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BMW 740Le xDrive M Sport (2016)

BMW 740Le xDrive 2016 quick review: BMW’s petrol-electric limo

BMW 740Le xDrive M Sport (2016)The BMW 7 Series is, quietly, a landmark car for the Munich brand. It subtly delivers a step-change in technology, design and sophistication. The future 3 Series will be influenced by this, a beneficiary of its tech – indeed, even built on the all-new architecture beneath its lines. That’s why we shouldn’t overlook it.

Particularly as BMW is, like Mercedes-Benz, investigating new ways of powering it. Almost every 7 Series sold in the UK has a 3.0-litre turbodiesel engine. But these days, diesel is seen as dirty (thanks Volkswagen), so alternatives are being sought. Here, we’re testing one of them in the UK: a petrol-electric 7 Series.

You’d never know it, but beneath the bonnet sits a 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol engine related to the one in the Mini Cooper S. Plus an electric motor like the one in the BMW i3. That gives this 740Le xDrive the performance to beat a 340i. We headed to the suitably ultra-exclusive Soho Farmhouse to try it out.

Prices and deals

BMW 740Le xDrive M Sport (2016)

You can buy a basic (we admit that term is relative) BMW 730d diesel for £63,530. An entry-level 740e is £68,330, so just under £5k more. Prefer long wheelbase and all-wheel drive? You can’t actually get a 730Ld xDrive, but you can get a 740Ld xDrive… which is actually a few pounds MORE than the 740Le xDrive driven here.

Basically, it’s a plug-in hybrid car that doesn’t cost the Earth, even if you can’t get any money back under the Plug-in Car Grant because the price is above the £60,000 threshold (even if CO2 emissions are still below the 75g/km cut-off). You won’t be getting much in the way of deals yet, either. Demand for other plug-in hybrid BMWs far exceeds supply: this will be niche, but BMW will have no problem selling them.

What are its rivals?

Hybrid luxury cars are few in number, but they are out there. The most obvious rival is the Mercedes-Benz S-Class, which offers a number of hybrid drivetrains, both hybrid and plug-in hybrid, petrol and diesel. There’s an S 300 CDI Hybrid diesel, S 400 L Hybrid petrol and S 500 L PHEV.

Every one of them makes the thirsty Lexus LS 600h look archaic. And the Lexus, in turn, makes the hybrid-free Audi A8 look surprisingly low-tech for the brand of Vorsprung durch Technik. Jaguar doesn’t have a hybrid XJ either, leaving the futuristic Tesla Model S as the proper boundary-pusher in this sector.

What engine does it use?

BMW 740Le xDrive M Sport (2016)

The 2.0-litre twin-turbo of the 740Le xDrive produces a healthy 265hp. The electric motor adds 111hp more. Total system output is thus 322hp, and 369lb ft of torque.

The engine is one of BMW’s modular TwinPower Turbo motors, used across the BMW and MINI range. As mentioned, a version is in the MINI Cooper S, and you’ll also find it in the 3 Series, X1, 2 Series Active Tourer and the new 5 Series.

How fast?

It’s a green BMW 7 Series, but it’s also a fast one. The 0-62mph dash takes just 5.3 seconds: faster than a six-cylinder quasi-M3 BMW 340i. Pay scant regard to the fuel efficiency that so preoccupied BMW engineers and only an electronic limiter halts it at 155mph.

It’s even fast in pure electric mode, which you can set as the default in the Max eDrive setting. Here, it’s not quite a Tesla-beater, but it will still do 87mph, so you can hurtle up the M40 in the fast lane with zero emissions (at least until the batteries run flat).

Is it comfortable?

BMW 740Le xDrive M Sport (2016)

It’s divinely comfortable. Previous 7 Series have always been a bit on the sporty side, proving slightly too lumpy compared to an S-Class. Not this. Plush, pliant air-cushioned suspension at last delivers a genuine luxury-car ride, with wafting, floating, glide-along finesse that’s extremely feel-good.

What it still has is the fine control on challenging roads that so characterises BMWs. Some luxury cars will roll around and float queasily when roads get undulating. But the latest 7 maintains its poise even as you hustle this two-tonne car like a hot hatch. Impressive.

Will I enjoy driving it?

