Review and photos by
Paul Williams, CanadianDriver.com
With BMW’s ActiveHybrid 7 L, you get everything you’d expect from a 7 Series BMW, and a little less.
A little less fuel consumption, that is. Rated at 12.0/8.1 L/100 km, city/highway, this full-size luxury sedan betters its non-hybrid 750Li sibling by about 15 per cent in fuel economy; the 750Li returning an estimated 14.8/9.3 L/100 km, city/highway.
Motive power is a 4.4-litre, twin-turbo V8 gasoline engine supplemented by an electric motor which together produces 465 hp and 516 lb.-ft. torque. Mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission, this rear-wheel drive vehicle is available in Canada only in the long wheelbase version (identified by the “L” in ActiveHybrid 7 L). An all-wheel drive ActiveHybrid 7 L is not offered.
But is fuel economy the only reason to buy an ActiveHybrid 7 L over a non-hybrid 7 Series? Not at all: the ActiveHybrid 7 L has more power than the 750Li, for example, generating an extra 25 horsepower and 36 more pound-feet of torque compared with the standard V8. Acceleration time from 0-100 km/h is reduced by a half-second at 5.1 seconds, according to BMW Canada. So you get a bump in performance as well.
True, you could go for the $186,000 V12 760 Li if you want top 7 Series performance, but then you’d lose the enviro-cachet of driving a hybrid, and you’d be paying at least $50,000 more than the $132,300 ActiveHybrid 7 L (our Technology Package-equipped version included Lane Departure Warning, Active Blind Spot Detection, Night Vision with Pedestrian Detection, and listed at $135,600).
For that still heady amount you get the sophisticated drive-train, make an (mild) eco-statement, and enjoy a very long list of standard amenities.
An abbreviated list of this vehicle’s amenities includes four-zone automatic climate control, adaptive LED brake lights, adaptive automatic bi-xenon headlamps with washers and cornering lights, rain-sensing wipers with heated washer nozzles, electromechanical parking brake with hold function, front and rear Park Distance Control, front knee airbags, active front head restraints, auto-dimming exterior and rear-view mirrors, ambiance lighting, dynamic cruise control, power sunroof, heated multifunction three-spoke leather-wrapped steering wheel with power tilt and telescopic column, heated steering wheel, soft-close trunk lid and doors, garage door opener, heated 16-way Nappa leather seats with driver’s side memory, heated outboard rear seats, DVD/MP3 16-speaker, 600-watt audio with hard disc storage, USB port, iPod interface, Bluetooth connectivity, and voice-controlled hard disc-based navigation system.
Additional features include a Head Up Display, lane departure warning, rear-view camera, Surround View, twin chromed trapezoid tailpipes, and special 19-inch alloy wheels fitted with low rolling-resistance tires.
Although you may think the above list is somewhat excessive in its detail, it is truly a fraction of the ActiveHybrid 7 L’s standard equipment.
Let’s get to the design, execution and driving experience.
This BMW is a massive vehicle, and it is by no means restrained in appearance. At 5,214 millimetres in length, with a 3,210 mm wheelbase, the ActiveHybrid 7 L needs room, and its aggressive lines and formidable grille aren’t designed to soften the visual impact.
In other words, people notice this car, and are inclined to offer it the right of way at uncontrolled intersections.
Fit and finish throughout is impeccable. The paint is lustrous, the wheels sculptural, the upholstery and interior trim seem more like fine furniture than automotive components. The only flaw was the stitching along the leading edge of the instrument panel and dashboard, which was slightly irregular in places. Perhaps hand sewn?
Seating for rear seat passengers is unequalled by almost any other car. Legroom is sufficient for even tall people to stretch out, and the seats are heated and ventilated, both front and rear. The doors open wide for easy entry and exit, and they close by themselves when nearly pulled shut – your mobile valet.
There is even – and I have never encountered this in a car before – a “Gentleman’s Function,” whereby the driver (a gentleman, presumably) can remotely operate the passenger seat adjustment. Chivalry, apparently, is alive and well in an ActiveHybrid 7 L.
Trunk space is slightly compromised by the intrusion of the battery, but it is still a cavernous enclosure. The weight penalty due to the battery is likewise small (75 kilograms), and the front/rear balance is the same as the 750 Li.
Although the ActiveHybrid 7 L is packed full of amenities, controls and features, it’s pretty easy to drive. Many controls are redundant, like the knobs and buttons on the centre stack for the audio system, which are replicated in the menu-driven iDrive controller and remote controls on the steering wheel. Likewise the heating, ventilation and navigation controls can be operated similarly, and additionally by voice.
The gearshift is a bit fiddly, but that may just be me. I found that its simplicity was sometimes baffling. Putting the car into “Park” for instance, is effected by simply pressing a button marked “P.” But it doesn’t happen instantly, which means you may push it again, whereupon maybe it stays in “Drive,” or maybe not. For me the shifter could be more tactile; give more direct feedback.
Mind you, once you’re in gear, the ActiveHybrid 7 L will accelerate with a lot more punch than you may expect for such a big car. There is no sensation of speed in this vehicle as you cruise along, however; it doesn’t seem to matter how fast you go, the experience inside remains the same. You can modulate its driving dynamics, however, by selecting between Comfort, Normal, Sport and Sport Plus modes via a button on the centre console.
I liked Sport. Everything felt more immediate and satisfying in that mode. Steering was sharper; acceleration brisker; suspension tighter. The Comfort mode predictably softens everything (although if you put your foot on the gas, the ActiveHybrid 7 L will still move with authority) and I found the experience actually soporific as you float almost too serenely along. “Comfort” is just too comfy for my taste.
But the point is, you can change the character of the vehicle at the push of a button, to suit both your mood and the road conditions.
The ActiveHybrid 7 L is what is termed a “mild” hybrid, which means that it is not capable of driving on battery power alone (as you can in a comparable Toyota/Lexus hybrid product). As you drive, therefore, the engine and motor are continuously synchronizing to move the car along. In stop-and-go traffic, especially, you can you can actually feel this background busy-ness, which does detract from the signature smoothness of the 7 Series.
Similarly, the regenerative braking can be quite evident when you take your foot off the gas pedal. This car doesn’t coast at all; it sharply decelerates. At a stoplight the engine will shut off to save fuel, and will start quickly when your foot leaves the brake and you wish to get underway.
It is a truly odd sensation, however, to find that one’s power steering is also deactivated in the auto-stop mode (it is hydraulic, not electric) This is not usual in hybrid cars and is at first unnerving and subsequently unappreciated. I like to be assured that everything is “on” when I turn the key (or in this case, push a button) to start a car, and that there will be no delay between action and response. It’s something that you just expect.
My combined fuel economy was 11.2 L/100 km, which is not quite the impressive result suggested by the official numbers. However, this is a large and very powerful car, and fuel consumption must be regarded in relation to the type of vehicle you’re driving and real-world conditions.
For all its technological wizardry, there is quite a premium to pay for the ActiveHybrid 7 L. The non-hybrid, long wheelbase 750iL is $116,600, and the regular wheelbase 750i is $108,600. Freight/PDI adds another $1,995. The competing Lexus LS600hL is $119,950.
Pricing: 2011 BMW ActiveHybrid 7 L
Base price: $132,300
Options: $3,300 (Technology Package)
A/C tax: $100
Price as tested: $138,595
Crash test results
Paul Williams is an Ottawa-based automotive writer and senior editor for CanadianDriver. He is a member of the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC).