► BMW’s 740Le plug-in hybrid tested
► 54g/km of CO2, but 0-62mph in 5.3sec
► On sale now for £77k – less than a diesel
In its pursuit of environmental friendliness, BMW is continuing to roll out plug-in hybrid versions of its latest range of cars – including the latest 7-series.
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So it’s got an electric motor? How green is it?
Very. The 7-series plug-in comes in two forms – the 740e and the 740Le xDrive. We drove the latter, a long-wheelbase version with all-wheel drive. It’ll set you back coming in at a not-inconsiderable £76,380, although our car had plenty of lavish extras thrown at it bringing the list price closer to £100k.
Still, despite its size and price, the 740Le xDrive offers up claimed CO2 emissions of just 54g/km and a pure electric range of 29 miles. BMW states it’s capable of 113mpg, although you’ll need to be making short trips, driving like a saint and putting the car on charge at each end of your journey, to achieve this figure in real life.
That does mean that you can drive (or be driven) around city centres on pure battery power alone, while avoiding paying for something like the London Congestion Charge.
Does it still drive like a BMW?
It drives just like the rest of the 7-series range, including the 730d M Sport, so it’s surprisingly fun when you stick it in Sport mode - the surge of electric power from a standstill is unlikely to get old and there’s more get-up-and-go on offer when the 2.0-litre TwinPower petrol engine chimes in.
Efficiency may be the focus of this model, but BMW hasn’t slacked on the performance front. This 7-series will sprint from 0-62mph in just 5.3 seconds, in part thanks to a combined system output of 322bhp and 369lb ft, and reach a limited top speed of 155mph.
Performance is aided further by the additional traction offered by xDrive, while BMW’s Active Steering (rear-wheel steering) helped the big 7 feel more nimble and compact than the measurements alone would suggest.
When you’re feeling more relaxed it’ll calm down and cosset you like any luxury saloon should, but it’s nice to know it can put a smile on your face if you’re not reclining in the massaging rear seats, watching TV.
How many driving modes does this one have?
Quite a few. There’s the usual Sport, Comfort and Eco Pro, while there are specific settings for the eDrive hybrid system to play around with, too. It’s not as daunting as it sounds, with easily accessed and clearly marked buttons next to the gear lever to speed your selection.
Auto eDrive lets the car decide what to do – it’ll run in electric mode alone at low speeds providing there’s enough charge, with the engine coming into play when required at speeds over 50mph or if you put your foot down.
If you want to maximise efficiency, Max eDrive runs in pure EV mode for up to 29 miles and at speeds of up to 87mph. Unless you’ve got a heavy right foot, that is, at which point the petrol engine will kick in to help.
You can also select the Battery Control mode which allows you to set how much battery charge you want to preserve for later in the journey – for example you can charge it while on the motorway to save for pure EV mode around town.
To remind you what mode you’re in, the 7-series’ digital instrument display switches and displays the relevant info – the more economy-focused modes show remaining charge, for example.
If you want to leave the car do its own thing and work out which is the best set-up, hit the Adaptive button and the car uses various cameras and sensors to assess the road conditions and set the car up accordingly – it’s remarkably effective at reading the road ahead and priming the car’s air suspension to suit.
What if I want to be chauffeured?
You’re well catered for in the back of the 7-series. The plug-in BMW comes in both standard and long-wheelbase styles, and the LWB version has all the space you could want, while there are plenty of extra options packages to make the experience even more luxurious. This includes the £6675 Executive Lounge which adds massaging rear seats – that are also heated and ventilated – and a rear-seat entertainment with a tablet-style control in the centre console.
The driver doesn’t go unnoticed in terms of options, either. There’s a bewildering array of extra safety kit to keep driver and passengers safe, as well as numerous driving and parking aids, high-tech £2450 laser headlights and a high-end £4675 Bowers & Wilkins surround system if you’re something of a music connoisseur.
A plug-in hybrid 7-series does have niche appeal, but it’s compelling niche appeal. As a luxury saloon it’s the most capable Beemer yet and has all the right ingredients and wafty comfort you’d expect, especially in this 740Le xDrive guise.
The electric motor grants improved refinement around town, when running in the complete silence of full electric mode. So, if you’ve got a lot of money to spend on a luxury saloon to ferry you to and from work in the city, it’ll be a satisfyingly relaxed choice. It won’t cost you that much to run, either, if you’ve got charging facilities at each end of your journey.
Where the BMW plays its trump card, however, is if you jump into the driving seat and head out of town. It’s one of the more involving luxury saloons to drive and is surprisingly agile. The turbocharged petrol engine works with the electric motor very effectively to make good progress – it never feels like it’s struggling to hustle along the car’s full 2-tonne weight.
Add to that a high-quality interior and imperious styling, the 7-series could become a popular choice for high-flying business-folk with one eye on urban economy and another on having a bit more fun at the weekend.
You don’t even have to a pay premium for it over a diesel version either. A 740Ld xDrive in Exclusive trim like the car we drove will cost £77k (compared to £76k for the plug-in) before options, but claimed fuel economy and CO2 emissions aren’t as headline-grabbing as the hybrid.
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