Welcome to Critic's Notebook, a quick and off-the-cuff car review consisting of impressions, jottings, and marginalia regarding whateverThe Autance writers happen to be driving. Today's edition: the 2018 BMW 740e xDrive iPerformance.
Large luxury sedans have traditionally been about excess. There's no practical reason to cram a 12-cylinder engine cranking out supercar-worthy power into the hood of a giant four-door that'll never set a tire on a track; buyers simply want such power, simply because they can have it. But even the status-minded backseat riders who buy fancy four-doors with six-figure pricetags are starting to see a reason to buy cars with hybrid powertrains. In some cases, it's presumably a desire to escape onerous congestion charges or to legally sneak into traffic-avoiding HOV lanes; in others, it's likely to earn kudos from eco-minded friends, family, and neighbors; and sometimes, no doubt, it's out of an earnest desire to cut back on carbon emissions.
Regardless of why, though, there's clearly a market there. As such, the last few years have seen a series of plug-in hybrid sedans designed for the 1 percent of the 1 percent. Cadillac now sells the made-in-China-but-don't-think-less-of-it-for-that CT6 Plug-In Hybrid; Mercedes-Benz offers an S-Class that pairs a twin-turbo V6 with an electric motor (and will soon offer wireless charging for it, to boot); Porsche offers the Panamera in no fewer than four plug-in hybrid variants, including two long-wheelbase Executive versions ideally suited to Wall Street execs who want to be driven up and down the winding Merritt Parkway at twice the speed limit.
But it's BMW's wall-charging hybrid 7 Series that strays farthest from its original mission brief of "fanciest Ultimate Driving Machine." The 740e xDrive iPerformance generates roughly as much power as the turbocharged-inline-six-powered 740i, but does so by combining an electric motor with the same 2.0-liter turbo-four found in the humble 230i. If that powertrain combo seems familiar, well, you're probably remember Lawrence Ulrich's review of the 530e iPerformance, which uses the same setup in a lower state of tune.
Your humble author spent a couple days tooling around the urban confines of Manhattan, while deputy editor Josh Condon took it on a multi-state highway blast to the greater Boston area and back again. Here, we compare our respective pluses and minuses about this plus-sized plug-in Bimmer.
- I’ve always loved the driver-oriented minimalism of BMW cockpits, and this is a great example why: clean, streamlined design with the center stack oh-so-slightly canted toward the pilot.
- There’s a solidity to the exterior design that I appreciate. No extraneous character lines or forced personality; it looks like it started life as a massive ingot of steel that was superheated and shaped into an oversized bullet. If Phillipe Stack made a cannon projectile, it would look like this.
- In highway driving there was just the necessary amount of punch and linear accelerative pull for a large luxury sedan; the torque-y electric motors do a good, not to say unnoticeable job of filling in the power deficiencies from the four-cylinder engine. For the type of stately vehicle that really deserves a smooth straight-six, if not a full V12, I was pleasantly surprised by its ability to boogie when asked.
Will Sabel Courtney:
- It's remarkable how nimble this car feels, considering its axles are more than 20 inches farther apart than a Smart ForTwo is long. It may not have the flowing, hyper-intuitive steering of BMWs past—then again, pretty much no modern car does—but it's not only is it easy to pitch it around like a 3 Series, it's pretty damn fun. Between the lighter nose and the electric torque, this would probably be the best 7 Series for winding backroad fun...if that was the deciding factor in your giant luxury sedan purchase, for some bizarre reason.
- This 7er can stay in EV mode far longer than you might think. Carmakers often quote lofty aims for their partially- or fully-electrically-powered vehicles, but this Bimmer seems quite capable of hitting its claimed 14 miles of electric-only operation under ideal conditions. After picking the fully-charged 740e up in Manhattan's Chelsea neighborhood, I was able to make it the whole 10 miles to The Drive's south Brooklyn office on electric power alone, even with a lengthy stopover at home that gave the car hours to cool down in sub-freezing nighttime temperatures. And that was after using taxi-beating levels of acceleration on the way up to 50 miles per hour on the West Side Highway.
- Not only are the gauges gorgeous, as Josh mentioned, they're also complex, constantly adapting to whatever the car is doing. In Eco Pro and Comfort modes, the blue zones that indicate electric-only motion on the speedometer and tachometer—well, it's actually just a power gauge in those drive modes—shift about depending on all sorts of behind-the-scenes calculations. It gives you the sense that this Bimmer is alive, conscious, tirelessly plotting ways to rack up better fuel economy figures.
