What is it?
This is a petrol-electric BMW 7-series. BMW shifted 1400 7-series models in the UK last year. Tellingly, 91 per cent of those were diesels. Seemingly even those with pockets deep enough to be buying a luxury saloon with a starting price of just under £60,000 are feeling the pinch enough to head for the black pump.
The ActiveHybrid 7 fills an uncomfortable niche, then. Its combined 3.0-litre in-line six-cylinder petrol engine and 40kW electric motor offer the same 5.7sec 0-62mph time and electronically limited 155mph top speed of the TwinPower 3.0-litre straight six 740i, yet it costs more than its conventionally powered relation. It’ll take many thousands of miles to recoup the £5000 difference too, with a 41.5mpg combined fuel consumption figure only 5.7mpg better than that of the 740i.
Add the diesels into the equation and the ActiveHybrid 7’s case gets even more shaky, with the 730d and 740d able to offer 50mpg consumption and sub-150g/km CO2 emissions. They can't cruise around town for around two to three miles on pure electric power, though, which is something BMW claims the ActiveHybrid 7 can do. You’ll need to be an absolute puritan with the accelerator if you’re to achieve that, however, as the 3.0-litre six is all too quick to join in to help shift the near-two-tonne Bavarian barge if you more than brush the right pedal. There’s no push-button EV mode to help, either, meaning the ActiveHybrid 7’s silent party trick is both hard-won and infrequent.
What is it like?
Most of the time the petrol engine’s arrival is smooth, though occasionally the drivetrain feels a touch muddled, which with eight gears and two power sources isn’t perhaps surprising. However, other elements of the 7’s make-up are. The steering in particular, where BMW’s engineers seem to relate heft to feel, is inconsistent in its weighting and feeling particularly dead and lifeless. Fiddle with the myriad of options and presets of ECO PRO, Comfort+, Comfort, Sport and Sport+ and the steering only adds more effort, without any corresponding increase in feel or accuracy.
Forget economy for a moment and pushing the accelerator will certainly get you to that business meeting on time, but the reality is that the 7-series is better experienced in the rear than from the driver’s seat. The ActiveHybrid 7 gets the comfort-enhancing suspension alterations that feature across the entire 7-series line-up, and while it makes a decent stab at a supple ride it’s not able to match the impervious isolation you’ll get in an S-class.
Should I buy one?
BMW is being realistic, with anticipated sales in the UK being in the tens, rather than the hundreds. If you’re a wealthy technology fan who doesn’t mind losing some boot space to batteries then it’s got some appeal, but for everyone else the 730d is a better alternative, and the Mercedes S350 CDI BlueTec is better still.
BMW ActiveHybrid 7 L SE
Price: £69,140; 0-62mph: 5.7sec; Top speed: 155mph; Economy: 41.5mpg; Co2: 158g/km; Kerbweight: 1995kg; Engine: 6 cyls in-line, 2979cc, plus 40kW electric motor; Power: 349bhp; Torque: 500Nm; Gearbox: 8-spd automatic