We review the BMW ActiveHybrid 7 – The ultimate driving machine with a hint of green

In India where the market for hybrid cars is practically non-existent, BMW surprised everyone by bringing the petrol-electric variant of its decadent luxury limo in the country last year. The BMW ActiveHybrid 7 was launched in July 2014 at the price of Rs 1.35 crore (ex-showroom, Delhi) slotting it right in the middle of the 7-Series range. Introduced to establish the German automaker’s hybrid line-up, the ActiveHybrid 7 created the perfect platform for BMW to launch the i8 hybrid sportscar in India. But does it make sense to shell out extra to bring home the two-and-a-bit tonne luxo-barge for environment conscious buyers rather than buying the practical BMW 730d? We put to test the German marquee’s first hybrid offering in the country to answer all your queries through this comprehensive review.

The ActiveHybrid 7 does come with a few subtle design cues that separate it from the rest of the range. Different alloy wheel designs and ActiveHybrid 7 badges all around from the rear to the sill plates to even on the C-pillar are the only telltale indicators

Design & Styling
Not so surprisingly, the BMW ActiveHybrid 7 looks almost identical to any other variant in the 7-Series line-up. Until noticed closely, the ActiveHybrid model doesn’t appear any different from the rest of the range and can be easily mistaken for a diesel model. However, considering that it is the top-of-the-range offering by BMW we are talking about, the lack of obvious differentiators is not a bad thing since additional highlighting features might ruin the overall aesthetic appeal. But the ActiveHybrid 7 does come with a few subtle design cues that separate it from the rest of the range. Different alloy wheel designs and ActiveHybrid 7 badges all around from the rear to the sill plates to even on the C-pillar are the only telltale indicators. So, instead of a review of the styling of the ActiveHybrid 7, this is more of an evaluation of the design and styling of the 7-Series long wheelbase models. The BMW 7-Series is seven years old now and in all these years, the luxury limo has received very low-key facelifts. Compared to the new Mercedes S-Class, which is absolutely stunning, the 7-Series looks a tad bit dated. Even the Audi A8, along with its additional garnishing like the Matrix headlights, edges ahead in the looks department. Nevertheless, the overall design of the BMW 7-Series is still very graceful. Especially the exterior; I personally still love the design and styling of the body. However, I can’t say the same for the interior, which according to me desperately needs re-styling to stay at par with the other two German rivals. Let’s take it up individually and discuss in details.

ActiveHybrid badging on the C-pillar
ActiveHybrid badging on the C-pillar

There are no over-the-top design elements, which is exactly what you’ll expect from a top-shelf luxury sedan

Adaptive LED headlights with BMW Intelligent Headlight technology
Adaptive LED headlights with BMW Intelligent Headlight technology
19-inch alloy wheels exclusive to the ActiveHybrid 7
19-inch alloy wheels exclusive to the ActiveHybrid 7

Exterior
The ActiveHybrid 7 is the top of the range offering in the 7-Series lineup and therefore attention to detail matter. As mentioned earlier in the introduction to the section, the hybrid version looks very similar to the rest of the range. Based on the 740Li variant, the ActiveHybrid 7 is offered only in the long wheelbase version like the other Sevens on sale in India. The overall design might be understated but the exterior design features a large number of subtle embellishments and adornments that add up together to give the 7-Series a very premium look. There are no over-the-top design elements, which is exactly what you’ll expect from a top-shelve luxury sedan. From the double-kidney prow with nine slats each and angel-eye full LED adaptive headlights to the hallmark rear-end featuring the instantly recognizable tail-lamps, the ActiveHybrid 7 is classic BMW. Something I specifically loved in the particular model we had for the review is the liquid blue paintjob of the car; it looked fantastic. If you ask me, it’s the best-looking paint option for the full-size luxury limo. The incredible paintjob is further augmented by chrome highlights. Even the special alloy wheel design, exclusive to the ActiveHybrid 7, goes well with the overall design and the color. Overall, the design of the ActiveHybrid 7 is more pleasing than exciting.

