What's New for 2011
The 2011 BMW ActiveHybrid 7 is a new hybrid variant of the 7 Series sedan.
We know what some people are thinking about the 2011 BMW ActiveHybrid 7 -- it's another hybrid with costs that seem to outweigh its benefits. To an extent, these critics have a point. The ActiveHybrid 7 starts at more than $102,000 in short-wheelbase form (a long-wheelbase L model is also available), making it 25 percent more expensive than the regular 750 upon which it's based. And all you get in return is 13 percent more power, 15-17 percent better fuel economy and some extra standard features to sweeten the deal.
But BMW isn't claiming that this hybrid 7 Series is going to save the planet, or even that it makes for an enticing value proposition. No, the ActiveHybrid 7 is simply a logical reaction to the marketplace. BMW figures that there are plenty of people who've previously bought a Toyota Prius even though they could clearly afford something nicer. As BMW well knows, these drivers were led to Toyota dealerships by their environmental consciences, not their wallets.
Enter the ActiveHybrid 7, which will relieve both your conscience (of guilt) and your wallet (of an enormous pile of money). In addition to the 7 Series' inherent exclusivity, you can thank sophisticated hybrid technology for the latter. The gasoline engine -- a special version of BMW's twin-turbo 4.4-liter V8 -- can't shut off at low speeds like that of a Prius, but it derives useful boosts in both power and fuel economy from a battery-powered 20-horsepower electric motor. Additional fuel-saving tricks include an auto-off feature for the V8 at rest, regenerative braking and the employment of the electric motor as a starter.
Does it add up to a compelling automobile? By the numbers, perhaps not. If fuel economy is your number-one goal, there are better vehicles to buy than the 20-mpg combined ActiveHybrid 7. And if enhanced performance is a priority, the 7 Series' 760i variant or the Alpina B7 are likely better choices. Meanwhile, Mercedes-Benz has its new S400 Hybrid, which undercuts the BMW's price by a fair margin and delivers better fuel economy to boot. But if you're somehow looking for a luxury sedan that combines hybrid street cred with sub-5-second 0-60-mph sprints and dynamic handling, the 2011 BMW ActiveHybrid 7 is the only game in town.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2011 BMW ActiveHybrid 7 is a large luxury sedan available in 750i and extended-wheelbase 750Li trims. The base 750i comes with a wealth of standard features, including 19-inch alloy wheels, exclusive hybrid badging, a power-closing trunk, soft-close doors, automatic adaptive xenon headlights, an adaptive adjustable suspension, front and rear parking sensors, a sunroof, rain-sensing wipers, power-folding and auto-dimming heated mirrors and keyless entry/ignition.
On the inside, you'll find four-zone automatic climate control, 14-way-adjustable heated front seats with memory functions, a power tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, wood trim, leather upholstery and a leather-trimmed dashboard and center console. Standard technology features include Bluetooth, the iDrive electronics controller, hybrid information displays in the instrument cluster and iDrive display, a back-up camera, a voice-activated hard-drive-based navigation system with real-time traffic updates, and a 16-speaker CD/DVD surround-sound audio system with HD radio, an auxiliary audio jack and digital music storage.
Some 750i options are grouped into packages. The Cold Weather package includes a heated steering wheel and heated rear seats, plus a ski bag for the trunk pass-through. The Driver Assistance package adds a blind-spot warning system, a lane-departure warning system and automatic high beams. Stand-alone options include 20-inch wheels with performance tires, dark exterior trim, a surround-view parking camera, rear sunshades, various interior wood accents, satellite radio, a six-DVD changer, an iPod/USB jack, a NightVision infrared display with pedestrian detection and a rear-seat entertainment system.
The 750Li adds a self-leveling air suspension and a longer wheelbase for more rear seat space. In addition to the options listed above, the 750Li is eligible for a Luxury Rear Seating package, which includes power rear seats with cooling and massaging functions.
Powertrains and Performance
The hybrid 7 Series features a gasoline/electric hybrid power plant. The 4.4-liter turbocharged V8 is familiar from other BMW products but is extensively tweaked in this application -- there's no starter or alternator, for example. Its output is rated at 440 hp and 475 pound-feet of torque. The electric motor (powered by a trunk-mounted lithium-ion battery) adds 20 hp and 155 lb-ft to the mix. Thanks to the quirks of hybrid power measurement, total output is rated at 455 hp and 515 lb-ft; for reference, the non-hybrid 750 makes 400 hp and 450 lb-ft. Power is sent to the rear wheels through an eight-speed automatic transmission.
Efficiency is aided by an auto stop/start function that uses the electric motor to turn the car off at a standstill, and on again once the brake pedal is released with the transmission in Drive. There is also a regenerative braking system that recharges the lithium-ion battery during deceleration. BMW estimates about 20 mpg in combined driving (versus 17 mpg for the regular 750) and a sizzling 4.7-second sprint to 60 mph (versus 5.2). Like all 7 Series models, the 2011 BMW ActiveHybrid 7 also features the Driving Dynamics Control system, which has four driver-selectable settings for shift response, throttle response, shock absorber firmness, power-steering assist and stability control.
Standard safety features include antilock brakes, stability control, front-seat side airbags, front knee airbags, side curtain airbags and active front head restraints. Optional safety features include rear- and sideview cameras, a lane departure warning system, a blind-spot warning system and infrared night vision with pedestrian detection that displays the images either in the main dash display or in a head-up display (if so equipped).
Interior Design and Special Features
As BMW's flagship, the 7 Series represents the company's pinnacle of luxury, comfort and cutting-edge technology. Supple leather and rich wood accents adorn almost every surface, and the highly adjustable front seats ensure comfort for virtually any body type. The iDrive system has evolved to become one of the best of its breed, employing a controller knob along with several physical buttons to simplify commonly used functions. Notably, the ActiveHybrid 7 includes some standard features that are options on the regular 750, including the premium 16-speaker sound system and keyless ignition/entry.
The rear seats are similarly accommodating for taller adults, and the extended-wheelbase versions offer even more legroom (by about 6 inches) and slightly increased headroom. Available rear seat heating and even a massage feature should satisfy the most demanding of passengers. Impressively, the trunk-mounted lithium-ion battery subtracts just 1 cubic foot from the standard 7's 14-cubic-foot cargo capacity.
The 2011 BMW ActiveHybrid 7's fuel economy gains are not insignificant, but this super-luxury sedan is most impressive when your foot's on the floor. Of course, the conventional 750 is already very quick, but the ActiveHybrid 7's additional power is noticeable, particularly when the electric motor comes online with an extra surge. Compared to other luxury hybrid sedans like the LS 600h and S400 Hybrid, the ActiveHybrid 7 has a firmer ride quality, even in Comfort mode. However, this yields a more engaging driving experience, making the 7 Series a hybrid sedan that's actually fun to drive on a winding road, even in the absence of the M Sport package (only available on conventional 7 Series models).