Historically, the executive grand saloon represented the pinnacle of a brand’s offerings – consummate luxury, cutting edge technology and outstanding safety. The recipe demands that the occupants (driver and passengers alike) feel special and pampered when transported with flair. Today the wealthy set’s proclivity towards luxury SUVs has stolen a bit this limelight, but we drove BMW’s ActiveHybrid 7 to find out if certain unique grand saloon qualities still remain.
The working week saw the 7 Series fulfilling the otherwise mundane commuting role. The weekend, however, presented the opportunity to sample its long distance talents as well as the olives produced in the Riebeek Kasteel area; a round trip of about 200 km from Cape Town.
The ActiveHybrid 7 is the third addition to the BMW hybrid range, following the introduction of the ActiveHybrid 3 and ActiveHybrid 5. The range essentially employs the same powertrain for all three derivatives, combining the firm’s 3,0-litre turbopetrol engine with a synchronous electric motor and lithium-ion battery pack. The outputs have been slightly increased for the 7-series with the petrol engine now delivering 235 kW and 450 N.m and the electric motor delivers 40 kW and 210 N.m. Combined power is rated at a healthy 260 kW while claimed fuel consumption is (an optimistic) 6,8 litres/100 km.
Styling-wise the elegant and imposing 7 Series design has been updated with a new headlamp and kidney grille design, while a multitude of chrome inserts accentuate the classic lines and ActiveHybrid 7 logos flank the C-pillars. Inside the styling is not dissimilar to that of a 5 Series, which is not a bad thing, but it lacks the distinctiveness of say a Mercedes S-Class. The materials used are of high quality and the sumptuous leather used in abundance gives the cabin that lovely premium car smell.
Settling behind the steering wheel does take some time owing to the vast number of seat and steering column adjustments, but the end result is very comfortable with an excellent view over the vast bonnet. The Active7’s large dimensions demand extra concentration from the driver to safely place the vehicle on the road in peak traffic. At least the hybrid powertrain makes for relaxed stop-start driving employing mostly electric mode only, while listening to the high quality audio system.
The character of the car is completely different to my long-term ActiveHybrid 3 (read update here) which is essentially a performance vehicle in hybrid clothing. The seven wafts the occupants along in comfort and poise and it feels wrong to use the full rev range of engine. This was however done (sorry) on one occasion from a set of traffic lights to show an eager boy racer in his hot hatch a clean pair of exhaust pipes…
The weekend arrived and the vehicle was packed with my family and gear for our trip to Riebeek Kasteel. The two individual reclining seats at the back and the lithium-ion battery pack does steel a lot of boot space, which only leaves 360 dm3. Our test unit was fitted with the optional DVD entertainment system at the back, comprising of two separate screens for rear passengers. In case there is nothing interesting on television, a six-shuttle DVD player upfront can be loaded with preferred media – children’s stories in my case. Another i-drive controller folds down between the rear seats to give rear passengers almost full control over the all the vehicle’s settings. Quad-zone climate control ensured a comfortable cabin.
The drive at speed was very comfortable with the air suspension at the rear axle contributing to the feeling of gliding over the road surface. Unfortunately the odd ripple in the road does still send a bit of a jolt through the chassis. Maybe this is exaggerated by the quiet cabin owing to excellent insulation including double-glazed windows. A gripe from my wife occupying the rear seats to attend to the children during stops was the seat buckles that could not be tucked away and made moving around painful. This will no doubt not be an issue for affluent businessmen, though.
The ActiveHybrid 7 was barely in its stride when Riebeek Kasteel loomed in front of us. This proves the immense distance covering ability of the 7-series and may even lead to a few flight cancellations as the business executive may prefer the cosiness of his office on wheels.
Overall fuel consumption for the trip hovered around the 11,0 litres/100 km mark, denouncing some of the green credentials. Interestingly there are three engine derivatives of the 7-series available around the R1m mark. This includes the 740i, 730d and ActiveHybrid 7. Fuel consumption must be low on the priority list of vehicles in this price range which mean that qualities like refinement and comfort weigh more. This is where the ActiveHybrid 7 shines and deserves to be on any grand saloon short list.
Model: BMW ActiveHybrid 7
Price: R1 046 399
Engine: 3,0-litre, six-cylinder turbopetrol
Power: 235 kW at 5 800 r/min
Torque: 450 N.m at 1 300 – 4 500 r/min
Electric motor: synchronous
Electric power and torque: 40 kW/ 210 N.m
Transmission: 8-speed auto
0-100 km/h: 5,7 seconds
Top speed: 250 km/h (ltd)
Fuel consumption: 6,8 L/100 km
CO2: 158 g/km