Talk to any expert on luxury and they’ll tell you that for today’s consumers, perception matters more than ever. Especially when it comes to cars.
As the head of one car company put it, what matters most is not whether or not buyers like a certain car, but whether or not their friends like it.
These days, vehicles perceived as environmentally friendly often bestow the highest status.
This factor well applies to the 2018 BMW 740e xDrive iPerformance hybrid saloon car.
It’s just as fast, marginally more powerful, and US$7,000 more expensive than the standard-issue 7-Series car.
Yet, it betters the fuel efficiency of its sibling by multiple miles per gallon (km per litre) when you look at combined engine performance, and brings with it the valuable social clout conferred by the subtle “look-at-me, I’m-a-hybrid!” design cues throughout its body.
In fact, the 7-Series hybrid is arguably the most prestigious option of the range, including even the excellent 12-cylinder.
At a time when design snobs no longer have to hold their noses and drive Priuses just because they want to go green, the BMW 7-Series Hybrid car shows what it means to be affluent, progressive, and good-looking.
Undercover (Earth) lover
Thing is, you actually may not immediately recognise this 7-Series as a hybrid.
Your neighbours might not, either.
There are a few small badges on the side and door sills of the car, and some blue strips and lighting, but those are as subtle as a whisper.
On the outside of the car, the most distinctive things – the only distinctive things, until you plug it in – are the adaptive LED head- and fog lights and classic BMW kidney grills, this time laced with blue venting that acts as a hint that this car is eco-friendly.
It’s sort of an “those who know, know” type of thing, like the hidden label in a refined Italian suit. If you’re in the club, you recognise the product; if not, you don’t.
For a car that easily slides over US$100,000 with options, that level of restraint is saying quite a lot.
What the 7-Series hides is expansive interior space and exceptional efficiency, downplayed by a silent engine and silky handling.
Behind that blued grille is a 2.0-litre twin-turbo, 255-horsepower four-cylinder engine– Bayerische Motoren Werke’s first four-cylinder in a 7-Series in the US – and a 9.2 kWh lithium ion battery.
Those combine for 64 miles per gallon (27 km per litre) equivalent when under hybrid propulsion (or 27mpg (11.4 km per litre) combined, running on petrol only), with a 14-mile (22-km) electric-only range.
It’s fair to say you’ll go probably further on one tank driving a diesel-powered saloon than this, but those are difficult to find in America, especially those with all the trappings of luxury plus power.
Total output is 322 horsepower and 369 pound-feet of torque, enough to push the car to 60 miles per hour (96 km per hour) in 5.1 seconds, with a top speed of 155 mph (249 km/h).
The feel of driving the car matches its sober exterior élan: smooth and restrained, but able to lay a blow when necessary. The eight-speed transmission, multiple-drive modes, and capable all-wheel drive suited perfectly a weekend trip to Montauk, on Long Island, in New York State – a town and major tourist attraction famous for its fishing – with several hundred miles of highway driving punctuated by sandy trails, cobblestone streets, and two-lane back roads winding through the forest.
But if you want a throaty roar from your car, or something with actual driving personality, look elsewhere.
For better or worse, the 7-Series hybrid never imposes, never initiates, never throws thunder like that 7-Series V12 might.
It’s capable and compliant, which is nice the way an appliance can be nice. It’s domesticated, not wild – just something to keep in mind.
Really, though, the 7-Series line is meant to be enjoyed from the back seat as much as it is to be driven, and the hybrid variant is no different.
BMW has packed everything inside to make it feel special: rich, chestnut-wood trim with intricate inlays in the doors, Apple CarPlay, Wi-fi, Harman Kardon surround-sound, dual panoramic sunroofs, and heated rear seats, to name a few.
It has multiple climate-control settings, high-definition parking and crash-avoidance cameras – the works.
The hard leather seats in the front numbed tired muscles after a few hours, but we had ample space to change positions, bolster ourselves with coats and blankets, play with BMW’s famous gesture control function (wave a finger at it to decrease radio volume, for instance) at the centre of the car. I call it even.
And while it’s not as wide as the massive, fast, and expensive US$154,000 Porsche Panamera Sport Turismo, the high, flat roof and smooth sides also contain long-enough leg cavities in the back and generous headroom and shoulder room to hold a long-legged NBA basketball star.
(This 7-Series comes to the US only in long-wheelbase form, after all.)
I am not a basketball dynamo, so I tested it out in maximal weekender fashion: a massive 1970s-era leather chair purchased at a flea market on Shelter Island, in New York State, which was able to fit inside the rear with ease.
It even left plenty of room on the other seat for groceries – sustainably grown and purchased from the local farmer’s market, of course.
The neighbours would be disappointed to see anything less.