BMW has expanded its plug-in hybrid offering and launched the 740e iPerformance model. We attended its local launch and got to grips with it, as well as other green BMW products.
The South African market for plug-in hybrids has grown considerably – multiple manufacturers now offer products in the segment. Whereas the electric-only (EV) market is still in its infancy (BMW and Nissan are the only two representatives), the plug-in segment is growing rapidly. So far we've seen sedans and SUVs from Volvo, Porsche, Mercedes-Benz and BMW. The latter offered the X5 xDrive40e first, but has now expanded its range to include a plug-in variant of the 7 Series. We'll see a BMW 330e make its way to SA in Q1 of 2017.
What is BMW iPerformance?
This graphic depicts the relationship between BMW's conventional models and members of the BMW i-family.
BMW South Africa highlighted its 5 pillars of product and showed where iPerformance sits. You get your hardcore M products such as M2, M3 and M5, then for those who want the appeal of an M car without the hard edge you can get behind the wheel of an M Performance car such as an M240i. Your original BMW products are still available, such as 3-, 4- and 5-Series models (to name a few examples) and, after that, you get to the greener side of the Munich-based brand...
BMW i Performance is the brand's plug-in division and comprises standard BMW products that are the flagbearers for the marque's latest efficiency technologies. The X5 xDrive40e and the 740e, which we drove at this event, are examples. Finally, the i3 and i8 get their own division, aptly named i. The i division, according to BMW, represents a new way of thinking when it comes to planning, producing and recycling cars – 1 in which the whole production of the car is supposed to be less harmful to the environment and promote sustainability.
Current green line-up
The BMW X5 xDrive40e and the BMW 740e are the 2 models in the iPerformance portfolio currently offered in South Africa. We'll be seeing a 3 Series plug-in hybrid making landfall during the first quarter of 2017 and it'll have the 330e designation. Not coming to SA is the 2 Series Active Tourer-based 225xe and 740Le xDrive.
Speed Yellow makes the BMW i8 even more visually striking.
Before we got to experience the all-new BMW 740e and X5 xDrive 40e, there was a small matter of driving the yellow i8, which had joined the launch proceedings. While the BMW i8 is not a new product (it and the i3 were launched in February 2015), BMW South Africa announced that it now offers a full range of BMW Individual colours for its flagship i product. You can now opt for vivid colours like yellow, purple, red and green for your i8 – all of which are particularly striking. The other news was that rental company Avis had purchased a few i3 and i8 vehicles for its fleet. Renting an i8 for a weekend sounds like a great holiday idea...
After an enthralling coastal drive in the yellow BMW i8, it was time to experience the 740e. From a visual point of view, the BMW 740e is slightly different to its siblings. You'll notice the secondary petrol cap located aft of the front-left wheel, the blue detailing on the front grille and subtle eDrive badges. Inside, a slightly smaller boot and some tweaks to the design interface of the dashboard are the only clues that this is a cutting-edge, techfest of a first class car.
Other than some dedicated iPerformance dials and buttons, it's instantly recognisable as the BMW 7 Series cabin.
Having recently sampled a 750Li, this author was keen to feel the differences between the effortless biturbo V8 and its greener sibling. How could a petrol-electric hybrid possibly compete with a muscular V8 engine? After all, the on-paper differences between the engines are staggering... The 740e has half the cylinders and half the cubic capacity, yet has credible outputs. The key here is the 2.0-litre TwinPower turbocharged 4-cylinder engine with peak outputs of 190 kW and 400 Nm, which provides an excellent platform for an electrical aide.
The eDrive tech motor produces 83 kW and 250 Nm from its lithium-ion battery, and the 740e has combined outputs of 240 kW and 500 Nm available. Remember that the electric motor has zero lag and all that torque is instantly available. This translates to a claimed 0-100 kph time of 5.4 seconds and it has a limited top speed of 250 kph. These numbers are staggering for such a large vehicle with a relatively small engine. The claimed average fuel economy figure is a no more than 2.2 L/100 km, which sounds almost too good to be true!
The instrument cluster shows how the 740e's driver can switch between the various economy/driving modes.
Is such a return genuinely achievable? In the real world, with a combination of driving scenarios such as open road, highway, urban commute and congested stop-start traffic, you're highly unlikely to achieve that magic number. Where the 740e really proves its metal is in bumper-to-bumper jams, with the electric engine doing all the hard work and the petrol engine virtually inactive. It's quite a strange sensation to cruise quietly along at 60 kph, with the slightest hint of road noise permeating the cabin.
The BMW 7 Series has impressed us immensely already with its refinement and technology, and this 740e bolsters the range nicely. How much do you have to change your driving style to reap the benefits? Considerably. See, while this technology is excellent and the benefits are great, you do need to be made aware that there are some limitations.
The range on electric power is claimed to sit around the 44-48 km mark, which can change depending on temperature, charging and how heavy your foot is. The car can achieve a top speed of 140 kph on electric power alone, but rather don't bother as the wind resistance at that speed will decimate the charge. You can charge the car from a BMW i Wallbox in under 3 hours, or from a household 220V socket in under four hours. Charging stations are popping up at BMW dealerships and we visited a public charging station at the V&A Waterfront.
You can also toggle the car's modes to maximise the extent of charge recovery while the car coasts and brakes. The driving modes allow for coasting, hybrid functionality as well as electric-only driving. If you can, make the most of the Battery Control, which uses energy recuperation to maintain or increase the charge of the high-voltage battery for all-electric driving. In other words, the idea is to make the best use of technology to maximise the battery and avoid relying on the petrol engine. If our maths is correct, the 740e is best suited to pottering around town where it'll easily eclipse its petrol siblings in terms of consumption, but it'll lose out on the longer, open road journeys to the diesel-powered 730d.
Charging the BMW 740e is straightforward. A full charge takes under three hours if you use a BMW i Wallbox
The 740e offers an excellent driving experience that suits its first class status. It's elegantly quiet and smooth in pure electric mode, and if you're after a quick overtake, the petrol engine will wake up and slingshot you forward. Round town, the sedan's quietness is very impressive and switching between all-electric, all-petrol and hybrid is effortlessly smooth. The satellite navigation is clever in that it plans the most fuel-efficient route for you. It'll use the petrol engine for the faster parts of the trip and switch to battery in urban environments. It's also very smart as it cuts the engine when you're coasting and going down a hill. When you're freewheeling down a hill, the car captures some of that kinetic energy and tops up the battery.
Meet the BMW iPerformance family: 740e, X5 xDrive40e, i8 (Missing: i3 and soon to be launched 330e)
The BMW 740e makes an interesting case for itself and there's no denying the technology is certainly impressive. However its going to take a committed soul to purchase one of these over an already competent and complete 740i or 730d. This vehicle will make perfect sense if you have a charging station at your home or office (preferably both) and can make the most of its electrifying talents. The technology is a great step forward and offers a glimpse of a potential solution to the fossil fuel issue, these plugin hybrids deserve a second look and if you adjust your driving style, will reap the benefits.
BMW 740e Price in South Africa
Standard R1 431 500
Pure Excellence Package R1 444 300
M-Sport Package R1 474 800
Individual Package R1 663 000