2011 BMW ActiveHybrid 750i First Drive

2011 BMW ActiveHybrid 750i First Drive

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2011 BMW ActiveHybrid 7 Sedan

(4.4L V8 Twin-turbo Hybrid 8-speed Automatic)

Saving the Planet, One Powerslide at a Time

It's really a shame that the word "hybrid" has such a miserly connotation. It's as though everything stamped with the word has to be either economical, eco-friendly or worse: both! How are giant luxury cars with twin-turbocharged V8s supposed to fit in a category like that?

"Wait!" you might blurt between mouthfuls of organic Kelpa-Cola and Tofurkey-flavored birdseed, "That's the whole point!"

Well, you aren't exactly right. Fact of the matter is, if your car has both an electric motor and something running on fossil fuel, you've got yourself a hybrid. And that's where the 455-horsepower 2011 BMW ActiveHybrid 750i comes in. It's the quickest hybrid in the world.

BMW isn't the first company to adapt a somewhat-liberal take on the mission statement of a "hybrid," so we're not going to bash the Germans about the ActiveHybrid 750i. This car is economical when you think of it as compared to the conventional BMW 750i. And an EPA highway rating of 26 mpg isn't just good, it's great — especially for a car that will dust the V12-powered BMW 760i while leaving your pockets some $35,000 fuller. Heck, the 2011 BMW ActiveHybrid 750i will even give the sinister Alpina B7 an honest run for its money.

Separated at Birth
As far as we can tell, this car must have been swapped at birth with some prototype of a 7 Series with an M badge. This is funny, because the hybrid badge this car wears automatically leads us to expect a BMW 740i — a sedan not known for heart-stopping power — that's forced to lug around a bunch of batteries. Yep, we cringe at the mere thought of a couple hundred pounds of nickel-metal hydride batteries compromising a flawless suspension setup and wreaking havoc on braking ability.

Instead, the 2011 BMW ActiveHybrid 750i is kind of the ultimate version of the 7 Series. While it is true that the electrified 7 is still the big-boned kid in the 7 Series family, it carries its weight well.

The car packs 231 pounds extra compared to a 750i, but it's also got 20 hp extra from the electric motor, not to mention an extra 155 pound-feet of torque in all the right places. On top of that, the twin-turbocharged V8 is another 40-hp healthier in hybrid trim. No matter how hard we push this behemoth down the road, we just can't feel those extra pounds that come with the hybrid badges. There is, at times, just the faintest bob in the rear end over undulations, but then again, that might have simply been our stomachs trying to keep up with 4,795 pounds of Bavarian engineering.

German Cooking
The recipe we're talking about here isn't exactly as complicated as 11 herbs and spices. Unlike the BMW ActiveHybrid X6, with its two electric motors and complicated transmission, the ActiveHybrid 750i is a mild hybrid — a straightforward powertrain that simply stops and starts when the car comes to a rest. And there's none of that silent running across the intersection on battery power (which is the thing that Prius owners love so much). The technology at work is no more mysterious than what General Motors has been doing with the Chevrolet Malibu hybrid and Saturn Vue hybrid.

Though, as you may expect, BMW's execution on the 7 Series is different. And by that we mean, if this were a bake-off, the 2011 BMW ActiveHybrid 750i would be German chocolate cake made from scratch, while the Chevrolet Malibu hybrid comes out looking more like Betty Crocker from the box.

As is typical in the buzzword-abusing subsegment of hybridity, BMW has essentially sandwiched a small electric motor between the engine and the automatic transmission, only we just happen to be discussing a twin-turbocharged, triple-intercooled direct-injected V8 and an eight-speed automatic transmission. And that big trunk full of nickel-metal explosives that you were picturing is actually a high-performance lithium-ion battery pack that takes up a mere 1 cubic foot of trunk space and weighs a little less than 60 pounds (most Americans could stand to lose that much off their midsections).

Despite the power pack's svelte size, it can crank out 400 kW/h of power. Yeah, we were curious, too, so we looked it up and apparently this much power turns out to be more than a static shock; it's run-your-clothes-dryer-for-an-hour power.

For the Love of a V8 Hybrid
The genius of this design is that in situations where a big, thirsty forced-induction V8 sucks at life, the torquey, little electric motor can merrily take the initial load off. Piddle around in a parking lot or mill through traffic and the eight-cylinder will take smaller sips still, courtesy of an auto-start stop function. And since the 2011 BMW ActiveHybrid 750i features an all-electric air-conditioning system, you're guaranteed that the cabin will stay cool regardless of whether the engine is running. Our guess is that most drivers would have no idea they were driving a hybrid.

Should you suddenly wake up and realize that minimizing your eco-footprint around town is about as entertaining as ironing socks, the twin-turbocharged 4.4-liter V8 combines with the electric motor to fire the entire technological smorgasbord to 60 mph in 4.7 seconds. Trust us when we say it's everything you would never expect to happen when you put your foot in it. With a combined 455 hp and a 515 lb-ft of torque, the 2011 BMW ActiveHybrid 750i feels capable of melting faces and small planetary bodies alike.

We Could Get Used to This Hybrid Deal
So it turns out that we can really get behind this hybrid, though we kind of feel bad that this car might be the ultimate green pretender since it costs $103,175. But if you're in the market for a gigantic sedan, why even bother with anything else? Maybe the freshly minted Alpina B7? Well, the 2011 BMW ActiveHybrid 750i feels just as fast and returns much better gas mileage, at 17 city/26 highway mpg compared to the B7's 15 city/21 highway mpg.

BMW is betting that most American buyers will feel the same way. The company says that it expects somewhere around 45 percent of total sales of the 2011 BMW ActiveHybrid 750i sales to be right here, in the land of apple pie. Given how well the car adheres to the BMW mantra of driving dynamics above all else and that Uncle Sam will have no problem handing you a tax incentive when you sign the dotted line, we're inclined to agree.

Edmunds attended a manufacturer-sponsored press event to facilitate this report.

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