The BMW 745Le xDrive is a petrol-electric plug-in hybrid with an official combined economy of over 100mpg yet it’s also capable of being a rewarding driver’s car in typical BMW fashion.
BMW’s brand image is all about its drivers’ cars. The Mercedes-Benz brand is more associated with luxury. So what happens when BMW tries to combine a driver’s car with a luxury car – and also add in a petrol-electric powertrain to gain ‘eco’ credentials?
The BMW 7 Series has been around since 1977. With subsequent generations of 7 Series the styling has evolved – with some successes and some failures in our view. Visually, the most prominent feature of the latest 7 Series is the grille, which is now 40% larger than that of the previous model – a design decision influenced by the need to differentiate it from other models in the BMW range, as well as by the preferences of the Chinese market, which accounts for 40% of 7 Series sales.
The 7 Series interior is, as you would expect, luxurious and very high-tech. This is the case for the driver, but also for rear-seat occupants – and especially with our 745Le xDrive test car, which has a long wheelbase, giving huge amounts of rear legroom, but in the case of our car, only two rear seats. There’s also lots of technology in the rear, which we’ll cover later.
Despite being a big car, the boot is quite shallow, with the batteries eating into the space, leaving just 420 litres of capacity for luggage.
Under the bonnet is a 282bhp, 6-cylinder, 3-litre petrol engine, which is mated to a high-voltage battery and a 111bhp electric motor. There’s an 8-speed automatic transmission and xDrive all-wheel drive.
The electric driving range of the latest 7 Series plug-in hybrid has improved by almost 30% compared to the previous model.
The latest 7 Series features typical BMW ingredients. These include an excellent driving position, helped by lots of adjustability of the steering column and driver’s seat; a rear-wheel drive handling bias, even though this model has all-wheel drive; and a fantastic straight-six, 3-litre petrol engine. So all the basic elements are there for a rewarding driver’s car. One key difference with the 745Le model is the addition of electric propulsion – which in our view, added weight aside, improves the driving experience.
This means that you can drive this 7 Series on electric power for up to 32 miles (and at up to 68mph – although not both at the same time). When doing this, apart from having zero tailpipe emissions, the 745Le is extremely quiet and refined, yet still has sufficient power and torque to ensure decent performance.
You can venture further afield by utilising the petrol engine, which is powerful and smooth, and when you can hear it, it sounds great. There has been a plug-in version of the 7 Series before, but it had a 2-litre petrol engine. The 3-litre unit in the 745Le is a much better engine, and certainly more appropriate for an £80,000+ car. And don’t worry, the official CO2 emissions are lower for the new car even though it has a larger engine.
With 394hp, 600Nm of torque and a 0-62 mph time of 5.1 seconds, there’s lots of performance. Just don’t expect 100mpg+ economy if you use the performance on a regular basis rather than predominantly running the car on electric power.
There are three driving modes: Electric, Hybrid and Sport. They basically do what they say on the tin: Electric delivers electric power; Hybrid combines electric and petrol power; and Sport gives you the most responsive driving experience. You can ‘lock’ the powertrain in electric mode using the Electric button. If you want to lock it in petrol mode, to save the battery charge for later, you can do this by selecting Sport mode and using the function in an on-screen menu to save the battery charge. However we feel that a ‘save battery’ button on the dashboard would be a better solution.
And if you want to view the car’s mpg, the dashboard shows this when in Hybrid mode, but it removes this information if you switch to Sport (presumably it can get too scary viewing the economy figure in Sport mode).
Steering-wheel mounted paddles allow you to change gear manually, and this ability to interact with the car enhances the driving experience.
The ride is excellent, but BMW has also prioritised rewarding handling, so if you’re looking to drive the car rather than be driven in it, then the 7 Series has the edge over a Mercedes-Benz S-Class.
Although there is still a rear-wheel drive bias to help push the car around corners, the all-wheel drive system delivers very surefooted traction on wet roads.
