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2017 BMW 740e xDrive Plug-In Hybrid

Car and Driver logo Car and Driver 8/30/2017 ALEXANDER STOKLOSA

2017 BMW 740Le (Euro-spec)
As Obi-Wan Kenobi famously said: “These aren’t the BMWs you’re looking for.” Okay, Obi-Wan said “droids,” referring to the fugitives he was harboring from Imperial stormtroopers. Like those stormtroopers, we’re looking for something, too: BMW’s once-sweet-driving sports sedans. The automaker, like Kenobi with his Force-enabled misdirection, is erasing its storied past with a wave of the hand and a preponderance of comfort-minded and tech-burdened luxury cars. The brand’s iPerformance plug-in hybrids sit at the deep end of this nexus, and—unlike C-3PO and R2-D2—they really aren’t what we’re after.

Parsimonious Power?

In perfect sync with BMW’s transition away from a focus on enthusiast-pleasing cars, the most satisfying of its iPerformance models also is one of the largest and heaviest—the 740e reviewed here. (We were unable to shoot the car we tested for this review, so our photos show a Euro-spec 740Le; in the United States we only get the 740e in long-wheelbase form, thus the different name.) That apparent contradiction is smoothed over by this 7-series sedan’s 322 horsepower and 369 lb-ft of torque, tops among its gas-electric siblings. Curiously, those figures are higher than the far heavier X5 xDrive40e’s, which gets 308 horsepower but uses the same 111-hp electric motor sandwiched between its identical eight-speed automatic transmission and gas engine, as well as the same 9.2-kWh lithium-ion battery pack. In fact, every iPerformance plug-in shares that component set save for the engine: The 330e and the 530e use 180-hp gas inline-fours and share a 248-hp combined horsepower rating; the X5’s engine is rated for 240 horsepower, while the 740e’s makes 255.

Weighing nearly 600 pounds less than the X5 hybrid, the 740e is a full second quicker to 60 mph. Its 5.2-second run also is just less than a second fleeter than the 260-pounds-lighter 530e xDrive we recently tested and 0.6 second ahead of the 721-pounds-lighter 330e. Where the hybridized 3- and 5-series models feel punchy off the line only to lose steam at higher speeds, the 740e pulls strongly all the time. The extra zip comes with no discernible effect on the 7’s hybridness, with the EPA assigning it the same 14-mile electric-only driving range as the 330e and the X5 xDrive40e; the 530e’s range beats it by one mile.

2017 BMW 740e xDrive Plug-In Hybrid© ALEXANDER STOKLOSA 2017 BMW 740e xDrive Plug-In Hybrid

Per the EPA, the 740e is supposedly good for 64 MPGe (miles per gallon equivalent) combined, shy of the 71 MPGe assigned to the 330e and the 530e’s 67, yet topping the X5 xDrive40e’s 56 MPGe. Like those three iPerformance models, in our testing the 740e failed to enter the same galaxy as the EPA’s fuel-economy estimates. We saw 28 MPGe in mixed driving, 1 MPGe shy of the 330e and 2 shy of the 530e but 7 MPGe better than the hybrid X5. The EPA’s estimate might be achievable if you took short, sub-20-mile trips and religiously charged the battery between journeys.

We instead ran through the available electric-only range and relied on hybrid mode for the rest of our commutes, plugging the car in only upon arriving back at the office charger the next day. (According to BMW, charging on a 240-volt source takes just less than three hours and less than seven using a standard wall outlet.) In our 75-mph highway fuel-economy test, the all-wheel-drive 740e returned 35 mpg, five greater than a gasoline six-cylinder-powered, rear-drive 740i’s 30 mpg. The fractionally smaller Cadillac CT6 plug-in hybrid scored 34 mpg on our highway test, matched this 740e’s zero-to-60-mph acceleration, and boasts 31 miles of electric-only range.

The Price of Hybriding

Other than the battery occupying 3 cubic feet of the 7’s already modest-for-its-class trunk space, a smaller fuel tank (by 8.5 gallons) that limits total cruising range, and a noticeable transition between regenerative and friction braking when coming to stop, 740e drivers sacrifice little to gain the potential for gas-free short commutes. The electric motor’s location between the engine and transmission means it runs through the same gears, lending the powertrain a natural sensation in both hybrid and electric-only modes. (Many hybrids utilize continuously variable transmissions that eliminate the stepped acceleration—first gear to second gear and so on—familiar to most drivers.) Aside from the four-cylinder engine’s mooing like a cow with a stubbed hoof when running hard, the experience is quiet and smooth.

