World famous for its extensive lineup of sports/luxury sedans, coupes and crossovers, this 7-series (the flagship model currently available) is the result of bureaucratic decree, not consumer demand. Entirely derived from carmaker regulations in Germany, China and the U.S. markets, the BMW 740e plug-in hybrid sedan is meant to address environmental concerns.
Buyers have proven to be less than interested, however, as luxury-class hybrids are not generating big sales numbers in markets lacking generous incentives. Just like lower-priced hybrids, or even expensive Teslas. When the incentives dry up, so do the sales.
But unlike other plug-in hybrids, this 7-series remains stocked with the handling, driving and luxury virtues that have defined this four-door for decades. Along with Audi’s A8 and Mercedes S-class, these three full-size sedans define German luxury motoring because of their quality, serenity, swiftness and general refinement.
And of course, the sticker price reflects the level of equipment bestowed here; power door closers for the feeble, a power trunk opener (and closer) for the package encumbered, plus the option of power reclining and massaging rear seats are not items generally found on competitive luxury sedans from Asia and America.
With base 7-series sedans starting at $83,100 for rear-drive models, the $90,700 xDrive 740e ($99,845 as shown) is impressively capable despite being the first four-cylinder powered 7-series ever sold in the U.S. market. Not just any four-cylinder, but an intercooled and turbocharged 2.0-liter four spinning out 255-hp which is mated to a 9.2-kWh permanent electric motor backed by a lithium-ion battery pack that alone produces 111 additional horsepower, for a combined electric/gas engine output of 322 hp — virtually the same output as the normal 3.0-liter turbocharged six commonly standard in the 7-series. All 7-series models, up to the $160,000 V-12 Alpina, are equipped with eight-speed automatic transmissions.
The intent here is to generate more fuel economy, either in EV mode or some combination of gas/electric operation. Charging overnight, the gauge only demonstrated a 12-mile EV range in the morning for several days, which hardly seems worth the effort. BMW claims a peak of 28 miles of EV use, which may be possible with A) warmer weather (It was below freezing five of the mornings of the 740e’s visit.) and B) speeds more of an urban nature than harried rural commute. Three fill-ups produced a cumulative 27.6 mpg for 800 miles of mostly highway driving. EPA estimates are 27/25/29 mpg and 64 MPGe.
While my favorite all-time BMW sedan remains the midsized 5-series, this 7-series will please full-size admirers whether they are piloting or being chauffeured. The cabin is more than spacious, the car goes does down the road too easily above the speed limit, and the seats are delightful despite lacking the much-admired manual thigh extenders found on other BMW models. The automatic stop/start mode is nicely mitigated by the constant hybrid power delivery, while an occasional hesitation on throttle step-in is offset by cruising composure that is second to none.
I found the active lane assist feature much too disruptive for my taste, actually forcing you back into a lane, while the car automatically shuts itself off every time you stop and open the driver’s door, a nuisance after day three. These nanny-state features seem to be in contrast to BMW’s motto of Ultimate Driving Machine.
Likes include an impressive nav screen spread across the middle center dash, the 360-degree camera system, the seamless automatic transmission masking gas and electric power delivery, the brilliant LED adaptive headlamps, plus the comfort of a four-zone climate system. Buyers will find the latest in entertainment with Apple/Android/Sirius and Harmon Kardon, yet the gesture control feature is gimmicky.
Perhaps most interesting with BMW is the start of subscription service buying. In select markets, BMW (as well as Porsche, Mercedes and Lincoln) are pursuing the buyer subscription program pioneered by Cadillac last year. A buyer signs up for a specified payment, but can select from a pool of eligible cars to use instead of “buying” one single car for what would be a normal lease period. Potentially, a “buyer” can swap cars every week or every month, all with one (hefty) payment. Cadillac encountered “user” issues due to curbed wheels and tires, and other consumer abuses, so it remains to be seen how widespread this ultimate luxury buying service will expand, if at all.
Yet with more electric hybrids in the wings over the next five years, plus the return of the Z4 sports convertible (jointly developed with Toyota, which will sell the Supra coupe again) as well as a new X2 compact crossover, the full-size X8 coupe, and a new Tesla-fighting I4 sedan, BMW seems ready and able to attack every niche in the luxury marketplace, electrified or not.