It sits at the top of the BMW tree, sure there’s the i8 but when it comes to a pioneering marvel the BMW 7 series wins hands down. So many world firsts debuted on this car along with its rival the Mercedes-Benz S-Class. The generation one car featured BMW’s first on board computer and airbags, today gesture control is another precedent set. The flagship has always been powered by petrol and from the mid-nineties diesel. In more recent times electricity helps to propel the beast along. Chris Bowen spent two weeks in the plug-in hybrid variant, the 740e.

Very Potent

First up the usual 3.0-litre inline turbo-six-cylinder petrol unit has been ditched for a turbo 2.0-litre turbo-four-cylinder hooked up to an electric engine. Don’t underestimate what seems like lunacy, the combo pumps out 240kW and even more torque at 500Nm. If you’re interested in breaking down the figures the petrol engine contributes 190kW / 400Nm while the electric motor tips in the extra 83kW / 250Nm. This is a very quick 8-speed mothership that’s marginally quicker than its petrol donor car.

After jumping inside the 740i early last year I was expecting more of the same. That sameness means spades of opulence and an ability to stir the senses. In fact, having one for an entire two-week period really gave me a reality slap, it’s easy when doing this gig to lose perspective. The car simply makes you feel like a king, a king that likes to drive himself.

The Drive.

The cabin is so well insulated that if it wasn’t for the unique iPerformance instrument cluster and eDrive graphics you’d be flat out knowing when the battery is providing the momentum or the petrol engine has kicked in. It just floats along in a very pillowy way. The automatic self-levelling air suspension dispatches just about all surfaces with ridiculous ease. Even on dirt this thing just seems oblivious to the real world conditions. I’d say with my Rolls Royce experiences in mind the ride is basically the same, plus a bucket load cheaper.

The usual driving modes are there to suit your mood. There are two comfort modes, “Comfort” and “Comfort Plus” the latter dead set makes the car feel like it’s floating. In fact, the comfort modes are clearly more aimed at providing those in the back with the ultimate, hushed ride to and from the office. As a driver, they turn the limo into a slightly annoying woolly experience, especially around town. But flick into “Sports” mode and it’s goodbye flying magic carpet, hello excitement machine.

That famous BMW drive is very much there when called upon despite the enormity of the car itself. The finesse of the steering and sheer dexterity of the suspension and body control are remarkable. Sure, the 530e I drove recently is a tad nimbler but the 740e is not far off. This is the ultimate machine if you need full scale luxury and a desire to also enjoy life behind the wheel. Plus, with a 0–100km/h dash sitting at 5.4 seconds you have a real surprise packet away from the lights on your hands.

So, What About the Hybrid Bit?

I’ve now driven the 330e, 530e and the i3 and i8 so the 740e was more of the same. Plug into the wall overnight and get a certain distance the next day using zero fuel. It’s pretty much a useless form of technology for me personally given the huge commutes I do. But if your life revolves around cruising from your harbour side mansion to the boardroom it makes perfect sense.

For the tech heads the electric motor runs off a 9.2kWh lithium-ion battery that’s done its best to not impede rear boot space which is still down to 420-litres from 515-liters. You can fully top it up from a household plug via its charging pack and cable in about 4 – 5 hours. BMW provides an “i Wallbox” that will cost even more coin but reduces the charge to 2.5 hours.

The highest displayed range I saw was 42-kilometres and mostly that proved accurate. There are a few modes that regulate how the system operates. Max eDrive is for entirely electric cruising and is a very sedate form of driving and not quite to my liking. Power is reduced dramatically so you really need to floor it before it wakes the petrol engine, for example if you really need to overtake in a hurry. A Battery Control mode holds the charge to a set percentage. I’d often set it to 100 percent after draining the battery, it then would slowly recharge using engine power and regenerative breaking. Essentially, I used the systems as a range extender for the smallish 46-litre tank. There’s also an Auto eDrive mode that chooses when, where and how the system can best make the most out of a charge.

The 740e in terms of economy is rated at just 2.2L/100km for the urban cycle. But realistically using the car like I did, with trips of around 120km a day, expect closer to 7.0L/100km or in my case 7.7L/100km, still pretty good for a massive barge.

The Tech

The fifth generation of iDrive is clearly the best, it’s very simple to use and offers a myriad of other alternatives when navigating the system. The infotainment screen is also a touchscreen for those who want to avoid the rotary dial, the excellent voice recognition can do just about everything as well.

Then there’s Gesture control, I’ve come across this a couple of times now and if you invest some time learning it’ll work pretty damn well. But having said that, even if you master waving your finger around to wind the volume up, flicking the wrist to answer or reject a call or use the peace symbol and point to change radio stations, you just won’t. First, it looks and feels odd and with a myriad of other ways to perform the same thing why would you bother?

In the back, a removable 7.5-inch Samsung tablet keeps the well-heeled in touch with not just the outside world via a Wi-Fi hotspot but also the car. It allows for adjustment of the four-zone climate control, window blinds, seat functions and to even input destinations into the satellite navigation.

There’s a whole suite of driver assistance aids on deck but the best feature I found was the automatic steering at lower speeds. While it won’t take you around a 90 degree turn it does provide subtle inputs using cameras and radar to follow the car in front or keep an eye on lane markings. This is great in inner city gridlock, it just takes that extra pressure off your hands and wrists all while you sit there getting a multimode massage and sucking down on the inbuilt fragrance wafting through the cabin.

The reversing camera provides the now common bird’s-eye view but also recreates the car, displaying it as a 3D model in the picture, bloody amazing. The optional headlights are lasers, the next step up from LED. But the automatic high beam function still can’t quite match the matrix set up Audi uses to cleverly send ultra-bright shards of light everywhere but into the eyes of oncoming motorists or even onto reflective signs.

This car looks like it should weigh well over two tonnes but thanks to a carbon core pioneered in the i8 and i3 which we’ve looked at before it’s a relative lightweight. The passenger cell is essentially a tub, reinforced to be massively strong. This and other measures see the 740e tip the scales at 1900g.

The Hip Pocket

Prices for the 740e start from $229,000. As usual the options list can add up to more than some cars, but with this kind of cash do you really care? As I mentioned at the pump the claimed figure is 2.2L/100km, I managed 7.7L/100km and service intervals are 12 months / 15000km. Warranty sits at 3 years /unlimited km.

The EFTM Rubber Stamp

I’ve driven the current Rolls Royce Ghost, a car that shares many components and underlining structure found in the current BMW 7 Series. Although that car is massively more lavish and substantially grander it does drive in a very similar way. That is with mind boggling refinement and pure class. But the BMW 740e is exactly what people with this kind of cash and mindset want, understated but with still skilfully executed brilliance. It’s as good from behind the wheel as it is sitting in the rear. Plus being a PHEV, you can sleep better at night knowing you’re stopping the world from imploding. This for me is the 7 Series of choice, fast, efficient and smart. I award the BMW 740e the EFTM Distinction Rubber Stamp of Approval.