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Pondering BMW's Predicament In The 740Le

Still Ahead Of The Game

The word on the street is that BMW has lost the plot to its competitors on all fronts. Gone are the days when the German marque could trumpet its 'Ultimate Driving Machine' marketing chorus and expect a resounding applause to ensue automatically. These days, the pitchforks come out faster without much hesitance and BMW seems to be aloof without much reply… That is until you get behind this hybrid 7er.

It used to be a no-brainer for me; "Which's the best German sedan to drive? B.M.W. Period." How much has that changed over the years you ask? I would re-apply your curiosity with, "How much time do I have to answer your question?" It's a fact we BMW fans can't turn our heads away from: the competition has caught up by many a mile. Some (especially German brands), have even blown past BMW as if the ghost of Aryton Senna was behind the wheel. If only it were as exciting as that thought, but it isn't however. It is actually turning into a boring subject in my opinion. It's a point of discussion that I kept with me as I had this new version of BMW's flagship late last year. Launched locally here in Malaysia back in mid-April 2017, this 740Le xDrive hybrid had a lot to respond to in my opinion, so having a chance to review it, I threw away my BMW bias as much as I could and went about the exercise with pure objectivity being my main aim, and I started where it always starts- the drive.

This latest G12 variant of the 7er arrived in Malaysia with aims of inevitably replacing the outgoing 730Li and 740Li petrol models and given its locally-assembled and PHEV status, it gets a massive reduction on its price tag, giving it an on-the-road price (excluding insurance) of RM598,800. The BMW bias in me is jumping to shout, "Bargains, getchoyour bargains here!" However, there is at least another German brand that has also set out with the same approach to this full-sized luxury segment, and it also has a similar platform that has been getting rave reviews. We'll leave it out of the discussion for now though, because the focus here is to understand what's behind this new 7er by BMW.

As this is a hybrid, its weight is expectedly heavier from its previous siblings, weighing in a whole 170kg more because of the adjustments made to accommodate things like its supplementary electric motor (fitted into the car's eight-speed automatic tranny, dishing out 111 hp and 250 Nm of torque) and its lithium-ion battery with a 9.2 kWh capacity. This added weight, because of the hybrid powertrain, is not a real issue because when paired with its down-sized 2.0-litre twin turbo mill, the output levels have actually improved the 7er's explosive power; it strides to the 100 km/h mark in 5.3 seconds, a few milli-seconds faster than the outgoing 740Li pure petrol model. In pure electric drive mode, it goes all the way up to 140 km/h without ever tapping into power outputs from the combustion engine. In full, the new 740Le xDrive has a combined total of 322 hp and 500 Nm of torque, with 255 hp and 400 Nm of torque coming from the turbocharged petrol mill. So, how does this feel like on the road?

Before I get to that, lets get the least important part out of the way: the looks. Aesthetically, there isn't much change on the 740Le. Of course, it's to be expected in a time where a lot of fuss and bother is made over facelifts. However, this isn't one- it's a new drivetrain and it's sad to see it being unable to beguile the average human being. Only BMW lovers can truly tell the difference and that's a bit of a letdown. There are however eDrive badges around the luxury sedan to single-out its hybrid identity. If I can be honest though, they should be a lot bigger and prominent on this flagship, especially when the rest of the car doesn't trumpet its new identity. There are other hybrid signage, like BMW's " i ", that can be found but all these won't be spotted if you're seen driving on the road in this 7er. Putting myself in the shoes of the "people" who'd actually consider this luxury sedan/limousine, I'd want to be seen, heard and distinguished out in dead-stop traffic. But who exactly are these "people" we're talking about now?

These "people" used to be very easy to identify. BMW fans and owners have a very distinctive nature about themselves; they're drivers at heart, the kind who wouldn't care if the air-conditioning wasn't working but would moan if there was even a speck of dust in the air filter- just give them a fit-to-drive Bimmer, and they'd be grinning ear-to-ear. Thanks to the general plateau of design and build-quality that BMW have unassumingly found themselves in of late, their owner and fan profiles have also lost its identity and changed. I'd daresay even, that the BMW market segment has also become lazy and spoilt by flashes of superficial marketing gimmicks that keep thumping this idealistic version of luxury without educating its customers first, something that isn't BMW's fault but rather the entire luxury car segment. Its product is a new generation of car enthusiasts who don't see the need for brand loyalty but are neck deep in wanting the best buy to be seen in. On a larger scale, it's a problem that the capitalist-consumer market is in currently, a topic that we shouldn't go into in this simple car review. (my apologies)

Where its aesthetics don't rise to the occasion, it is safe to say that getting behind the 740Le was the best thing about it. What pleased me the most about this BMW 740Le xDrive is the fact that, bar all the seemingly outdated button clusters and dull overall cabin experience, the joy one gets while driving this 7er is something that can make a true driver feel very happy. Hands-down, it is the best driving experience among its competitors, especially against the Three-Pointed Star's offering in this segment. Where the Mercedes' S-Class feels extremely lofty and out of place in a spirited drive setting, the 7er is impressively with you all the way. Note the word 'impressive'.
It is as confident as I would want my ideal big sedan to be. Using the S- Class, specifically the S400h, for comparison, this 740Le rushes in and out of sweepers and bends as if it were a smaller sedan.

Where the S-Class feels like an aged-war horse trying too hard to stay on its line, the Seven Series' struts command a more assured sense in on-road traction feedback to a point, where it expresses itself quite sportily. Of course, many will assume the stance that a car this size isn't made for such spirited bouts; one should be tucked at the back while being chauffeured around, but this is where I believe the Seven Series has always stood out from its competition: it's a fully-stocked luxury limousine that can swiftly change into a no-nonsense road-warrior when needed. And that need, is definitely on personal taste. Sorry, a personal driving taste. Oops, a driver's taste.

