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First drive: BMW 740Le xDrive iPerformance. Image by BMW.

First drive: BMW 740Le xDrive iPerformance
Plug-in hybrid power for BMW's 7 Series flagship - and a new badge too.

 



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BMW 740Le xDrive iPerformance

5 5 5 5 5

Put any preconceptions you might have about the feasibility of a 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol engine powering a machine as big as BMW's 7 Series to one side - because the new 740Le xDrive iPerformance plug-in hybrid model might just be the pick of what is already a very exceptional range.

Test Car Specifications

Model tested: BMW 740Le xDrive iPerformance
Pricing: 7 Series from 63,530; 740e iPerformance from 68,330; 740Le xDrive iPerformance from 74,880
Engine: 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol with 88kW synchronous electric motor and 7.4kWh lithium-ion battery
Transmission: eight-speed automatic, all-wheel drive
Body style: four-door saloon
CO2 emissions: 49g/km (VED Band A, 0)
Combined economy: 134.5mpg
Top speed: 155mph (limited)
0-62mph: 5.3 seconds
Power: petrol 258hp at 5,000- to 6,500rpm; electric 113hp at 3,170rpm; combined peak output 326hp
Torque: petrol 400Nm at 1,250- to 4,800rpm; electric 250Nm at 0rpm; combined peak output 500Nm

What's this?

Another of BMW's burgeoning portfolio of plug-in hybrid (PHEV) cars that aren't full 'i' machines like the i3 and i8, and so with four of such vehicles now in existence, BMW feels the 740e (or 740Le, if you go for the long-wheelbase version as tested here) should trigger the birth of a new sub-brand. You need to think of the core BMW models, such as a 120i or 330d, as being at the centre of a line with two wings stretching either side. For the customers who are keen drivers, along one wing you have M Performance (stage one, including cars like the M240i) and then proper M Division (stage two, M2, M4 etc.). In the other direction, with a focus on saving the planet, stage two is already represented by the aforementioned i-brand products, so to neaten everything up and balance the corporate naming policies, here we have iPerformance (eco stage one).

This simply denotes any regular BMW that has some of the know-how of the i division filtered into it, with the 740e and all subsequent models receiving the nomenclature. Additionally, the existing BMW PHEVs (which began with the X5 xDrive40e last year, a car that was soon joined by the 225xe Active Tourer and the 330e) will now all be called iPerformance too, which must please early adopters of these three machines who are now left with advanced part-EVs that already appear to have been superseded. But there we are.

However, like all of BMW's PHEVs, the 740e doesn't look much different to its conventionally powered brethren. There's a plug-in charging flap on the front nearside wing, while just below it (and mirrored on the other side of the car) is the small, blue-tinged 'i' logo that is the insignia of iPerformance. On the C-pillar are 'eDrive' legends and of course there's the 'e' badging after the model number on the boot lid, while the observant among you might have noticed blue highlights in the kidney grilles and the same colour forming small circles around the BMW roundels on the 740Le's alloy wheels. Other than that, it's standard Seven fare and the same goes for the splendid interior, which is augmented by an eDrive switch on the centre console and a few additional displays/read-outs in both the iDrive screens and that beautiful TFT instrument cluster.

The 7 Series plug-in hybrid can be had in regular-wheelbase, rear-wheel drive format as the 740e, or as a long-wheelbase, all-wheel drive behemoth, which is what we're in here: the 740Le xDrive iPerformance. There is a third option in other markets, which is the 740Le with just rear-wheel drive, but it's not on BMW UK's price lists so it looks like we have just the two PHEV Seven choices. Having all corners traction affects the eco stats, as the 740e manages marginally improved bests of 45g/km and 141.2mpg. Nevertheless, the 740Le xDrive is BMW's part-electric flagship - but does it feel like the best of its type?

How does it drive?

Gloriously. Absolutely, utterly gloriously, and it's far more impressive all round than any of the other BMW PHEVs so far, save for the i8 pioneer itself - which, of course, is a much different machine in terms of its primary purpose. The 740Le uses the familiar 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine that both the X5 40e and 330e use, although in the Seven it's closer in specification to the SUV's drivetrain than the detuned effort in the 3 Series. However, BMW has slightly improved the power of the 2.0-litre compared to the X5, as in the 740Le it delivers 258hp and 400Nm, making this BMW's most powerful (road-going) four-banger yet made.

That makes for system maximums of 326hp and 500Nm, so while it's more powerful than the 730d, it's relatively torque-light compared to the regular Seven range, cars that all have more than 620Nm. But it never feels it. In fact, when you get both the combustion and e-motors spinning away together, the 740Le fair flies along. It accumulates pace in a strong, linear surge and there's a wonderful smoothness about the way the four-cylinder engine revs. It feels more civilised here than the slightly coarse noises it makes in the 330e and X5 40e, albeit some of that might be down to the level of sound-deadening packed into the 7 Series limo.