- Fuel economy was noticeably poor for a hybrid—though most of the driving I did was a straight highway run, which is the worst use-case for a hybrid. Still, I started in NYC with three-quarters of a tank, and had to fill up well before I reached my destination in Massachusetts, some 200 miles away. Hard to see anyone being sold on that mileage. But, it’s a barge—it’s hardly shocking.
- A foot locker has more usable trunk space.
Will Sabel Courtney
- Viewed as a way to boost gas mileage in urban areas, the hybrid system makes sense. Viewed as a way to enable pure EV driving on a regular basis, it doesn't. 10–14 miles on a charge isn't really enough to enable any sort of meaningful travel—even my drive to Brooklyn was only possible because I was only going one way, not making the sort of round trip most folks would be during a commute.
- The 740e is plenty peppy for the real world, but anyone used to the liquid surge of a V8 in these sorts of cars—let alone the turbocharged 12-cylinder rush of a machine like the M760Li—will find it lacking in both accelerative ease and overall drama. The drive never feels effortless the way it does in more powerful models...which, I'd imagine, is one of the most appealing parts of the experience for those master-of-the-universe types.
The 2018 BMW 740e xDrive iPerformance, Ranked:
Hauling people: 4/5
Hauling stuff: 3/5
Curb appeal: 4/5
“Wow” factor: 3/5
The Bottom Line:
I'd imagine most 740e xDrives will wind up being used like regular, non-pluggable hybrids most of the time, with the charge serving as a value-add for the first few miles of the day. Still, if you drive the average 30-35 miles to and from work every day and have set parking spots at work and at home to recharge every day—and if you're the kinda guy or gal who drives a $100,000 luxury sedan, you probably do—fully two-thirds of your commute could easily occur under electric power. That may not be as psychologically soothing as, say, the Chevrolet Volt's ability to travel exclusively on electric power for the average American daily drive, but it's still a massive efficiency gain over a conventionally-powered car—and a real reason to consider opting for this car over its big Bimmer brethren.
Because if you can live with the less-than-spectacular-but-more-than-adequate thrust, the 740e gives up nothing to the rest of the 7 Series lineup. Its interior is every bit as elegant, refined, and comfortable as any other 7er—which is to say, as decadent a place to cover a few hundred miles as anything short of a Rolls-Royce or Bentley. It can be equipped with an arsenal of semi-autonomous driver aids and high-tech comfort features. For a few thousand dollars of options, the back seat can be transformed into an earthbound Emirates first-class suite, complete with (partially) reclining massaging thrones, a scented in-cabin air ionizer, and an entertainment system with dual TVs—all of which this hybrid's 9.2-kWh battery pack will be more than happy to keep running.
Of course, that means you can rack up quite a lofty price tag for what, technically, is a four-cylinder four-door; while our tester came in at an Applebee's dinner less than $100K, I managed to spec one up to more than $123,000 on BMW's online configurator. Unlike the 530e that Ulrich was so fond of, the 740e xDrive costs a few thousand dollars more than its internal combustion-only twin. But in the rarefied air of cars costing $80,000-plus, a four-thousand-dollar difference is a small enough percentage to be inconsequential. More to the point: Right now, the monthly payment on the hybrid is actually a few bucks lower than the six-cylinder version.
Of course, the average 7 Series buyer likely couldn't give a damn about saving $50 a month. (They probably spend more than that on kitty litter.) But at least a few of captains of industry who live and socialize in places like Manhattan, Connecticut, and California likely would enjoy the slight feeling of superiority that comes from telling their cocktail party companions that their BMW is helping save the planet...or at least getting their teenage children taking AP Earth Science off their backs.
The BMW 740e xDrive iPerformance, By the Numbers:
Base Price (Price as Tested): $91,695 ($99,845)
Powertrain: 2.0-liter turbocharged inline-four making 255 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque, synchronous electric motor making 111 hp and 184 lb.-ft. of torque, total system output 322 hp and 369 lb.-ft.; eight-speed automatic transmission; all-wheel-drive
Fuel Economy: 64 mpg-e on gas and electric with charged battery; 27 mpg combined on gasoline only (EPA)
0-60 MPH: 5.1 seconds (manufacturer figure)
Top Speed: 130 mph
Amount BMW Charges for Apple CarPlay, Which Comes Standard on an $18,000 Hyundai Accent: $300