Bang & Olufsen sound system
Bang & Olufsen sound system
Illuminated, fully-retractable central speaker
Illuminated, fully-retractable central speaker

Interior
Step inside the cabin and you are welcomed by flawless fit and finish and the generous use of the highest grade of leather and wood. Just like almost every other luxury limo on sale, the BMW 7 Series is not entirely a driver focused car and rather most of the goodness is saved for the rear passengers. However, let’s begin with the front. The front leather seats are massive, infinitely adjustable and provide top-notch comfort along with excellent lumbar support. Expectedly, the cabin is massive, but everything is well within reach and there are no issues with the layout of the dash whatsoever. The only problem is that it looks dated and needs re-styling. The outside visibility for the driver is more than satisfactory and the large windows make it very easy to maneuver the car despite its massive size. Which brings us to the electronic aids; the ActiveHybrid 7 is not short of any kind of equipment. The 7-Series features cameras on all sides of the car along with BMW Night Vision and Dynamic Light Spot functions and a total of eight airbags that help maximize safety. The BMW ConnectedDrive includes impressive features and is not only easy to use but also intuitive to work with despite having endless options. The 1200-watt Bang & Olufsen sound system, which includes 16 speakers along with an illuminated, fully-retractable centre speaker, is just as incredible as you’ll expect it to be. Coming to the rear-end, thanks to the long-wheelbase, there is no dearth of space even with the front seats pushed all the way back. Three people can easily fit in with ease on the rear bench but the tall driveshaft tunnel makes it difficult for the middle passenger to sit comfortably. The rear seats also offer three-way-adjustable massaging function. The BMW Rear Seat Entertainment package comes as standard and the 9.2-inch screens, which instead of being integrated into the front seats, appear to be floating on them adding aesthetic appeal. The individual rear seats are adjustable and the backrest and seat position can both be varied to suit individual requirements. The battery pack of the ActiveHybrid 7’s electric motor sits behind the rear seats and eats into the car’s bootspace. Opening the rear lid will surprise you how small the bootspace in the ActiveHybrid is as compared to the average 7-Series. While the 7-Series can pack in 500 liters of luggage in it, the hybrid variant has just 360 liters of boot capacity. Though the interiors of the BMW 7-Series is good enough make it hard for us to find faults; however, it certainly is not the best in the class and has a lot of catching up to do complete with the class-leading Mercedes S-Class.

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Due to the battery pack placed behind the rear seat, the boot space is reduced to just 360 liters
Due to the battery pack placed behind the rear seat, the boot space is reduced to just 360 liters
Side-view cameras
Side-view cameras

The fact it’s just a second and a tenth slower than the 760Li that has a massive six-liter V12 is very, very impressive

Turbocharged 3.0-liter inline six-cylinder engine
Turbocharged 3.0-liter inline six-cylinder engine