The 7 Series is one of the best drivers’ cars in its class, but it should be noted that, at 2160kg,it’s not the lightest of models in the BMW range.
As with virtually all modern cars, the driving experience of the 7 Series is ruined by the lane departure warning system, which corrupts the steering. Once you’ve found how to switch this off by delving into the infomedia screen, the car is transformed.
Traditionally BMWs have had very clear black and white dials in the main instrument cluster. The latest 7 Series, along with the new 3 Series, has a digital instrument display, which includes a simple map in the centre of the dials (and in the head-up display), which works very effectively.
And of course the BMW iDrive system is still the best infomedia system in the business, avoiding the need to reach out to try to press buttons on a touchscreen while driving.
The official WLTP combined fuel economy for the BMW 745Le xDrive is 117.7-104.6 mpg, with CO2 emissions of55 g/km, and an electric driving range of 32 miles based on the new, more realistic WLTP test.
As regular visitors to Green Car Guide will be aware, the real-life mpg of any plug-in hybrid will completely depend on how far you drive between charges. It’s possible to drive 20-30 miles without using any petrol. However during our week with the car we drove down to Silverstone and back and had no time to charge en route, and overall we averaged 36mpg at motorway speeds on the petrol engine. Overall, after a week comprised of our typical mix of 80% long journeys, we averaged 39.8mpg, which is respectable for a 394hp limousine weighing over 2 tonnes.
The BMW 745Le doesn’t have a particularly large fuel tank (just 46 litres), so if you’re regularly travelling long distances, you’ll get further between fuel stops with the diesel model.
The BMW 745Le xDrive costs £82,760. However our test car had a very extensive list of options, including Visibility package (£1,595), Technology package (£3,195), Premium package (£2,495), 20″ Bicolour Multi-spoke wheels with run flat tyres (£2,600), Sky Lounge panoramic glass sunroof (£1,795), Fineline Black wood, high gloss with Metal effect interior trim (£560), and Anthracite Alcantara Headlining (£1,150). But perhaps the most interesting options were those for the rear seat occupants; the Rear Seat Comfort Plus Package cost a very substantial £9,995 and comprised of sun blinds for side and rear windows, seat ventilation, comfort seats, executive lounge seating, executive lounge rear console, heat comfort package, massage function, TV function plus, and BMW Professional rear seat entertainment with iDrive control. All these options resulted in the total price of our test car coming to £106,930.
The 7 Series plug-in range includes the BMW 745e, BMW 745Le and BMW 745Le xDrive. Apart from the plug-in hybrid powertrain as tested, petrol and diesel engine options are also available.
The BMW 745Le xDrive is a highly impressive feat of engineering. It’s a driver’s car, as well as a luxury car, and if it’s charged regularly, when it should be able to cover up to around 30 miles on zero emission electric power, it also has the potential to be an ultra-low emission car.
The 745Le has a niche audience – chauffeurs in urban areas such as London (or Beijing) being an obvious target market. Compared to the Mercedes-Benz S 560e L, the BMW 745Le xDrive is around £14,000 cheaper, it promises an electric range of 32 miles rather the 25 miles of the S-Class, and in our view the BMW plug-in hybrid system has more of a smooth, seamless transition between the two powertrains than the Mercedes – something that is very important in the world of chauffering.
Unless something like a Tesla, an Audi e-tron or a Jaguar I-PACE works for you, we’re not quite there yet with a range of choices for a pure EV limousine, so the BMW 745Le xDrive is the closest that you’ll get at the moment. Yes, it may have a petrol engine, but if your driving patterns are such that you regularly drive less than 30 miles between charges, therefore avoiding using the petrol engine in urban areas, with occasional longer journeys – when you’ll really appreciate how good the petrol engine is – then the 745Le could make sense for you.
The BMW 745Le xDrive gains a Green Car Guide rating of 9 out of 10.