BMW 740Le xDrive M Sport (2016)

It’s this dual-drive ability that makes it rather good fun. Again, with some luxury cars, the driving experience is all a bit vague. Steering is disconnected, you feel spongy squidge in the suspension rather than direct response to your inputs, and it all seems to encourage economy of movement so you don’t risk unsetting it too much. Maybe this is why chauffeurs are so considered: the cars can’t cope with anything more energetic.

In the 740Le, they can release much more of their inner Ken Block. It will respond and react to the steering, and will adjust its line mid-corner. You can feel the impressive grip from the chassis – and the combination of turbo petrol power and serious electric surge is very amusing.

Fuel economy and running costs

The trip computer of our test car, freshly delivered from London, showed 35mpg. That’s some way shy of 100mpg, isn’t it? Why, yes. Although earlier in the journey, it was using not a drop of fuel at all, leaving London’s air as dubiously fresh as it was before.

It’s a car that will help urban dwellers save money, because they’ll be able to drive for pounds on EV power, rather than tens of pounds on petrol. That’s where the big savings in running costs will come: otherwise, expect something similar to the regular 7. However, the jury’s out on whether this will depreciate more or less than a normal diesel one.

What’s the interior like?

BMW 740Le xDrive M Sport (2016)

The interior of the latest 7 Series is beautiful. It’s a notable step-up in effort from BMW. Quality is exemplary and it finally feels the ultra-special, bespoke-built equal of an S-Class. Rear space is vast and passengers feel a million dollars, with massage seats here, dual screens there and even an in-built tablet computer.

Is it refined? Exceedingly so in electric drive, far more so than the diesel. You won’t necessarily hear the petrol engine start up, but you will hear it drone if you ask for max power. It lacks the creaminess of a six-cylinder engine, although it does clatter less. Importantly, though, you rarely need to stretch it so hard, so it’s not as annoying as you think it will be the first time you floor it. Instead, enjoy the extra refinement it delivers when you’re not wringing its neck.

Is it practical?

It’s a very big car, you’ll judge, when you come to park it. More than 5.2 metres long, and 1.9 metres wide. As explained, it’s big and practical for passengers, too. You can even get an option pack that reclines the rear seat like a posh aircraft pew, sliding the front seat out of the way to give you cruise-liner legroom.

The only downside is the boot, which is 90 litres shy of the regular 7 Series. That’s because the lithium ion batteries need somewhere to go. It’s still 430 litres, but it’s now small enough to have airport chauffeurs wondering how to tell their posh customers they need to put that last suitcase on the back seat next to them.

Tell me about the tech

BMW 740Le xDrive M Sport (2016)

We don’t know where to start here. The 7 Series is packed with it, from its carbonfibre core to its BMW i3-inspired electric motor and hybrid drivetrain. You have gesture control inside, a touchscreen key to control it from the outside, an app so you can monitor it from your smartphone and even a gadget that lets you drive it into your garage from outside the car.

The petrol-electric hybrid gear is imperceptibly integrated. It even uses the same eight-speed automatic gearbox. The only low-tech thing we noticed was the noise of the starter motor each time the engine kicked in, even on the move. And the slight delay while it whirred. Time it wrong and, out of a junction, you’ll get nothing, then a whirr, then an almighty kick up the back. Bang goes the tip from the customer you’re chauffeuring.

What about safety?

There’s the usual array of active safety tech on the 7 Series, plus a brace of gadgets that keep an eye on the road for when you’re distracted.

You can also choose Active Driving Assistant Plus, which gives an element of self-steering and self-driving at speed. It only lets you take your hands off the wheel for a couple of seconds before nagging you to put them back on, then disabling if you don’t, but it is still sufficiently self-driving to let you concentrate on booking your next job.

Which version should I go for?

BMW 740Le xDrive M Sport (2016)

There are two versions of plug-in hybrid 7 Series: the regular-wheelbase 740e, which drives the rear wheels, and the long-wheelbase 740Ld Xdrive, which is all-wheel drive.

Price-wise, the hybrids sit above the standard 730d. As their name suggests, they’re comparable to the higher-power 3.0-litre turbodiesel in the 740d, so closely match that car on price.

What’s the used alternative?

If you like plug-in hybrid luxury cars, you’re out of luck. This is the first plug-in 7 Series BMW has sold, and Mercedes’ alternatives are relatively new as well.

