I have driven the car of the future, today.
OK, we hear stories like this all the time. And usually, the “Car of the Future” is some cobbled-together prototype that has little likelihood of actually making it to market. Or worse, it points to the time when folks like you and I aren’t needed. Just robots, pal.
And if you think an autonomous EV is the wave of the future, I’m going to disagree. While there are plenty of folks who would rather let the machine drive, there are also plenty who still enjoy time behind the wheel. And for that matter, we like the sound of internal combustion engines, too. It’s the difference between a car and just transportation.
So, the nice folks at BMW have created the 2017 plug-in electric 7 series.
740e has all the social graces we expect today, with an efficient and green plug-in hybrid system, but thankfully it is still is a real BMW to drive.
Since the 7-series hybrid buyer is probably more low-key than say a Volt or LEAF driver, the exterior clues are subtle. A tiny “I” badge on the side of the front fender and a chrome E Drive on the C-pillar. And if you if you’re in the know, an e after the “740” on the trunk lid. And if you’re not, there’s a door panel on the front flank to plug in at a charging station.
Which is not to say that the 7-series is any kind of wallflower. Oh, this thing is gorgeous, with crisp modern lines that clearly say BMW, but with an overall size that conveys real presence.
Our tester was in a beautiful finish called Magellan Gray Metallic, which definitely has some brown in it that warms up the color when the light hits it just right. The optional 19” light alloy wheels add some sport, and tasteful amounts of chrome tell you this is a luxury conveyance. It looks the money.
And if you like the exterior, you’ll love the interior. Our tester was wearing a rich brown Mocha Nappa Leather that’s a $1,500 option, and worth every penny. The quality of the hide is superb, and the quilted design, contrasting piping, and stitching make you feel coddled beyond belief.
Our tester took it to the next level with the Executive Package, which includes multi-contour seats – probably the most comfortable, most adjustable seat in any car – and also includes nice stuff like front ventilated seats, ceramic controls and a heads-up display. And oh, for those in back, there are rear sunshades.
This should tell you something about the BMW mindset – executives should be driving – not poodled around town in a chauffeured puff pastry. That said, the rear seat is extremely comfortable, with huge amounts of legroom. So, there will be no griping from those in back.
And no griping from behind the wheel, either. While early BMW’s were challenged in the info-tainment interface department, the newest models are wonderful at giving you an amazingly complex amount of information in a simple concise manner. Nobody does it better at this point.
And there’s some amazing stuff to take in, like an around view monitor that stitches together the background images from its camera and creates a virtual world for your virtual 740e. (See pics).
Most importantly, this is a BMW, so the drive needs to be exceptional.
Yes, and in a surprising manner.
So, if you’re expecting the 740e to give you the newest version of ultra-hybrid performance, like a Porsche 918?Nah.
How about BMW’s own i8 hybrid supercar? The i8 is making a case for a complete re-think of the breed. A fresh look at hyper-formance of the future. Here you see more connective tissue to the 740e. It still drives like an internal combustion vehicle, but it takes hybrid goodness, and creates a tasty new blend.
But don’t go expecting that the 740e will pull you away from the 601 hp turbo V12 model. Or the 445 hp turbo V8 for that matter. And while the performance is probably closer to the 320 hp turbo V6, the above cars are all cut from the same cloth of traditional BMW performance. Add engine size and dollars to suit taste.
The 740e goes a different way. First of all, under the hood is a turbo 4-cylinder. Yes, a turbo 4 in a $100k car. Gulp. 255 hp from a 2.0-liter doesn’t sound like a lot of punch for a car this big, but you have to add in the meaty electric motor that can add 111 hp.
While the power isn’t purely additive, you still get a nice, fat 322 total hp, and equally vital, a big 369 lb-ft of torque at just 1,250 rpm. With standard X-drive and a super-slick 8-speed automatic, you get to use every last drop of power, and the 740e zips away effortlessly, clicking to 60 mph in just over 5 seconds. Very quick.
The four-cylinder is a nice counterpoint here, too. It’s got some texture and sound. Not harsh, not noisy, but you know you have an honest-to-goodness motor there, and it makes you feel like you’re driving.
You can switch to full EV mode and go 28 miles on a full charge – but it makes us feel deprived. – We prefer our peanut butter with a little crunch, super smooth seems a little boring.
Speaking of status quo, we were probably not the poster children for the EV movement. We never stopped to plug in and charge the 740e. Instead, we let it recharge itself while driving around. Probably less efficient.
Definitely much more fun.
Driving in this combined charging mode – think big Prius – we still netted about 32 mpg, not bad for a large luxo cruiser being given the spurs.
Another nice surprise here, with the lighter weight on the nose – courtesy of the 4-cylinder – the big 7 shows some real agility, and responds quickly to the wheel. And the xDrive all-wheel drive gives some needed feedback to the steering.
Add in a nicely supple suspension, and the 740e is a real treat to drive quickly – this car talks to you, in the way BMW’s used to do. It’s probably the slowest of the 7’s – and that’s a relative term – but it may be the most enjoyable in the real world. And it really comes into its own on long freeway trips. Effortless, smooth, but never snoozy.
And if you do get snoozy, there’s some tech on the lookout.
Our tester had Driver Assistance Plus and Driver Assistance Plus II packages ($1,900 and $1,700, respectively) and this gives you the suite of leading edge safety items, including Blind spot detection, Daytime pedestrian protection, lane departure warning, Active driving assistant plus, active cruise with full stop and go capability, active lane assist and traffic jam assistant. Whew.
Basically, it all works great, with the one distinction of the 740e and driver not being able to agree on where the center of the lane was. We were in a constant state of BMW steering the vehicle in one way and us nudging the wheel back to where we wanted to place the car.
We won’t list the full option sheet on our tester – the 740e starts at $89,100, and our loaded-to-the-gills model came in at a cool $100,595. At that lofty price, you get virtually everything one could imagine, except the ability to pull the car in and out of tight spaces remotely – for some reason offered on other 7’s but not the e. Bummer!
That said, with all the near-autonomous whizz-bang technology, superb luxury, and tasteful design, we found ourselves much more interested in driving the 740e ourselves for the pure joy of it.
So yes, the future will be techno-laden, fuel efficient, and hopefully not piloted by robots in jaunty attire. And with the 740e, BMW shows that there can still be a great driving car living peacefully along with all that technology. And that’s a future we enthusiasts can all look forward to.
Ben Lewis grew up in Chicago, and after spending his formative years driving sideways in the winter – often intentionally – moved to sunny Southern California. He now enjoys sunny weather year-round — whether it is autocross driving, aerobatics, and learning to surf.