What's New for 2012
The 2012 BMW ActiveHybrid 7 has a lower MSRP this year, though some previously standard equipment is now optional, including the head-up display and the active and ventilated front seats.
There are typically two types of gasoline/electric hybrid-powered cars: those whose existence is meant to move people from one place to another with the least amount of gasoline, and those that exploit the same technology to offer greater performance. The 2012 BMW ActiveHybrid 7 belongs to the latter school of thought.
So try not to think of the 2012 BMW ActiveHybrid 7 as a rolling contradiction with a price tag that outweighs its efficiency. Instead consider that it's a sophisticated super sedan with the power of a V12 engine, only with the thirst of a mere V8. Only then does this $100,000 techno-vessel begin to make sense.
At the heart of the 7 Series hybrid beats a twin-turbocharged, direct-injected V8 and an advanced eight-speed automatic transmission. Of course, there is also a three-phase synchronous electric motor sandwiched between them. When the output from both systems is combined and blended, the result is a 17-foot-long missile that can either accelerate like a sports car or earn about 24 mpg on the highway -- but not both.
Compared to the regular BMW 750i, the hybrid 7 loses only about 1 cubic foot of trunk space to house the batteries that make all this possible. The ActiveHybrid 7 also weighs between 275 and 450 pounds more than its non-hybrid analogues, depending on which wheelbase is selected. But the added mass is not from batteries alone. The ActiveHybrid is loaded in other ways as well.
Well-heeled buyers who are accustomed to the very best will not find the electrified 7 lacking in amenities either. Many of the options on either the 740i or 750i flagship sedans are standard on the ActiveHybrid 7. Stand-alone options are few and others grouped into suites of either cutting-edge technology (like an infrared night-vision camera with pedestrian detection) or progressive comfort enhancements (ventilated and massaging rear seats surrounded with powered privacy shades).
If fuel economy is your number-one goal, you could buy two Chevy Volts, a charging station and probably a solar array for your home's roof for the cost of the 2012 BMW ActiveHybrid 7. On the other hand, if greater performance is a priority, the even more powerful 760i or the Alpina B7 are likely better choices.
Meanwhile, Porsche now offers the Panamera Hybrid at a similar price. It benefits from better mileage (but at the expense of power). There's also the Mercedes-Benz S400 Hybrid, undercutting the BMW's price a little while also delivering slightly better fuel economy. However, if you are somehow looking for a luxury sedan that combines hybrid street cred with sub-5-second 0-60-mph sprints and dynamic handling, then the 2012 BMW ActiveHybrid 7 is the only game in town.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2012 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, 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 and leather upholstery. Standard technology features include Bluetooth phone/audio connectivity, the iDrive electronics controller, a hybrid information display, a rearview camera, a voice-activated hard-drive-based navigation system with real-time traffic, and a 16-speaker CD/DVD surround-sound audio system with HD radio, an auxiliary audio jack, a USB/iPod interface 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, a head-up display, top and sideview cameras, and automatic high beams. Stand-alone options include 20-inch wheels with performance tires, dark exterior trim, active and ventilated front seats, rear sunshades, a leather-trimmed dashboard/console, various interior wood accents, satellite radio, a NightVision infrared display with pedestrian detection, a rear-seat entertainment system with a six-DVD changer, and BMW apps smartphone integration.
The 750Li adds a 5.5-inch-longer wheelbase for more rear seat space and a self-leveling air suspension. 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 direct-injected and turbocharged V8 is familiar from other BMW products but is extensively tweaked in this application -- there's no starter or alternator, for example. Power is sent to the rear wheels through an eight-speed automatic transmission.
Alone, the gasoline engine is rated at 440 horsepower and 480 pound-feet of torque. The electric motor -- located between the engine and transmission -- is powered by a trunk-mounted lithium-ion battery. Thanks to the quirks of hybrid power measurement, total combined output is 455 hp and 515 lb-ft. For reference, the non-hybrid 750 makes 400 hp and 450 lb-ft.
EPA-estimated fuel economy stands at 17 mpg city/24 mpg highway and 20 mpg combined (the regular 750 has a 17 mpg combined estimate). BMW says the ActiveHybrid 7 accelerates from zero to 60 mph in a sizzling 4.7 seconds, compared to 5.2 for the regular 7 Series.
Standard safety features include antilock brakes, stability/traction control, front-seat side airbags, front knee airbags, side curtain airbags, active front head restraints and the BMW Assist emergency response system.
Optional safety features include and top and sideview parking 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 sedan 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 redundant buttons to simplify often-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 almost 6 inches) and slightly increased headroom. Available rear seat heating/ventilating 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.
At about 15 percent, the 2012 BMW ActiveHybrid 7's fuel economy gains over a comparable 750 are not insignificant. Neither is the hybrid's 450-pound added weight, but that is what makes the next part so amusing. 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 immediately noticeable, particularly when the electric motor comes online with an extra surge. Yet the ActiveHybrid 7's ride and handling are remarkably unaffected by this additional weight.
Compared to other luxury hybrid sedans, the BMW ActiveHybrid 7 has a firmer, more direct ride quality, even in Comfort mode. This yields a more engaging driving experience, making the 7 Series a hybrid sedan that's actually fun to drive.