BMW's flagship luxury sedan goes green with an iPerformance plug-in hybrid powertrain.
The 2018 BMW 740e xDrive iPerformance stands out in the 7 Series lineup, and not just because of its ridiculously long name. This model builds on the 7's known reputation for refined performance, luxurious appointments and advanced technology with a plug-in hybrid system that promises increased economy and environmental responsibility.
No, it's not the first hybrid in the 7er's history -- that honor belongs to the last-gen ActiveHybrid7 -- but this new generation is the first with a charging port that boosts efficiency with a bit of pure electric range.
After being impressed by the very similar BMW 530e, I was eager to see how this larger 740e stacked up. How does the automaker handle green ambitions with its grandest sedan?
The 740e plug-in hybrid ditches the base 7 Series' inline-six cylinder engine in favor of a smaller 2.0-liter turbo-four rated at 255 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque. That loss in displacement is okay, because the combustion engine isn't alone -- it's joined by a 111-horsepower electric motor-generator that boosts total system output to a healthy 322 horsepower and 369 pound-feet.
That powerplant is mated to an 8-speed automatic transmission and BMW's xDrive all-wheel-drive system, the only drivetrain option available to hybrid buyers.
The hybrid system features the same 9.2-kWh lithium-ion battery pack as the 530e and delivers a similar 14-mile pure-electric cruising range from a 2.7-hour charge at a 240-volt charging station. I never had a recharge take more than 2 hours, probably due to the fact that hybrids never really let their batteries go all the way flat. Charging via a standard 110-volt wall outlet takes about five to six hours, but BMW only recommends this method for occasional use.
Drivers have a bit of control over how those EV miles are used, thanks to the 740e's eDrive modes. Auto eDrive is the default setting and switches between gasoline and electric power depending on driving conditions. This usually means using up the battery first, then switching over to gas. Battery Control mode preserves the battery's charge at a user-set level by defaulting to gasoline power. This mode can be useful if, for example, you want to save most of your e-driving for the urban area at the end of a longer highway commute. Finally, Max eDrive attempts to use only electric power until the battery level drops low. In this mode, you can reach a top speed of 87 mph on e-power alone.
Fully-charged and in Auto eDrive, the 740e averages an EPA-estimated 64 mpge for those first 14 miles. Once the gasoline engine kicks in, the economy drops to about 27 combined mpg until you run out of gas 320 miles later. Of course, your mileage may vary.
Being an apartment-dweller who's largely reliant on public charging stations, I wasn't able to charge as much as I'd have liked and only averaged 29.8 mpg during my 250-ish miles of testing. An owner with a plug in their garage or one at the office should be able to do a whole lot better than I did. Even so, that's a decent improvement over the the xDrive non-hybrid's 23-mpg estimate.
This plug-in hybrid makes 2 more horsepower and 39 pound-feet more than the conventional 740i, but don't get too excited. Electrification adds 379 pounds to the 7er's curb weight, which soaks up any performance gains. Zero-to-60 mph sprints take the same 5.1 seconds as the normal 740i and top speed is unchanged at 130 mph.
Aside from the quieter electric-assisted performance at urban speeds, the 740e feels a lot like the 740i. Midrange throttle response is quite good, which makes the sedan feel powerful and alert. The dose of electric torque makes the hybrid feel just a hair more effortless when it's time to pass or merge. The standard 740i was already a quiet and poised car; the 740e is ever so slightly more refined.
The biggest difference I noticed is the smoothing of the stop-start system. Anti-idling systems can feel a bit herky-jerky with conventional powertrains, but here the electric motor smooths out the hiccups, making the transition barely noticeable.
The heavy battery's placement has an odd side effect of pulling the weight distribution rearward and bringing the 740e closer to that desirable 50:50 front-to-rear split for better handling. Really pay attention and you might notice the better balance and stability, but you'll also notice a tad more body roll when cornering and just a hair less nimbleness overall.
Fortunately, comfort is uncompromised for the most part thanks to an adaptive suspension that is smooth and supple. There's also a sport setting, but given the size and weight of the 740e and how well this setup soaks up bumps and imperfections in the road, I tended to spend most of my miles in the most comfortable modes where I could enjoying a quiet cruise.
BMW's iDrive infotainment systems features crisply rendered visuals, smooth animations and simplified menu system that has been refined over six-generations. The new home screen organizes important navigation, media and vehicle information. I've seen it a half-dozen times in various Bimmers of this generation.
