BMW is currently at a crossroads. The Bavarian brand known for high-revving, tire-scorching performance is now more in the business of making fuel-efficient hybrids and electric cars. BMW is in the process of adding an electric or hybrid powertrain to every mainstream model in the Bavarian lineup. This is difficult for BMW fans to accept, as we’re typically the type to prefer violently burnt fuel over quietly efficient electrons. However the change is coming and there’s no sign of slowing down.
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So we decided to jump on board the hybrid train and see how we like it. Or, rather, BMW allowed me to drive a 2016 BMW 740e xDrive iPerformance, a very expensive hybrid luxury car, because they might be a bit crazy. During my time with the BMW 740e, I came to two rather different conclusions about the car and sort of about hybrids in general.
But before we get into that, a little about the car: For hybrid duty, the BMW 740e packs a new 2.0 liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine (known internally as B48) engine that is paired with an electric motor, which combine to send power through an eight-speed automatic transmission. The 2.0 liter engine develops 255 hp and the electric motor to make 111 hp. Those two combine to make 322 hp, because weird maths. While 322 hp is relatively pedestrian by the luxury car standards of today, its torque figure is actually quite impressive. Actually, the figure itself, 369 lb-ft, isn’t anything to boast about, but it’s the torque delivery that impresses. Electric motors provide instantaneous torque, without the need to rev, so when combined with the engine the 740e develops peak torque at 1,250 rpm.
That means 0-60 mph comes in a scant 5.5 seconds, making this quick for a two-and-a-bit-ton hybrid. But speed and performance aren’t what the BMW 740e is all about. It’s really about fuel efficiency and helping to bring BMW’s overall mpg up and emissions down. BMW claims a possible 75 MPGe when the battery is fully charged. Now, I’m not really sure how to calculate MPGe, because my brain starts to hurt and I lie down when I try, but during my driving the big 7er, it averaged about 21 mph on the trip computer. And while that’s not bad for such a big, heavy luxury car, it leads me to my first opinion about the 7 Series.
It’s Not as Good as the Diesel
Making the 7 Series a hybrid costs a lot of extra. Extra weight, extra cost and extra headaches. First thing’s first, the 740e is a tank of a car. Thanks to the extra weight of the batteries, it weighs what seems like the same amount as a medium-sized moon. And it feels it on the road. Thanks to all of that extra weight, it doesn’t transition into turns nearly as well as a 740i or even a 750i, so it always feels portly. It heaved and rolled around like a work van loaded with pianos in Comfort mode and was seemingly even worse in Comfort Plus, though that could just be because of the overly floaty feeling of the latter mode.
Then there’s the cost. The BMW 740e xDrive iPerformance starts life at $89,100, almost $10,000 more than the standard BMW 740i. The model I tested wore an as-tested price tag of $100,595. That’s a lot of money for a four-cylinder luxury car that didn’t have the Bowers & Wilkins Diamond surround sound system, a rear entertainment package, a heated steering wheel or even heated rear seats. The reason it costs so much is because of the hybrid powertrain, so you’d think that it’s extra efficiency makes up for the extra cost. Except it clearly doesn’t.
Then, there’s the fact that, for the 740e to get you the most fuel economy and performance out of the hybrid powertrain, it needs to be charged as well as fueled. Now, I’m more of a fan of plug-in hybrids than pure electric cars, because they offer far more range and are more usable. However, I absolutely do not prefer them over standard internal combustion powertrains. The idea that I have to be concerned about both its state of charge and fuel is annoying, regardless of how easy it is to check the fancy Display Key (which is flipping cool, by the way). Maybe it’s just me, but it isn’t luxurious to have to be worried about the car’s charge every 19 miles. Admittedly, driving it in Sport mode and driving fast does increase the battery’s charge, so that’s what I did my entire time with the car. I’m frustrating, I know.
So is the 740e iPerformance worth getting if you like your luxury cars with a side of humble-braggy eco-friendliness? If you live in America, I suppose so. The idea is that the 740e is supposed to be the fuel-efficient variant of the 7 Series and, compared to models like the twin-turbo V8 750i, it is. However, in Europe you can get the 7 Series with a choice of diesel engines, all of which are brilliant. The diesels, especially the 730d, are more affordable cars to begin with, wearing lower price tags, offer far better fuel economy and are so much simpler to drive. Just refuel when you’re empty. Easy. So if you can get a diesel variant, get that.