You could get one of the old hybrid 5 Series, but that’s not very good, so we wouldn’t bother. Perhaps you could look at a secondhand Tesla Model S instead? With the money you save, you could take advantage of 7 Series depreciation and get a five-year old car for longer trips.

Should I buy one?

BMW 740Le xDrive M Sport (2016)

It’s an easy decision. Need a luxury car? The new 7 Series is a top choice, alongside the Mercedes-Benz S-Class. Do lots of miles across continents, or regularly take people up and down the motorway to the airport? Stick with diesel, either a 730d or 740d. That’s what BMW expects most customers will do.

But if you work in the city and have regular access to charge points, or simply want a zero-emissions flag-waver that would future-proof you against the anti-diesel legislation so many reckon will come to places like London in the future, buy a 740Le xDrive with relish. As plug-in hybrid cars with extended ranges go, it’s one of the best. Just don’t try to make it do something other models in the range are better suited to.

Pub fact

BMW is almost reluctant to tell us this car officially claims to do over 100mpg. Because that’s on the flawed European NEDC test cycle, one that starts off with full batteries and only sees the engine kick in for a small proportion of the drive. In reality, admits BMW, it’s… complicated.

Charge it and do no more than 20-odd miles, and you’ll do infinite mpg. Don’t charge it and stonk it up the motorway, and you’ll barely get 35mpg. Indeed, use the motorway often and you’ll be better off with the diesel. That’s why BMW expects this to be a niche car. But for those select few to whom its characteristics are well suited, it’s going to be brilliant.

New BMW 7 Series

New BMW 7 Series to launch on June 10

New BMW 7 SeriesBMW has confirmed it will reveal its all-new 7 Series on June 10 – and has released a short teaser video to help build interest.

The new 7 Series, which Motoring Research has already driven in prototype form, will boast carbon core technology derived from the i8 supercar, to cut around 130kg from the kerbweight of the current car.

It also boasts advanced tech such as laser headlights, gesture control and even a remote control parking app so you can drive your 7 Series into the garage while standing outside it.

Impressive tech, but arguably necessary: the new 7 has a formidable task ahead of it to challenge the superb Mercedes-Benz S-Class. That car’s the clear class-leader and among the best cars in the world full stop.

The video teaser doesn’t give much away, other than suggesting the new 7 Series will have some very nice lights front and rear. For the full debut, stay tuned on Wednesday 10 June: we’ll be among the first to bring you more…

BMW 7 Series prototype review 2015

BMW 7 Series prototype review: 2015 first drive

BMW 7 Series prototype review 2015The 2015 BMW 7 Series won’t hit showrooms until autumn, but we’ve bagged an early drive in the prototype. Can it unseat the S-Class as the new limo king?

Tim Pitt | April 2015

We start by signing a non-disclosure agreement. Then our phones are seized and the cameras taped over. Only then can we enter BMW’s secret proving ground in southern France to drive the new 7 Series.

The cars are wrapped in camouflage and their dashboards are draped in unflattering grey foam. But in terms of chassis set-up and technology, these are pretty much production-ready.

First, though, a bit of background. This is the sixth-generation Seven, the first being the E23 of 1977. The 2001 E65 version is especially significant for being the car that introduced iDrive. BMW’s ‘infotainment’ system was groundbreaking then, and remains the industry standard now.

The new 7 Series will be officially unveiled at the 2015 Frankfurt Motor Show in September. There’s no word on prices or performance figures yet – or indeed the rumoured plug-in hybrid version – but all models should be markedly more efficient.

As with its electric/hybrid i3 and i8, BMW has used a high-tech mix of steel, aluminium and carbon-fibre-reinforced plastic (CFRP) to cut weight by 130kg versus the outgoing car. That’s equivalent to removing two teenagers from the back seat.

Importantly, they’ve also lowered the centre of gravity, which benefits steering response and handling. To the test track, then…

BMW 7 Series prototype review 2015

What is the 2015 BMW 7 Series like to drive?

The car we’re driving is a long-wheelbase 740Li. Its straight-six won’t be that popular in the UK, where the 730d diesel is the volume seller. However, there’s something rather special about a large-capacity petrol engine and, as we venture onto the high-speed loop, the big BMW doesn’t disappoint.