Being a modern BMW, the 7-series hybrid boasts drive modes galore. The Comfort, Sport, Sport+, Adaptive, and Eco Pro settings exist alongside a trio of modes that separately manage the 740e’s electric power. In Max eDrive, provided the battery has some charge, the car runs solely on electricity until the driver presses the accelerator pedal to the floor, exceeds 87 mph, or the battery runs out of juice. In those cases, the gas engine turns on, and the 740e switches over to Auto eDrive and behaves as a hybrid, determining when to run the car on electricity alone or a blend of gasoline and electric power. For situations where you want to save some battery capacity for later or recharge the pack on the move to a specified level, there’s Battery Control mode. Of course, using the gas engine to charge the battery results in a dip in fuel economy that an eventual 14 miles of electric-only driving won’t offset. It’s best to use this feature when you find yourself near a city that requires EV-only driving downtown, the majority of which are in Europe.

The various modes are easy to keep track of thanks to the digital gauge cluster’s clear, informative graphics. Unlike many hybrid-makers, BMW includes both fuel- and battery-charge meters that share traditional dial layouts, making them a snap to read at a glance. Consider it a bonus that the 740e drives decently, being nicely compliant in Comfort mode and just about perfect in Sport. Perhaps because it’s so large to begin with and its hybrid powertrain is powerful enough, the 740e’s extra weight goes unnoticed, unlike in the ponderous, heavy-feeling 330e and 530e. It still isn’t exactly fun to drive, and certainly nowhere near as sharp as Cadillac’s CT6, but as befits a limo of this type its cabin is silent at speed.

Too bad the 740e, the best of BMW’s iPerformance plug-in hybrids, is so expensive. Its $90,095 base price is $4600 above an all-wheel-drive 740i, and the Cadillac CT6 plug-in does the same job better for $14,000 less. (But, the plug-in CT6 is available only with rear-wheel drive.) In addition, the six-cylinder 740i, which gives up two horsepower to this hybrid but is much lighter, still is quite efficient for such a big car and hits 60 mph in a solid 4.8 seconds. Regardless of what you compare the 740e to, however, a question lingers: Is it the large luxury sedan that buyers are looking for? In a segment that celebrates maximums and making a statement over budget- and environmentally friendly minutiae, we don’t think the 740e pegs the meter on either measure.

Specifications

VEHICLE TYPE: front-engine, all-wheel-drive, 5-passenger, 4-door sedan

PRICE AS TESTED: $100,595 (base price: $90,095)

ENGINE TYPE: turbocharged and intercooled DOHC 16-valve 2.0-liter inline-4, 255 hp, 295 lb-ft;

permanent-magnet synchronous AC motor, 111 hp, 184 lb-ft;

combined output, 322 hp, 369 lb-ft;

9.2-kWh lithium-ion battery pack

TRANSMISSION: 8-speed automatic with manual shifting mode

DIMENSIONS:

Wheelbase: 126.4 in

Length: 206.6 in

Width: 74.9 in Height: 58.2 in

Passenger volume: 115 cu ft

Trunk volume: 15 cu ft

Curb weight: 4702 lb

C/D TEST RESULTS:

Zero to 60 mph: 5.2 sec

Zero to 100 mph: 12.8 sec

Zero to 120 mph: 18.8 sec

Rolling start, 5–60 mph: 5.8 sec

Top gear, 30–50 mph: 3.4 sec

Top gear, 50–70 mph: 3.7 sec

Standing ¼-mile: 13.7 sec @ 103 mph

Top speed (governor limited): 126 mph

Braking, 70–0 mph: 178 ft

Roadholding, 300-ft-dia skidpad: 0.86 g

C/D FUEL ECONOMY:

Observed: 28 MPGe

75-mph highway driving, EV/hybrid mode: 59 MPGe/35 mpg

Highway range, EV/hybrid mode: 13/420 mi

EPA FUEL ECONOMY:

Combined/city/highway: 27/25/29 mpg

Combined gasoline+electricity: 64 MPGe

EV range: 14 mi

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