BMW’s luxo-barge goes down enhanced and business-friendly hybrid route
Hot on the heels of the conventionally powered 7-Series launch, highlights Iain Robertson, Germany’s most profitable carmaker has adopted PHEV technology for its top-drawer newcomer that is set to hit UK roads from mid-March…big snout and all.
Ever since BMW ‘nicked’ both Mini and Rolls-Royce brands from former British ownership, it has done its level best to enhance its Teutonic offerings. Its temporary stewardship of Land Rover (before it hived it off at a big profit to Ford, which then gifted it to the Indian Tata Corporation) gave it the momentum to create an entire X-line of models that started with the X5 but now incorporates models from X1 to X7.
While cocaine snorting, the foolish ‘sport’ of some seriously wealthy people, is usually represented by enlarged nostrils, you can view the growth of the Bavarian firm’s signature ‘Double Kidney’ radiator grille over its several generations of 7-Series. While I am sure that BMW’s design team is not demonstrating a reliance on the ‘Bolivian marching powder’, if the vastly enlarged chrome-plated appendage grows any bigger, it may supersede even that of the Rolls-Royce!
Boasting a long-time commitment to eco-friendly transport, the latest plug-in hybrid line-up for the Bavarian firm’s flagship 7-Series has now been revealed, with performance, technology and luxury coupled to a short-distance emissions-free capability. Engaging feel-good executive ambience with increased efficiency, there is a choice of two eco-variants in the new range: the BMW 745e and the longer wheelbase BMW 745Le xDrive, the latter of which gets intelligent all-wheel drive.
The plug-in hybrid system consists of a six-cylinder in-line petrol engine and an advanced high-voltage battery, with an enlarged capacity compared to previous plug-in models. This provides a boost in power output and torque, as well as improved figures for pure EV range, fuel consumption and CO2 emissions.
Its potency comes from a 3.0-litre BMW EfficientDynamics engine that produces a maximum power output of 286bhp, in combination with an electric motor, which is rated at 113bhp, with its own 195lbs ft of instant torque. BMW’s development of a new lithium-ion battery pack features the very latest battery cell technology and important expanded storage capacity. Of the three selectable driving modes (Sport, EV, Hybrid), in Sport the two power sources combine to give a total power output of 394bhp (it is never the sum of the individually quoted figures for reasons best described as ‘minor power losses’) and a whopping 442lbs ft of torque, which delivers vibrant sports car-like acceleration, which self-drivers will appreciate.
The car’s hybrid system features ‘intelligent energy management’ to ensure a precisely controlled interaction between the two power units, including an intriguing preview function that works with the car’s sat-nav to assign electric power more ingeniously and efficiently on a pre-planned driving route. Naturally, BMW has a reputation to honour and, in performance terms, the 745e accelerates from 0-60mph in a bristling 4.9s. The slightly larger 745Le xDrive version cuts that time down to just 4.8s, thanks to the greater traction of its 4WD system. The top speed for either model is electronically limited to a politically-expedient maximum of 155mph.
The new high-voltage, lithium-ion battery for the plug-in hybrid 7-Series has an increased capacity of 12.0kWh, allowing electric power to be enjoyed beyond city limits (it also features an acoustic enhancement, which enables it to be heard in urban zones, as a pedestrian safety feature). In Hybrid mode, each version of the 745e can travel at up to 68mph in prioritised electric mode, the petrol engine not joining-in until the car reaches that speed, or unless it is under a particularly heavy load, when it will trip-in automatically. In Electric mode, the power of the electric motor alone is sufficient to reach a maximum speed of 87mph. Much like other PHEVs, the 745e has a maximum EV-only range of around 36 miles in ideal driving conditions (the heavier 745Le xDrive can manage around 34 miles).
BMW has posted both fuel consumption and exhaust emissions improvements, the 745e attaining an official combined consumption of up to 141mpg (on the NEDC cycle), with CO2 emissions rated at 48g/km. While providing neither a totally ‘tax-free’, nor ‘congestion charge-free’ situation, on an executive car that is priced from £76,815 (prior to dealer discounts being negotiated), BMW can polish its eco-friendly credentials with a degree of confidence.
Of course, it would not be a BMW without an exhaustive options list and whipping-up a 7-Series that knocks on the £100k door is perfectly within the bounds of boardroom credibility. However, the ‘standard’ offering epitomises the luxury car category to perfection, its use of fine quality materials, the neatest stitching, the matching of alloy trimmings to soft-touch fabrics that have long been BMW core features, results in unerring customer satisfaction, even though the end result, while not as clinical as an equivalent Audi, or as cold as a big Merc, lacks the warmth of classical British interior craftsmanship. The digital instrument panel ahead of the driver is now totally configurable, as is the central screen atop the centre stack and battery behaviour can be monitored as judiciously as any other aspect.
Chassis dynamics are something else, of course. Once again, BMW has a responsibility to both itself and its customers to provide a high level of autobahn-cruise potential. The 745e is beautifully balanced, with a crisp turn-in to corners, its adaptive damping taking care to reduce dive under braking, or rear-end squat under acceleration, while ensuring roll-free progress on twisting back-doubles and loping comfort on main roads. It is typical big BMW in those respects and raises no eyebrows in maintaining its aims. Naturally, it is packed to the gunwales with electronic gubbins in terms of both driver aids and silliness avoidance programs.
Since the early-1980s, BMW has been working to improve its various models’ overall efficiency ratings and, for that, it must be applauded. I still have fond memories of the original 525e, or ‘eta’, as it was known, which set a new technological benchmark for the brand (a ‘big-six’ capable of returning 40+mpg without trying too hard). The new 745e, while scarcely establishing fresh standards, does refine the PHEV package to new peaks. BMW’s biggest luxury car has always been impressively comfortable and impeccably well-built and the addition of an ‘eta/e’ designation is like a cherry atop a moderately expensive cake that does not diminish its overall business desirability.