This test car (actually two, we drove the 740e in both Detroit and Seattle), was fairly light on options. The $400 cold weather package added heated seats both front and rear as well as a heated steering wheel. We also had the $1,700 driving assistance package, the $700 parking assistance package and the $900 panoramic sky LED roof. All in, the car stickered for about $100,000.
Managing Editor Greg Rasa: The big BMW arrived on the same day as houseguests, so we did what we always do with visitors — took them to see the Bothell crows. One of the nation’s largest colonies of Corvidae, they call the University of Washington-Bothell home and have inspired UW research and several books. Each evening, 16,000 birds return to campus from across the Seattle area. They socialize noisily at dusk and then, on some mysterious signal, roost and fall silent. One key detail, noted over many visits: Though thousands of crows caw and whirl overhead, there’s never any poop. The campus grounds are spotless. The birds must not want to foul their home. But on this night, in a wide-open, empty parking lot, one crow singled out the BMW, adding a galaxy of goo to the Panoramic Sky Lounge moonroof’s starry firmament of LED lights. Crows are tricksters. Did the bomber identify the car as a $100,000 BMW? Was this a bird joke? Or an editorial comment?
Inside the 740e, things were much more serene. It has acres of legroom for chauffeuring passengers around in a large lap of luxury. This car is more than 17 feet long and weighs 4,740 pounds, but it doesn’t look big — maybe it just seems small behind its enormous kidney grille. And it doesn’t drive big. The ride is quiet and luxurious, though Sport mode firms things up considerably. Its twin-turbo 2.0-liter four and electric motor combine for 322 horsepower and 369 pound-feet of torque.
The 9.2 kWh lithium-ion battery will take a charge in under three hours when plugged in. It can also be charged directly from the engine. Pure EV range is 13-14 miles, and because the EV mode names are confusing, a trip in “Battery Control” quickly drained the reserve. “Auto eDrive” and “Max eDrive” provide a balance of propulsion systems. The battery robs trunk space, leaving a two-tier arrangement that is still enough for a few suitcases. And the gas tank shrinks from 20.6 gallons in the non-PHEV 7 Series to 12.1 gallons in the 740e. But that’s made up for by an EPA combined rating of 64 MPGe.
BMW’s gesture controls are still more of a distraction than just using the control-controls. Why twirl your finger when the radio knob is right there?
The lane-keeping technology literally fought me for the wheel, one of the most insistent/obnoxious systems out there. And the adaptive cruise was slow to react when a car moved into the lane ahead. It bears repeating: Don’t trust these technologies, not from any automaker. Watch them like a hawk. Or a crow.
Associate Editor Reese Counts: I dig the 7 Series in all its forms. It’s hard not to love a big, comfy, well-appointed luxury yacht, especially one that has a silent running mode like this one. Being able to cruise along in near silence is one of those things about EVs and PHEVs that I don’t believe gets enough attention. Sure, I love the sound of a burly V8 or screaming V12, but sometimes I just want to sit, relax and listen to music or a podcast on my commute home.
That said, I don’t know if this is quite the car for me. The range is too short for my tastes. If I was looking for a PHEV, ideally I’d like something that could get be to work and back without having to plug in. I’m glad BMW offers a plug-in variant, and I’m confident things will get better as battery technology improves, but for $100,000, I’m sticking with the 445-horsepower, V8-powered 750i.
Assistant Editor Zac Palmer: I was skeptical of BMW’s decision to put the four-cylinder in the 7 Series, but after driving it, the combination between it and the potent electric motor makes for a sneakily quick car. Not only does it feel fast, but the electric motor fills the gap between throttle stabs and boost buildup nicely. Electrification is a good thing in this instance. I was able to make it about 12 miles in total silence and serenity during my morning commute before the engine turned on — the battery was drained by then, though.
Some parts of the driving experience were peculiarly clunky. When using the auto-hold feature in traffic, there’s a noticeable click felt through the pedal every time it engages. The regenerative brakes themselves are some of the worst I’ve felt in hybrid and plug-in hybrid vehicles too. I never quite got it down due to the spongy feel and inconsistency in braking pressure applied. Also, the handoff between the electric motor and gasoline engine was more abrupt than I expected from a $100,000 luxury car sometimes. Its lane-keeping assist function felt half-baked, even compared to systems on much more expensive cars. If the road wasn’t straight, it would struggle mightily to keep it between the lines.
The S-Class interior takes the 7 Series as far as luxury goes, but thoughtful touches here and there like the LED lighting in the moonroof still make it an endearing place to be. Driving a large luxury barge like this one using only electricity is strangely satisfying too. A big V12 is still the pinnacle of luxury motoring in my book, but there’s something to be said for wafting down the highway hearing nothing but your own breathing.