There’s a lot that’s big about the 2018 BMW 740e xDrive iPerformance hybrid, including its mouthful of a name. But while the car delivers a huge presence in size and speed, BMW’s ostensibly helpful driving aids fell way, way short of what I expected.
I came away from my time with the BMW 7 Series hybrid basically confused about how to feel. The car is an absolute joy to drive. But with its semi-autonomous technology—available as a package of add-ons—I never once felt confident in how the car handled the road. So what’s the point of it?
(Full Disclosure: BMW wanted us to drive its new 2018 7 Series plug-in hybrid with a really long name so badly that its reps let me borrow one for a weeklong trip to Michigan.)
All told, with the tech out of the picture, luxury buyers can’t go wrong with how economical and spacious the 740e is. But if BMW thinks it could persuade tech-forward buyers who want to utilize a Tesla Autopilot-like package that includes adaptive cruise control and lane-keep, I think it has its work cut out here.
Electrified cars tend to have that fact front and center in the styling of the body, but BMW kept this sedan sleek. You have to really squint to notice the 740e’s badges to realize it’s a hybrid. Compared to the regular 7 Series, the hybrid’s more expensive, but it carries better fuel efficiency—I notched roughly 30 mpg on the highway—and has more power. The 2.0-liter TwinPower Turbo inline four coupled with an AC Synchronous Electric Motor is rated to make 322 horsepower and 369 lb-ft of torque. That feels like plenty too, despite the cars’s substantial 4,740 pound curb weight.
The interior is vast; if you’re looking to take a nap in the passenger seat, you can recline to the point where you’re basically horizontal. It’s delightful. Those in the back have ample room to stretch their legs, with personalized HVAC settings and—a feature that shocked my mom who hasn’t seen one in a car in ages—an ashtray that pops out.
The center dash and infotainment is clean and easy to use, a far cry from the clumsy handling of Cadillac’s CUE system, which at this nearly six-figure point, I should hope is the case.
The engine itself is quiet as a mouse. Driving on the highway through Pennsylvania, I felt insulated from the world. With dual panoramic sunroofs—an option at $900—providing ample loads of vitamin D, I felt like I was basically gliding along the road. It was gloriously serene. My girlfriend’s dad could barely believe the car had an internal combustion engine when I pulled up to greet him during my recent stay in Michigan. I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if he still didn’t believe me.
And though the car doesn’t show it, the 7 Series hybrid also packs a punch if you’re looking to jam. 0 to 60 is roughly five seconds, and I never felt myself longing for more power. That’s a strange thing to say in a story about a four-cylinder 7 Series but of course the gas engine is only part of the equation here.
It’s hard to overstate how much space there is to breathe inside and in the trunk. The 740e is 206.6 inches long, and into cavernous cargo area you could stuff a couple overnight bags, while still having plenty of space to load up at the grocery store. Maybe you’re going on a camping trip?
There’s so much to like about the 7 Series, but if it’s meant to have a suite of 21st Century driving aids to make BMW owners feel safe and secure (just like practically every new model nowadays), and give them the ability to let the car handle steering and speed, I feel like something was lost along the way.
As a $3,400 option, BMW offers its Driving Assistance Package (head-up display, lane departure warning, active blind spot detection), and Driving Assistance Plus Package (lane keep, adaptive cruise control). This helped beef the price of the trim I drove to $99,845, from the base price of $90,700, but whatever confidence the 740e exudes in a traditional driving scenario is lost when these features are engaged.
I couldn’t recall an extended period of time on the trip from NYC to Michigan and back where I had this system running and I felt like I could trust it. No semi-autonomous system is perfect (a problem in its own right), but this felt haphazard. I’d hit a bend on the highway and the car would occasionally merge into the next lane, before kicking on BMW’s lane departure warning and side collision protection, which sends me back into the lane, constantly ping-ponging in between the lines.
The system never felt sure of itself. BMW, like every automaker that has a semi-autonomous system available, implores drivers to pay attention—legally, they have to—while at the same time find comfort in a system that, in theory, is supposed to operate the car to some degree independently of your control. I paid close attention to the road out of necessity. If Tesla’s Autopilot is the gold star in capability, and General Motors’ Super Cruise is the top system for safety, BMW’s felt like an experiment. The most interesting thing about the system was what happens when you take your hands off the wheel for about five seconds: Little hands appear on the dash in front of you, reaching for the wheel—a gesture you’re supposed to follow. That’s the one feature here I like.
The other sorely lacking item here is the total electric range that’s generated by the car’s 9.2 kWh lithium ion battery: only about 14 miles. In an entry-level premium car market that might make sense, but here it’s lacking, especially compared to the size and scope of the car itself.
If you’re into the idea of a hybrid 7-Series, front the extra loot to buy the base model of the 740e, but leave out the Driver Assistance packages.
But the tradeoff of the up-front costs for hybrid in the long run, instead of its standard 7-Series counterpart, is the savings generated in fuel. Owners with charging hookups at work could probably save serious cash at the pump—in combined driving the car is supposed to get an average of 64 mpg when operating with the hybrid power—and that says a lot for a car this size.
At 15,000 miles per year, the non-electric BMW 740i xDrive will cost you $2,200 in fuel, according to the EPA, while that figure would be $1,550 in a 740e. Assuming you keep the car three years, that’s almost two grand of gas savings and you get to tell people how green you are.
Maybe one day the roominess of a 7 Series can be utilized with a more capable autonomous driving suite, but until then, at least the 740e is a wonderful car to drive yourself without making you feel too guilty about guzzling gas.