Engine & Performance
This brings us to the most important segment of this review, as this is where the similarities between the ActiveHybrid 7 and the rest of the 7-Series range end. Introduced as the first hybrid BMW model in India, the ActiveHybrid 7 was launched last year as a precursor to the establishment of a proper BMW hybrid line-up in India. But unlike the BMW i8 PHEV supercar and i3 EV, the petrol-electric 7-Series has a completely different approach to the hybrid system. Instead of using external source to charge the batteries, the petrol engine charges the batteries of the ActiveHybrid 7. The small electric motor is rather incapable of driving the car unaided. Instead, it gives additional boost to the petrol engine and makes is more fuel-efficient. As mentioned before, the ActiveHybrid 7 is based on the BMW 740Li model that features the automaker’s familiar turbocharged 3.0-liter inline-6 along with a 40-kilowatt electric motor. The electric motor along with the battery system gives it a range of 3-4km on a full charge and can go to a top speed of 60kmph in full-electric mode. And, there is no way you can choose between the petrol and the electric engines; the electronics of the car itself chooses between them to propel the car. The combined output comes out to about 354bhp and both sources of propulsion only work in tandem under hard acceleration. Thanks to the e-boost, the ActiveHybrid 7 is 0.2 seconds faster than the standard 740Li in 0-100kmph and does the sprint in just 5.7 seconds. However, the benefits of the electric motor is best experienced at lower speeds in stop-and-go traffic; the ActiveHybrid 7 coasts along effortlessly, especially in the Eco Pro mode where the petrol engine almost shuts down in slow speeds. The start-stop function also works beautifully and seamlessly in the ActiveHybrid, as the jerk felt in the fuel-powered cars is practically non-existent. The ActiveHybrid 7 also has regenerative braking so the battery is being charged most of the time. It kicks in more often when you drive in Eco Pro mode and stays engaged for longer too. In the Eco Pro mode though, the gear changes are awfully slow and the car literally drags along giving a sensation of being very heavy, especially when the petrol engine shuts down. In addition to the Eco Pro mode, the car also features Comfort, Comfort+, Sport and Sport+ modes. Slotting the car into the Sport or Sport+ modes turns the ActiveHybrid 7 into a completely different animal. This is when the 8-speed automatic transmission comes into its own and the massive luxury sedan becomes blisteringly fast. Punching the throttle makes the ActiveHybrid 7 accelerate like a sportscar, despite its 2-tonne weight, before hitting a limited top of 250kmph. But that 2-tonne weight becomes an issue under heavy braking – while it accelerates like a sportscar, it brakes like a big and heavy luxury sedan. Nevertheless, the fact it’s just a second and a tenth slower than the 760Li that has a massive six-liter V12 is very, very impressive.

Ride & Handling
Considering that the ActiveHybrid 7 is a top-of-the-shelve luxury limo, the ride quality has to be absolutely perfect, especially for the rear passengers, to cater to the most discerning customers. So, did it impress us? Well, yes. It feels just like the regular 7-Series. The chassis has been set-up perfectly for the Indian conditions and the automatic self-leveling suspension at the rear-axle gives it impeccable ride quality. Sitting at the back — where the buyers will end up spending most of their time — you won’t feel the thuds when the car runs over potholes and bad patches. As far as the handling goes, the ActiveHybrid 7 runs on 19-inch wheels with Pirelli 245 section tires up front and 275 sections at the rear that provide fantastic grip at high speeds and keeps it planted firmly on the tarmac. At high-speed turns, it tends to understeer due to its size but the chassis electronics keep the car perfectly calm and composed. Nevertheless, the ActiveHybrid 7 is not meant to be driven like a sportscar and is rather designed to transport its passengers in utmost luxury. At cruising speeds, the luxury sedan performs brilliantly. The steering does feel on the heavier side and does not provide much feedback, but it is precise giving the driver more confidence. Another thing that we absolutely loved about the car is its turning radius; turning the car in tight spots felt like maneuvering a much smaller sedan with a shorter wheelbase. Overall, we were impressed by the ride and handling of the petrol-electric variant of 7-Series.

bmw-active-hybrid-7-5Verdict
This brings us to the final part of the review, the verdict. So, does buying the BMW ActiveHybrid 7 make sense or is it just entirely pointless? Is it worth the extra price-premium? Does it really have real world advantages over the regular 7-Series models? The ActiveHybrid 7 was launched at an ex-showroom Delhi price of Rs 1.35 crores, which is quite a bit more than the BMW 730Ld (BMW’s highest selling model in the 7-Series range). In terms of the car’s green credentials, the ActiveHybrid might be greener and more efficient than the petrol variants, but it again loses out to the diesel powered 730Ld, which emits fewer CO2 and is a lot more fuel-efficient. Therefore, if we go by logic, it makes more sense to buy the BMW 730d, which is not only cheaper to buy but also cheaper to run and more kind towards the environment. However, frugality and price sometimes do not become the determining factors in the luxury car segment and exclusivity is given more importance. If you choose to buy one, you’d be in a very small minority. The rarity of the car in addition to the ‘Hybrid’ badges on the body might give some serious bragging rights along with building an image that you’re doing your bit to save the environment.

The Luxe Factor Is

8 Looks
9 Comfort
8 Handling
6 Value for money
7.8
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