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2011 BMW ActiveHybrid 7 (photos)

BMW's hybrid 7-series is an odd duck; its hybrid system gives it a huge power boost and better fuel economy than its siblings. But the driving character can be odd due to the idle stop feature of the engine. It works fine at long lights, but is annoying in stop-and-go traffic.

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Wayne Cunningham
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Engineering the 7-series hybrid, BMW found ways to drastically increase the overall power, compared to the 750i, which uses the same gasoline engine. At the same time, this 7 gets the best fuel economy among its 7-series siblings.

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The sedan uses a comfortable, modern design. While attractive, it is no head-turner. Specific BMW cues includes the kidney grille and the Hoffmeister kink on the rear side windows.

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The engine is a twin turbo direct-injection 4.4-liter V-8. With its hybrid system, made up of a lithium ion battery pack and electric motor, total power output is 455 horsepower and 515 pound-feet of torque.

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As an executive sedan, the ActiveHybrid 7 is as comfortable in the front as it is in the back. There is plenty of legroom, and the seats are well-cushioned.

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The ActiveHybrid 7 logo on the C pillar is one of the few external cues that this car is a hybrid.

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The ActiveHybrid 7 comes with an active suspension, featuring sport, normal, and comfort modes. The car can be made to handle even better with optional active roll stabilization.

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Although it uses rectangular exhaust ports, these merely cover two conventional round exhaust pipes.

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Trunk space is impinged by the lithium ion battery pack, which is oddly packaged. Other automakers tend to integrate battery packs into the trunk walls, but BMW just leaves the big, cubic pack sitting out.

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The 120-volt lithium ion battery pack can't drive the car under electric power alone, but does provide extra boost when accelerating.

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The cabin is not plushly luxurious, although it does feature quality leather and wood materials. BMW tends to keep the cabin appointments simple, emphasizing the driver aspect.

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BMW sticks with a hydraulic power steering system, which means the wheel becomes immovable when the engine shuts down in traffic.

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These black background gauges reveal various lights and an instant fuel gauge when the power train is active.

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The steering wheel hosts well-thought-out controls on its spokes. BMW has also improved its voice command system, which now allows selection of individual artists, songs, and albums.

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The shifter controls an eight-speed automatic transmission, which helps this car get highway fuel economy of 26 mpg. A rocker switch to the left of the shifter sets the suspension to comfort or sport modes.

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The iDrive controller gives quick access to the radio, CD, navigation, and phone systems.

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The main interface menu, with its simple list form, is easy to navigate.

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The navigation system, with maps stored on a hard drive, offers excellent, lush detail.

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Traffic information is also used to dynamically adjust routes around traffic jams.

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The destination input screen is not very well-designed, and can leave newbies wondering what to do next.

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BMW has an excellent Bluetooth phone system, which copies phone contact lists, making them available through voice command or on-screen.

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Satellite radio is one of the optional audio sources.

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BMW reserves 12 gigabytes of the car's hard drive for music storage.

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This browsing screen is used for the onboard music library, USB drives, and connected iPods.

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The audio system comes with 16 speakers and a 600-watt amp. It produces very fine quality sound.

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Taking audio tuning a step further, BMW provides a seven-band graphic equalizer.

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The rear-view camera shows distance and trajectory lines to aid in parking.

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