New BMW 745Le xDrive plug-in hybrid 2019 review

The new facelifted BMW 7 Series has arrived in the UK, and we drive the plug-in hybrid 745Le xDrive to see if it's the pick of the range

Overall Auto Express Rating

4.0 out of 5

BMW has given the 7 Series a thorough going over for this mid-life refresh, and while the looks may not be to everyone’s taste, you can’t mistake the 7 Series for any other BMW. The limo’s usual traits remain, including the fine handling but slightly firm ride, which still puts it at odds with the Mercedes S-Class. But this new plug-in is the best 7 Series on sale; it’s quick, quiet and efficient and considerably cheaper than the equivalent Merc.

It’s fair to say the BMW 7 Series has long lived in the shadow of the Mercedes S-Class. Technically accomplished it may have been, but the big Beemer has always missed the last degree of polish that makes the mighty Merc feel so special. 

BMW is having another crack at beating the S-Class, though. The German giant has taken its largest and poshest saloon and put it through a serious renovation programme. So the big 7 now gets a whole new look, more luxurious fixtures and fittings, and some new engines – including the plug-in hybrid, badged 745Le xDrive, that we’re driving here.

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It’s certainly a big transformation on the outside. BMW calls its mid-life updates ‘LCIs’ – Life Cycle Impulses – and they normally require a serious game of spot the difference. But BMW is calling the 7 Series’s LCI its most radical yet.

The new grille is 40 per cent larger; in fact the whole front-end is 50mm taller. The headlights – LEDs as standard with laser headlights a £1,595 option – are slimmer, and there’s a new front bumper. The whole front portion of the car is squarer and stands prouder, in fact. There are also new skirts along the side, while at the back there are thinner lights joined together with an LED strip. To top things off there are lashings of chrome (although the M Sport gets black trim) on nearly every body panel, thicker glass all round, and more sound insulation.  

Radical is one word to describe the update, but BMW says the brash new look was necessary to not only separate the 7 from the rest of the BMW saloon car range, but also to appeal to Chinese buyers, who account for some 40 per cent of all 7 Series sales. 

BMW has added the latest version of its iDrive infotainment system – with gesture control – and a new screen for the dials, but it’s pretty much business as usual. That means the quality of the interior is mostly excellent with soft leathers and metal inlays, but the design is still a little too generic. The gearlever, for instance, feels like it’s been lifted from the last-generation 3 Series; why BMW didn’t replace it with the cut glass one available in the X7 and 8 Series, is odd.

While the design may be a little too familiar, there are no complaints with the standard kit list. Adaptive LED headlights, soft-close doors, 360-degree parking cameras, wireless phone charging, and a Harman/Kardon sound system are now thrown in – and that’s on top of the Nappa leather and BMW display key already offered.

The 7 Series can still be ordered in standard guise or as a long wheelbase version. And with an eye on impressing captains of industry, the long wheelbase cars are 14cm longer than before. There are more luxurious packages in the back quarters, too, such as the £5,995 ‘Rear Seat Entertainment Experience’ – that’s two 10.1-inch touch screens and a small tablet screen to control them with – and the £10,995 ‘Rear Seat Comfort Plus Package’ which consists of two first class-style airline chairs and a centre console. But the seats aren’t as comfortable as an S-Class’s and the big Merc offers more toys. 

The 7’s engine line-up is a match for the S-Class though. There’s a choice of two 3.0-litre diesels (730d and 740d), a 3.0-litre petrol (740i) and a 4.4-litre V8 (750i). Right at the top of the range sits the M760i with its outrageous 577bhp 6.6-litre V12 – but here we have the newest and potentially most tempting 7 Series – the new 745Le xDrive plug-in hybrid.

There has been a plug-in version of the 7 before, but its 2.0-litre petrol engine was underwhelming. This time round BMW has shoved a 282bhp 3.0-litre straight-six under the bonnet, installed a new 111bhp electric motor, and put a new high-voltage battery under the boot floor. 

There’s a standard wheelbase, rear-wheel drive version and a long wheelbase model with xDrive all-wheel drive. Pure electric range sits between 32 and 36 miles, and both cars can run in EV mode up to 68mph. Despite the extra cylinders, the 745Le emits less CO2 than the old model.

In this guise, the 7 Series effortlessly glides along on electricity, and really elevates the 7 Series to the posh limo it has always tried to be. Around cities the car will happily stay in EV mode, but squeeze the throttle for a bit more power and the petrol engine will wake up. It’s almost imperceptible – although if you press the pedal harder and the 3.0-litre engine emits a pleasant six-cylinder roar.

The new plug-in is a far better fit, and doesn’t suffer from the old 2.0-litre’s lackluster performance. BMW quotes 5.1 seconds for the sprint from zero to 62mph and it feels genuinely quick for such a large car.

There are number of ways to control the engine and electric power delivery, too. Every 745Le gets pure electric, Hybrid and Sport modes ­– with the latter using both the engine and electric motor to deliver impressive punch. There’s also a ‘Battery Control’ button that can charge up the battery while you’re driving. It even allows you to choose the level – between 30 and 100 per cent – you want the engine to charge battery up to.

That battery does rob the boot of some space compared with the other 7 Series models in the range, but not by much. Perhaps more frustratingly, BMW charges you for the rapid and fast charging cables, which seems pretty mean on an £82k limousine.

Despite the plug-in weighing a touch more than the normal diesel and petrol versions it still handles remarkably well, and even with the air suspension in its softest setting, body control is impressive. But with this comes ride quality that’s still a little way off an S-Class’s polish. The 7 still bounces along a little too much than it should. 

But the 745Le’s real trump card compared to the S 560e L is price. While the Mercedes does pack more power (469bhp compared to the BMW’s 389bhp) it also costs some £14,000 more – and only delivers 25 miles of electric range.

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