore. And, for consumers who fit the 740e's ideal operating requirements, it is as much a real efficiency optimiser as it is a symbol of status and green conscience. In reality, however, we can't see there being many of those...
As is the case with all plug-in hybrids, achieving optimum efficiency demands a particular driving routine. If it fits, then we have no hesitation in giving the 740e a double thumbs up, but if it doesn't, then may we suggest the next best option... also a BMW 7 Series, with either turbopetrol or turbodiesel power?