This system gives drivers the choice between using the 10.2-inch touchscreen, the console-mounted iDrive controller with its own touchpad, as well as voice commands. I found the iDrive controller to be the most intuitive of the options; it's what I'm most accustomed to it. Plus, it kept fingerprints off of the central display.
The most gimmicky control scheme is the gestures system that allows drivers to interact with iDrive without even touching it. Twirling a finger in front of the dashboard, for example, raises or lowers the audio volume. Waving a hand dismisses a notification. There are more gestures available but, aside from the finger twirl volume control, I found it easier and more accurate to just use physical controls for most interactions.
Maps look great, navigation features really good pathfinding and very accurate traffic data with the ability to reroute smartly around jams. The 600-watt Harman Kardon audio system sounds pretty darn good. Overall, the iDrive suite is amazing stuff and a substantial upgrade over previous generations, but it's far from perfect when it comes to playing nicely with smartphones.
Apple CarPlay is available, but in typical BMW fashion, it's a $300 upgrade. This is a feature that comes standard on most modern Hondas and Volkswagens, yet BMW charges extra on its flagship sedan. In fairness, BMW's system is the first to offer wireless connectivity, but that upcharge still feels like a slap in the face.
Android users have it even worse. There's no Android Auto upgrade available and no plans to ever support it. Of course, I could just use Bluetooth audio streaming, but BMW's system has an ugly habit of just disconnecting my device mid-trip leaving me in silence until I stopped and re-paired.
Meanwhile, Audi, Volvo and Mercedes-Benz all offer standard Apple CarPlay and Android Auto on their flagships.
BMW throws all of its best driver aid tech the flagship 7 Series models, but (again) it's gonna cost you. Standard features for the 740e include a rear camera, park distance sensors, loads of airbags and a solid suite of stability control features. The good stuff is locked away in a few optional packages.
My example featured the $1,700 Driving Assistance Package, which adds a full-color head-up display, blind spot monitoring and a lane departure warning system. And then there's another $1,700 in another Driving Assistance Plus Package that adds the active driving assistance features including full-speed adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go, collision mitigation brake assist, a very advanced lane centering steering assist system, semi-automatic lane changing assist and more. It's a pretty advanced setup for the money.
Finally, a $700 Parking Assistance Package upgrades the standard rear camera to a surround view setup with a neat integration with the gesture system that lets you rotate a virtual camera around the car for maximum visibility when parking. This package also includes then semi-autonomous parking assistant feature which, at the touch of a button, takes over steering while parallel parking.
The 2018 BMW 740e xDrive iPerformance starts at $91,695 (including a $995 destination charge), but BMW's no stranger to expensive and extensive options and packages. Check every option box and a buyer could push the price up as high as $130,000. Woof.
My example rolled into the garage with a $99,845 price tag attached to it -- pricey, but with most of the options that matter and pretty close to how I'd spec mine. In addition to the aforementioned $4,100 in driver aid features and $300 CarPlay upgrade, it featured a sweet LED-illuminated panoramic moonroof ($900), Active Steering Assist that adds a touch of rear wheel steering ($1,150), 19-inch wheels ($1,300) and a cold weather package ($400).
Options aside, the 740e xDrive is only about $4,000 more than a standard 740i xDrive. That's not a huge premium when you consider the plug-in has a healthy increase in fuel economy over the conventional model, if you recharge regularly. On the other hand, without frequent plug-ins, the economy advantage is a slim one. Plus, the hybrid is quieter and more refined around town, positive traits for any luxury vehicle.
Then again, Volvo's S90 AWD T8 plug-in hybrid makes it really tough for me to recommend the 740e. The Swede is a tad smaller, but boasts more electric range (21 miles compared to 14), improved efficiency (71 mpge vs. 64), more power (400 horsepower vs. 332) and smart Sensus dashboard tech that's simply easier to live with. It also includes all of its driver aid features (City Safety, Pilot Assist and more) as standard equipment while still rolling out fully-loaded for $8,000 less than the Bimmer's starting price and $16,000 less than our comparably-equipped tester.
That's not to say the 7er is a poor choice, but the Volvo is a much better value and would be my pick in this very slim plug-in hybrid slice of the luxury sedan market. However, if you're already considering a 740i (and have a home where you can install your own charging station), the 740e is worth a second look.