But we’re not there yet, and before we get to this electrically powered nirvana, hybrid cars are how eco-minded motorists are able to restrict their carbon footprints for now.
The ultra-luxury league is not spared this eco-mindedness, and plutocrats with a green conscience have a number of hybrid limos to choose from including BMW’s recently-launched 740e iPerformance priced at R1 474 400.
It’s the first 7 series to be powered by a four-cylinder engine and it’s only a 2-litre unit at that, but don’t let this fool you. Turbocharging it and hooking it up to an electric motor makes for healthy total outputs of 240kW and 500Nm – the same power and 50Nm more torque than you’ll get in a 740i with its six-cylinder 3-litre turbo engine.
The 740e is a plug-in hybrid, meaning it needs to be recharged at a wall socket as the regenerative energy of driving isn’t enough to fill the lithium-ion battery pack on its own. A regular domestic socket will get the car fully charged in around four hours, and a BMW i Wallbox will get it done in in under three hours.
The lithium-ion batteries add nearly 200kg of weight and reduce luggage space to 420 litres (compared to the normal 515 litres).
The car can be left to automatically drive on a combination of battery and petrol power, or the driver can switch to either full electric (where top speed is limited to 140km/h) or full petrol (250km/h).
In auto petrol-electric mode our test car averaged 5.9 litres per 100km – nowhere close to BMW’s claimed 2.1 litres but still excellent economy for a nearly two-ton luxury limousine.
The factory reckons the 740e is able to drive up to 44km on electric-only power but our test car managed 26km. If this falls within your commuting distance you could drive to work and back during the week on Eskom power alone if you plug in the car at work and at home – as long as you don’t have any diversions to business lunches and golf games.
The shifts between electric and petrol power are virtually unnoticeable and a press of throttle elicits just a smooth and step-free surge of torque. In case you thought “green” meant “lean” in terms of performance, the 740e’s claimed 0-100km/h sprint of 5.4 seconds disavows you of that notion. It’s a notably clean and lag-free power delivery too, with instant throttle response whichever mode it’s in.
The only thing absent is the emotive sound and feel of a larger engine. The 2-litre is very well muted but there’s an unmistakable four-cylinder hum in the background which doesn’t quite massage your eardrums like a purring six, eight or 12-cylinder.
For the rest, this hybrid car massages the ego and lays on the comfort as well as any other 7 Series.
More than a feast of high-tech – which we’ll come to in a moment – it’s the car’s creamy ride and hushed refinement that will warm the cockles of a business tycoon’s heart. The cockpit radiates elegance with its rich leather, metal and wood textures, and ambient lighting that can be changed in colour to suit your mood. For a touch of glamour, a path lights your way to the front door when you unlock the car at night.
Our test car laid on the full luxury package for rear passengers and the rear seats came with optional heating, cooling, electric adjustment and a massaging function. Another extra-cost item was a detachable Samsung tablet in the middle armrest with which various infotainment and comfort functions can be controlled.
On its active air suspension the big car wafts over rough roads and speed humps like you’re sitting in a lazyboy chair, and the double-glazed glass filters out unwanted noises.
But BMW’s sporting heart is evident even in this luxury league, and the plush-riding limo behaves like a smaller, wieldier car when pressed into service on a winding road. The test car came with optional Integral Active Steering where the rear wheels help to steer the car, optimising high-speed stability but reducing the turning circle at slow speeds.
The new 7 Series is a gizmo-fest of features like head-up display, gesture control for the audio, and optional remote-control parking where the car drives itself into a narrow bay while the driver stands outside using the remote-control keyring.
The car is able to partially drive itself by keeping a safe following distance in traffic and using a self-steering aid to stay in its lane. However, BMW seems to lag behind its great rival Mercedes in the effectiveness of its semi-autonomous driving ability as the 740e’s self steering worked haphazardly, and sometimes the car wasn’t able to stay in its lane even with clearly marked lines on the road.
Perhaps this hybrid version of the 7 Series lacks some of the emotion of a large-capacity engine, and the four cylinder engine may stick in the throats of some people.
Objectively, when you’re driving the 740e all you’re aware of is the effortless power, grand luxury and almost complete silence. Perhaps the perceived lost emotion can be overlooked against the car’s real appeal; it’s a luxury limo that sips fuel like a small hatchback.
BMW 740e eDrive
Engine: 2-litre, 4-cylinder turbopetrol + electric
Gearbox: 8-speed automatic
Power (combined): 240kW
Torque (combined): 500Nm
0-100km/h (claimed): 5.4 seconds
Top speed (claimed): 250km/h
Price: R1 474 400
Warranty: 2-year / unlimited km
Maintenance plan: 5-year / 100 000km
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