Nevertheless, the drivetrain is extremely cultured at all times, with the typically seamless switching between EV, petrol and hybrid running in Auto eDrive preserved. And that couples with the Seven's fabulous air-sprung ride qualities to make for a car that is simply the epitome of road-going comfort. The 740Le never once lets its occupants know what the surface of the road beneath its tyres is like; it glides along in undisturbed luxury, softening out all bumps, ripples and compressions into nothing. If you lock it into Max eDrive, where you have a 28-mile range (the rear-wheel drive 740 PHEVs can go 30 miles) and a limited top speed of 88mph, things become eerily smooth. In this fashion, the 740Le is completely beguiling.

We did, however, knock it over into Sport mode and start driving it like an overgrown 3 Series on twisting roads, and still the 740Le didn't disappoint. It's not the most precise of vehicles, but the air suspension keeps the body on a level keel and the steering is surprisingly pleasant to operate; not M quality in terms of feedback, but more than capable of holding its own in the 7 Series' sector. The brakes seem to lack any of that weird two-stage feeling that regenerative items often possess and the engine sounds really appealing, growling away angrily as it approaches the redline. So despite the fact it is packing four-wheel drive and a load of heavy electrical gear, the 740Le remains a far more invigorating steer than any of its main rivals in the class.

Of course, such antics didn't help our overall fuel consumption and once again it's the familiar tale of the grim reality versus the fantastical official figures. Covering 46 miles of fairly quick driving with climate control running the whole time, and spending only brief periods with the car in full EV mode, we saw 36.2mpg and 22.6kWh battery usage. Disappointing? Well, let's put that into context. On a similar test route last year, we only managed 33.2mpg from the 730d. If you can charge the 740Le on a regular basis and you only commute 20-30 miles to work, we know fine well these PHEVs get a lot closer to their astronomical official figures. Also, if we'd been just a touch more careful, then an average of over 40mpg would not have been out of the question and that was on mixed routes - come on, 40mpg for a massive executive petrol saloon that does 0-62mph in 5.3 seconds and feels thoroughly premium in every respect? That's not bad at all, we reckon.

And aside from the fact that cars with a list price in excess of 60,000 don't qualify for the 2,500 Government plug-in car grant, think of the other financial benefits you get: it's the cheapest new 7 Series bar some versions of the 730d, there's zero road tax, it has the ability to drive into London's Congestion Charging Zone for free, it qualifies for lowly seven per cent Benefit-in-Kind company car tax (for the remainder of the 2016/17 financial year; and you need to keep it on smaller wheels, as at 50g/km the BIK jumps up to 11 per cent)... plus, it's very hard to put a price on such unparalleled refinement as this. So sure, it might on the face of it seem like a cop-out to gloss over the 740Le's returns - especially when we criticised the X5 40e and 330e for their real-world economy - but the Seven sits in a rarefied echelon in which private buyers don't care that much about fuel consumptio, and, for professional drivers, the 740Le still has the potential to be the most frugal in the line-up if it's used correctly.

Verdict

It takes barely 500 metres behind the wheel of the new 740Le xDrive iPerformance before you realise that BMW has pulled off a PHEV blinder here. The zero-emissions running potential, electrically-boosted torque characteristics and super-quiet drivetrain all play up to the Seven's new-found strength of supreme ride comfort, which means that - even with some belting diesel and V8 petrol options on the table - it's this unbelievably slick and sumptuous hybrid 740Le that we'd pick first and foremost if we were in the market for a luxury executive right now. Magnificent stuff.

4 4 4 4 4 Exterior Design

5 5 5 5 5 Interior Ambience

5 5 5 5 5 Passenger Space

3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 Luggage Space

5 5 5 5 5 Safety

5 5 5 5 5 Comfort

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Driving Dynamics

5 5 5 5 5 Powertrain


Matt Robinson - 2 Aug 2016









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2016 BMW 740Le xDrive iPerformance. Image by BMW.2016 BMW 740Le xDrive iPerformance. Image by BMW.2016 BMW 740Le xDrive iPerformance. Image by BMW.2016 BMW 740Le xDrive iPerformance. Image by BMW.2016 BMW 740Le xDrive iPerformance. Image by BMW.

2016 BMW 740Le xDrive iPerformance. Image by BMW.2016 BMW 740Le xDrive iPerformance. Image by BMW.2016 BMW 740Le xDrive iPerformance. Image by BMW.2016 BMW 740Le xDrive iPerformance. Image by BMW.2016 BMW 740Le xDrive iPerformance. Image by BMW.








 

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