Floor the throttle and the car surges forward in a spirited yet utterly civilised manner, its eight-speed automatic gearbox swapping cogs almost imperceptibly. There’s a subtle snarl under acceleration, but at motorway cruising speed the engine is all but inaudible.

We move on to the handling circuit. All 7 Series come with front and rear air suspension, plus dynamic dampers. Our car also boasted optional Dynamic Drive anti-roll control, which keeps the body flat when cornering.

BMW 7 Series prototype review 2015

And my, is it effective. For a long-wheelbase limo, the Seven changes direction with fleet-footed agility – and just a hint of rear-wheel-drive attitude. It’s remarkably easy to drive at speed, too There is none of the lurching and wallowing sometimes experienced in cars of this size.

The driver can toggle between Comfort Plus, Comfort and Sport settings for the suspension. But new for the 2015 7 Series is Adaptive mode, which analyses your driving style and uses GPS data about where you are to determine the optimum setting.

There are a host of other driver assistance systems as well. Radar-based active cruise control maintains a set distance from the car in front or can observe signposted speed limits. And Lane Departure Warning Assistant keeps you firmly between the white lines and prevents you swerving into a car in your blind spot.

Doubtless the most headline-grabbing driver aid, however, is one that doesn’t actually require any driving. BMW’s world-first remote control parking allows you to manoeuvre into a tight space from outside the car, using buttons on the key fob. Perfect if you have a tight-fitting garage.

BMW 7 Series prototype review 2015

What clever tech does the BMW 7 Series have?

Psychedelic disguise notwithstanding, it’s clear BMW has played it safe with the exterior of the 7 Series. Considering some of its radical recent designs (not least the wonderful i8), we think that’s a shame.

Fortunately, the interior is rather more interesting. Or, at least, what we could see of it is…

BMW 7 Series prototype review 2015

In common with many upmarket cars, the 7 Series has adopted a TFT electronic display in front of the driver. Thankfully, though, the dials remain models of trad-BMW white-on-black clarity. Switch the engine to fuel-sipping Eco Pro mode and the rev counter is replaced by a hybrid-style power gauge.

The air vents now have touch-sensitive sliders to adjust temperature for driver and passenger and there’s a small touchscreen in front of the gearlever for controlling airflow, seat heating and – we kid you not – in-car perfuming.

The big news, however, is the latest iteration of iDrive, which now offers a touchscreen, along with voice and gesture control. That doesn’t mean the familiar iDrive controller on the centre console has disappeared. But you can now access all the same commands via the touchscreen, which you swipe and pinch-to-zoom like an iPad.

We also tried the gesture control. This uses a camera in the roof to recognise hand signals, meaning you don’t need to take your eyes off the road. For example, twirling your finger adjusts the audio volume, prodding the dash instructs the sat nav to navigate home and a dismissive wave allows you to reject incoming calls.

It takes some practice and, in truth, isn’t vastly easier than pressing an old-fashioned button, but we can’t fault BMW’s efforts to make technology more accessible.

BMW 7 Series prototype review 2015

Verdict: BMW 7 Series (2015)

It’s too early to tell whether the new 7 Series can topple the S-class –frequently referred to as ‘the best car in the world’ – from its lofty pedestal.

However, there’s no doubt BMW has upped its game on in terms of technology, and delivered a car that will satisfy keen drivers. We can’t wait to try the finished article this autumn.

Rivals: BMW 7 Series (2015)

  • Mercedes-Benz S-Class
  • Jaguar XJ
  • Audi A8
  • Maserati Quattroporte
  • Lexus LS

The Mercedes-Benz is our pick of this exclusive bunch. A beautiful cabin, advanced safety technology and (relatively) efficient engines are its strong suits. The Jaguar XJ is less well-rounded, but arguably more characterful. And the Audi A8, while very capable, is starting to show its age.

Our two wild cards are the flawed-but-alluring Maserati Quattroporte and the Lexus LS 600h hybrid, which is refined but very expensive.

BMW Vision Future Luxury

BMW Vision Future Luxury: 7 Series preview, 9 Series tease?

BMW Vision Future LuxuryBMW has revealed a dramatic Vision Future Luxury concept at the Beijing Motor Show – a car that previews some of the styling themes coming to next year’s new 7 Series. Read more