There are also a host of driving assistant systems like lane departure warnings, lane-change warnings, pedestrian sensors, crossing traffic alert, active cruise control, steering/lane control assistant and lane keeping assistance. Yes, when you're in this price point for a full-sized sedan, these have become a default. Let me just emphasize the fact that these are all built by BMW, the same marque that spares no expense on the driver's vantage. Only Volvo can ever trump BMW's knack for precision driving systems like these and they're not in this segment yet. It was something that I thoroughly enjoyed having with my experience with the 740Le from start to finish, because of how accurate and timely these systems alert you. Is it very far off from Mercedes' S-Class? Not by a long way, but when you're driving, you need these systems to be bang-on point and the 7er takes top spot to me in this respect.

Besides the standard Seven Series driving modes of Comfort, Sport, EcoPro and Adaptive drive modes, there's also three eDrive operation modes; 'Auto eDrive', which maximises power levels between the engine and electric motor, 'Max eDrive', which puts the car on pure electric power and the last is 'Battery Control', where the 7er operates on the combustion engine alone which then aids in the recharging of the battery for later use. When you shuffle between these hybrids driving modes, you will start ruing the fact that a lot of power goes missing. The great part is, when you go looking for it by switching back to the combustion engine, you will notice how a lot of the battery's power isn't wasted, but rather channeled well. This you will get to see on your dashboard display and it's quite interesting to take notice of whenever you get a chance to. 

Pushing it around ever-so often on open roads when I had the chance, its sheer driving ability made me reminisce of Jason Statham's E38 735i from the first The Transporter movie. In that era, nothing could match the 735i's appeal among big sedan lovers and I'd opine that the luxury elements were a secondary focus in that third generation of the Seven Series (1994-2001). That mad V12 engine and manual transmission, made it a cult hero among car lovers. Staying true to its flagship function, it was also the first European car model back then to introduce the modern SatNav. Since then, all who claim to be car lovers have turned to the Seven Series to take a peek into BMW's future plans, and quite directly, into the future of the automotive industry. Because let's face it, we forget easily that the German marque is a motorsports pioneer in its truest sense, having transitioned most of its production models literally from the race track. Does the letter, "M" ring any bells? It's a sentiment that never goes away, at least for me personally that is.

Stepping into its cabin, I was greeted by a very familiar aroma and feel; the excellence that comes with proper Nappa leather upholstery and the mature demeanor of stylish wood trim finishes. It's something that relates to me on a personal level and I put this down to age. Where in my youth, I'd have always lusted for scents of unnecessary alcantara, I find myself smiling most of the time now whenever my senses come in close proximity with good 'ol Nappa. I don't know about you, but it invokes this inner-maturity, a maturity that grows even more when I got comfy at the back portion of this Seven Series. This, is without any options and accessories mind you and it's a well-packaged base offering. 

No doubt though, the unique cabin experience of the Seven Series these days is one that is focused around interactive and engaging gadgetry, like its stellar ConnectedDrive infotainment package (still the easiest and best in-car system to use). This 740Le also comes with an iDrive operating system, the customary smartphone-friendly functions which includes a wireless charging port too. And to cap it all off, there's the gesture control feature that can excite your cabin's occupants, but only for just over three hours. One area in which the 7er shouldn't trade blows with its competition is in speccing their flagship with an ambient lighting system. Unless the German marque can better what's been done by Mercedes-Benz's in its current S-Class cabin, it should find a new way to wow its cabin occupants. This is only because the S-Class has an entire colour gradient to choose your preferred ambient lighting from. In hapless contrast, the 7er only has six choices to choose from. What a pity, because if this feature was designed with a little more conviction and detail, the S-Class would stand no chance. Peer around a little longer and you will also notice that the 740Le has a Sky Lounge panoramic glass roof, a very nice touch which does suit the dated cabin but you do get the feeling that it's been included only because without it, it's another point the cabin loses to something like the S-Class.

Still, the 7er wins back a point or two because it gets a sleek looking BMW Display Key which in dire straits, could make-or-break the argument between the two models. As I've mentioned before, the heavy gadgetry inclusion is quite entertaining, especially with a rear entertainment system with a pair of 10-inch display screens operated using a touchscreen tablet called the 'BMW Touch Command'. And of course, do I need to tell you how superbly insulated the cabin feels when one turns on the 16-speaker, 600-watt Harman Kardon sound system? It's a great experience, something I've rather grown expectant from the Seven Series flagship- if all else fails, I could live with the sound system alone.

In spite of all its tech and hybrid capabilities, it still will be called the lesser luxury sedan among its competitors for the time being, and again, that is not because BMW have lost the plot completely but rather the competition has finally overtaken them. Yes, my bias is raring its ugly head right about now but I think I've objectively critiqued a marque that has come under fire a lot of late. Some of the bullets that have flown have hit their marks where it must, especially in terms of the need for new and radical aesthetics and driving sensations. The rest of the bombs and bullets can keep flying at BMW to no real effect, because it is through the Seven Series that you can understand that the brand is doing what any real pioneer would; they are progressing, innovating and cultivating a luxury niche that has gotten too complacent and impatient, something that isn't a manufacturer's problem, but a matter of attitude and demeanor. I'm still undecided whether its our fault for wanting so much more or the marque's fault for giving less. All that said and done, nothing in this full-sized luxury sedan class can handle an old school, heavy right foot better than BMW's Seven Series. That's why when you think about it, BMW is still ahead of the game.