Since the release of the revolutionary i8 in 2014, BMW has been striving to remain at the forefront of both plug-in hybridand pre-impregnated carbonfibre technology – and the BMW 740Le xDrive, as seen here, represents the vanguard of those developments thus far.
The 740Le is essentially two cars in one: an electric car with a 28-mile zero-emissions range, as well as a continent-crushing cruiser with searing straight-line performance. It’s a compelling combination.
In the name of downsizing, BMW has based the powertrain around its excellent turbocharged 2.0-litre petrol engine, retuned to produce a substantial 265bhp and 295lb ft. It’s mated to a specially developed eight-speed automatic transmission that is fitted with a 111bhp electric motor, and the combined reserves of 322bhp and 369lb ft are channelled to all four wheels, allowing this 7 Series to cover 0-62mph in just 5.3sec.
It’s a clever powertrain and the driver has a choice oft wo eco-focused driving modes: Auto eDrive, which shuffles power between the petrol engine and battery like a traditional hybrid, and MaxeDrive, in which the car runs purely on electric power until it reaches 87mph.
In addition, three adaptive chassis settings affect the way the hybrid tra nsmission works. Comfort mode gives a smooth power delivery by balancing the outputs of both power units, while Sport enables the electric motor and petrol engine to work together for maximum performance and Eco Pro is designed to maximise the electric range.In addition to its 28-mile electric-only range,the 740Le promises combined fueleconomy of 113mpg.
As long as the car has charge, the 740Le will pull away in complete silence. It’s a serene experience that feels perfectly in tune with a car of this type. Depress the throttle pedal farther and the electric motor powers the BMW up to B-road speeds with minimal effort. I
t’s an impressively flexible electric unit and endows the 740Le with a level of low-speed refinement that its diesel-powered siblings can’t hope to match. Air suspension fitted to both axles also does an impressive job of smoothing out undulating surfaces and isolating rear passengers from the outside world.
Switch the adaptive chassis settings from Comfort to Sport and, although the 740Le is far from being an engaging driver’s machine, there’s fun to be had hustling it down a country road. The steering is direct enough, the four-wheel drive system provides heaps of traction and the chassis has an intrinsic balance.
But like all plug-in hybrids, the 740Le is not without fault. We’re pretty confident that you could get near the claimed 113mpg figure if you drove carefully and charged the BMW every time you stopped, but that’s not realistic. On our recent journey from London to Paris, for example, we averaged only 34.2mpg. If you’re a high-mileage driver, a diesel still makes more sense.
Depleting the battery also leads to another problem. With no electric shove, you’re left with a two-tonne car powered by a rather gruff-sounding 2.0-litre petrolengine.
In addition,the 740Le’s 420-litre boot is 90 litres smaller than you get in the standard diesel or petrol 7 Series. That’s because the lithium ion battery pack now sits under the rear seats, forcing the fuel tank back and above the rear axle.
Ifyou’recoveringlots ofmileson a frequent basis,you’ll rarely see the benefit of the electric motor. But then a price difference between the 740Le xDrive and a 730Ld xDrive of only £130 makes that pill significantly easier to swallow.
Ultimately, the 740Le xDrive is a truly brilliant technical achievementthat provides almost all of the benefits of an electric vehicle with very few of the downsides. If this ist he future of luxury travel, we’re ready for it.
Successfully blends low emissions with luxury and strong real-world pace, but it’s a niche proposition
BMW 740Le XDrive
Engine: 4 cyls, 1998cc, twin-turbo, petrol, plus electric motor
System Power: 322bhp
System Torque: 369lb
Gearbox: 8-speed automatic
Kerb weight: 2000kg
Top speed: 155mph (87mph in EV mode)
Economy: 134mpg (combined)
EV range: 28miles
CO2/tax band: 49g/km, 11%
Rivals: Jaguar XJ 3.0 V6 Diesel LWB, Mercedes Benz S300h