However, if you want a hybrid luxury car and don’t care about the fuel economy or how diesels are better, this is a great choice. Which leads to my second conclusion, one quite similar to how I felt about the BMW X5 xDrive40e.
It’s Brilliant Just as a Car
If you put all of the aforementioned gripes of its existence aside and forget that diesels exist and the fuel economy is useless, the BMW 740e iPerformance is a brilliant car. Properly genius stuff by BMW.
As I mentioned before, I’m not a fan of hybrids. But this powertrain is nothing else but a work of mechanical art. Thumb the starter button with your foot on the brake and it starts in pure electric mode. Everything turns on with a silent efficiency, as electrons fire away. The seat moves into your memory position and the steering wheel is placed in your hands. A silent ballet (thanks for the term, Rolls Royce). Push the funky shift lever into reverse and the most incredible back-up and 360 degree surround view appears on the iDrive screen (more on that in a bit). As you set off, the entire car is unbelievably silent and noise never ends up filtering through to the cabin, except for the ever-so-hushed whir of the electric motor doing its thing.
This made me realize just how well hybrid powertrains work in luxury cars. They offer the most silent form of motoring and, in the luxury world, silence is priceless. At triple digit speeds, it’s whisper quiet on the inside and incredibly serene, thanks to the four-pot being so quiet and the electric motor helping it out. In Comfort Plus, it’s magic carpet smooth. So I can certainly see the appeal for luxury buyers who put a premium on silence.
But dip your foot into the gas pedal or slap the funky ceramic-coated shifter into Sport mode and the engine kicks on seamlessly. Seriously, without looking a the gauge cluster, I had difficulty differentiating between the two. The engine kicking on is so smooth and seamless, it’s a genuine testament to the work done by BMW’s engineers. And when both powerplants are working in tandem, the 740e is properly quick.
It has something called torque-fill, where the electric motor can fill in the torque absent from the turbo lag, so acceleration is instant, even at high speed. I went into this test thinking it was going to be slow and boring, but the 740e pulls like a freight train, it was genuinely shocking. On the highway, cruising at 70 mph, if you want to overtake, a simple stab of the pedal and the big 7er will hit 90 mph in a couple of blinks. I was floored at the performance of this little four-cylinder hybrid powertrain. Would it be as quick as a 750i? No, but the way in which it delivers torque is surprising for what this car is, especially considering its extra weight penalty.
Start throwing the 740e into corners and things start to fall apart a bit, though. While a competent handler, it never inspires confidence or wants to be pushed through corners. I wonder how much of that is the hybrid powertrain’s extra weight or how much was the standard all-season tires and lack of sporty suspension (my tester unfortunately lacked the M Sport package). The steering is very accurate for such a big car but it’s overly light. While it’s completely numb, that’s really not an issue in this segment, as that’s what customers want and no one wants a 7 Series with M2 steering (except for us lunatics).
All About the Tech
But no one buys this car to toss it around. They buy this car to drive in silky-smooth and serene comfort while being able to stream Pandora from their phone using the car’s iDrive 6.0 and in-car WiFi. And if you do that, this car is quite lovely to drive and to ride in. First of all, the new iDrive system is brilliant. While having four different means of controlling the system (via the iDrive controller, hand gestures, touchscreen or steering wheel controls) seems incredibly redundant, each of the inputs seem to have their place.
For instance, despite having steering wheel controls, I often found myself using the Gesture Control to lower the volume or change the song. Most of the time, I used the iDrive controller to handle most tasks, but for searching the nav it was easier to touch the screen, pinch and drag. So each control has its use and purpose and never feels like too much. However, being Italians from New Jersey, myself and my wife accidentally changed the volume or song because we were talking with our hands (good call, Motor Trend).
In a Nutshell
I give hybrids and electric cars a hard time because I’m a hopeless Luddite who fears the end of the internal combustion engine that I love so dearly. However, I must admit that, as a car, the BMW 740e iPerformance performs its task perfectly. For a wealthy person with the desire for a green image, it’s hard to fault the 740e. It’s quite, comfortable, packed to its nostrils with incredible technology, looks good (just not in Jatoba Brown like my tester), has a great interior and the ability to waft in complete silence as you judge your lesser green peers. If that’s what you’re into, this is a great car. But I still think the diesel’s better.