New BMW 7 Series hybrid review: 745Le xDrive pre-production drive

We get behind the wheel of the new plug-in hybrid 7 Series luxury saloon from BMW

BMW 7 Series PHEV

BMW has had a plug-in hybrid version of its range-topping 7 Series luxury saloon on sale for several years now, in the shape of the 740e iPerformance. For 2019, in tandem with a facelift for the entire range, the plug-in version receives a new drivetrain, moving from four to six cylinders. It's now known as the 745e (or 745Le in more spacious long-wheelbase form).

The car we drove was a late pre-production model, so we're going to leave our ultimate verdict and rating until we've sampled the final product on UK roads, but what we've driven is very close to production specification.

Like its predecessor, the 745Le is quiet and calm to drive in urban environments, while a boost in power means it's an even more accomplished high-speed, long-distance cruiser. It's a serious rival for the Mercedes S-Class hybrid in all respects, with the new six-cylinder engine feeling much more at home in a large saloon like this than the old four-cylinder ever did. The transition from petrol to electric power is noticeable but unobtrusive.

The only sticking point for potential 7 Series hybrid buyers may be the styling. Along with the new hybrid powertrain, the 7 Series facelift has brought a huge and very prominent front grille, which may just be too 'in your face' for some. Things are less divisive inside, with high-quality metal, wood and plastics anywhere you look, along with a clear and easy-to-use iDrive 7.0 widescreen infotainment system.

Both the long and standard-wheelbase cars are 22mm longer than their predecessors, giving business-class-like legroom in the back. We don't have a confirmed boot space figure yet, but it's likely to be a little smaller for the hybrid than the regular petrol and diesel 7 Series models.

New BMW 7 Series hybrid engine, performance and handling

The 745Le's powertrain combines that 3.0-litre, six-cylinder petrol engine (making 282bhp) with a 111bhp electric motor, for a total combined output of 389bhp. That ensures a healthy 5.1-second 0-62mph time and an electronically limited top speed of 155mph. An eight-speed automatic gearbox is standard.

In long-wheelbase form, the 7 Series hybrid is four-wheel drive only, and thus carries the 'xDrive' badging familiar from other all-wheel-drive BMWs. That gives it superb grip, even on winter tyres, while handling is just as sharp as in BMW’s smaller 3 and 5 Series. That comes at a slight reduction in comfort compared to a Mercedes S-Class, but keen drivers will prefer the 7 Series.

MPG, CO2 and range

Claimed fuel economy for the 745Le is from 105-118mpg, depending on wheel size, while the model's CO2 emissions are rated at a company-car-tax-friendly 52g/km. That's low enough for exemption from the London Congestion Charge – but only until October 2021, after which point just zero-emissions cars will escape the daily fee.

Claimed electric range is around 33 miles (at speeds up to 90mph), which is a 15-mile improvement on the old 740e. A blue bar in the digital dashboard lets you know how much you can press the accelerator without activating the petrol engine, helping you achieve the maximum possible electric range from a fully charged battery.

There's a choice of three driving modes: Electric keeps the car exclusively on battery power, Sport uses the electric motor and engine together for maximum performance and Hybrid mixes the two for the best balance of performance and efficiency. The car can also work out from a sat-nav route the optimum locations for using electric and petrol power – using the former when driving through a village and the latter on main roads, for example.

Price and on-sale date

The new BMW 7 Series goes on sale in the UK in April, with this 745Le xDrive version priced from £83,560. Going for the standard wheelbase rear-wheel drive 745e brings the price down to £76,815. As with the smaller 3 Series and 5 Series saloons, petrol and diesel-engined version of the 7 Series will be offered alongside the hybrid.