Test drive: 2017 BMW 740Le xDrive M Sport. Beloved luxury
Leading motoring writer Mark Gallivan takes the 2017 BMW 740Le xDrive M Sport out for a test drive. Here is what he thought.
Being Kim – no, not that Kim – certainly takes it out of you. No sooner have you found enough range for your rockets, but the whole world’s cooked up something else to stop you. Standing around a launch site all day is killer on the feet for any beloved leader. Mind you, you’ll be nice and comfy in the back of your new BMW 740Le xDrive M Sport plug-in-hybrid on the way home. The “e” abbreviation tells everyone you’re not just a Johnny-come-lately megalomaniac, you’re an environmentalist doing your bit for the dolphins. Whatever they are.
Mercifully, you can now order your own 740e a bit closer to home. Starting in the UK at £81,705 we tested a 740Le xDrive M Sport version with more functions and technology than we ever got around to fully understand. And we had the thing for a whole week. What surprised us, more than the enormous price, was how cleverly this particular 7 Series is powered. It’s a proper plug-in electric vehicle. It has a claimed combined fuel economy of 2.5L/100Km or 113mpg. It’s powered by a just four-cylinder 2.0-litre hybrid petrol and electric engine but employs features such as Gesture Control so instead of twiddling buttons and knobs on the dashboard like we all do, a camera interprets your movement and magically performs infotainment functions without you touching anything. It sounds gimmicky, but you know what, it works surprisingly well.
Launched in June last year, this is the sixth generation 7 Series and is BMW’s latest attempt to give Mercedes a bloody nose. In long wheelbase, this is a very large car stretching 5,248mm and, yes, looks similar to the old one but utilises new techniques learned from the i3 and i8 extensively using carbon fibre reinforced polymer, aluminium and high-tensile steel in the bodyshell and chassis helps it shed 130kg from the previous generation car. Imposing rather than regal it did look tremendously menacing in M Sport with Singapore Grey paint and privacy windows. More imposing than the Jaguar XJ and Audi A8, the 7 Series still hasn’t the questionable ministerial gravitas of a Mercedes S-Class.
By inheriting the hybrid drivetrain from the smaller BMW 330e this is a limo that you can plug-in next to a Prius and with a fairly straight face. Up front is a 2.0-litre 240bhp petrol engine with an 8-speed automatic transmission and replaces the unsuccessful ActiveHybrid 7 in the 750i and full hybrid 740i. Performance is sprightly for such a big car with 0-100km/h taking 5.3 seconds and maximum speed of 249 km/h (155mph) and there’s no tyre scrabbling as xDrive delivers smooth, unbroken traction in virtually all weather conditions. There are several modes to choose from – electric only, battery hold and charge and normal hybrid. BMW claims around 45 km range in electric mode with a full charge though that sounds optimistic and dependant on weather conditions and driving style. We marvelled at how this limo whooshed by in EV mode with no engine sound. It’s the opposing end of a V12 in petrolhead heaven – utter silence – and over the week we found it surprisingly addictive. There’s also a sport mode which sharpens up the throttle, but we kept things in normal mode. No Dictator worth their salt ever hustles. One last thing, remember the 113mpg we mentioned? Yes, that. Without the car fully charged and running solely on petrol power, we only achieved 29mpg. Driven like a Nun you might crack a mid-30s mpg, but that’s about it.
Oh lovely, just lovely. In the long wheelbase version, everyone who sat in the rear cooed and purred at the ambience. Forgetting the front seats for a moment, from the moment you open the truly enormous rear doors (they’re massive) you’re treated to rear legroom that Emirates might struggle to match. A central console runs from the dashboard to the rear seat restricting seating for four people. The seats are pillowed with the softest leather used. Geeky technology abounds with a removable tablet located in rear console so you can adjust your television, send emails and set your massage seats, just so. We opened the operating manual hell bent on figuring out just how everything works, like the 4G connectivity and hotspots. After one hour though, we gave up and got out. We’re pretty certain it’s all lurking in there, somewhere. Travel at night and the configurable interior illumination wows everyone. Activate the reclining business class seats and settle back with the side and rear privacy screens deployed. Not a bad place to hide out if you’re still using your Dad’s barber.
One disappointing aspect of this, the biggest ultimate driving machine, is its steering. It’s a bit too light for us and while the whole experience is super-wafty it offers only average driver engagement. Smooth as butter it may be but you’ll yearn for more feedback. Stepping on things, and you’ll be reminded as well that there’s a small four-cylinder engine up front powering a car this big and it never has the smoothness of a typical BMW six-cylinder engine. In the real world, we’d recommend you stick with the base diesel – the 730d. If you choose the 740e and your daily commute is short, just make sure that you plug-in your 7 Series, last thing. We can’t fault the ride, though – it’s excellent and easily surpasses the Jaguar XJ and Audi A8. But really this is a limousine and as such, it performs with aplomb.
Has the BMW 7 Series booted the Mercedes S-Class off the podium? Not quite. The Mercedes still delivers that higher degree of limousine isolation but with its own endearing personality we’re not quite going to break the S-class-is-the-world’s-best-car mould. But saying that, the BMW is a more entertaining and pleasant car to drive. It’s far cooler and younger spirited than the Mercedes and matches it for endless technology. If your business card say with Tech Evangelist or even Leader, then why not – the BMW 740Le makes an interesting alternative to the S-class obvious.