Plug-in hybrids, by their nature, exist in an awkward limbo between conventional gasoline and fully electric vehicles. Some, such as the Chevy Volt or BMW i3, make a genuinely compelling case toward greater electrification of the automobile. Others, however, can seem like little more than an experimental stepping-stone toward full EVs, which is the case with the 2020 BMW 745e xDrive iPerformance. With minimal useful range as an EV and a lofty asking price cutting into its polar bear-hugging modesty, the 745e, as with the conventional 2020 7-series, remains a pure luxury statement above all else.
The 745e's predecessor, the 740e, was rather half-hearted in the powertrain department, combining BMW's turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-four with the same 111-hp electric motor-generator found in this updated 7-series hybrid. With a fully charged battery, the previous system worked well, but when the electrons ran out, the four-cylinder had to work hard to motivate such a large sedan. For the 2020 model year, BMW has remedied this by swapping the four-cylinder gas engine for its buttery-smooth turbocharged inline-six, making the 745e notably quicker: Zero to 60 mph now takes 4.7 seconds versus the 740e's 5.2, and the quarter-mile passes in 13.2 seconds, a half-second sooner than before. For comparison, the 523-hp 2020 750i xDrive model needs only 4.0 seconds to reach 60 mph and 12.5 to cover the quarter. But more impressive than the speed is the effortless demeanor with which the 745e accelerates. At no speed does the boosted six sound or feel overworked, whether it's being helped by the 745e's relatively small battery or not.
BMW increased the 7-series-hybrid's lithium-ion battery capacity from 9.2 to 12.0 kWh for 2020. While the bump is significant, battery-only driving still really only is useful for city jaunts. The EPA estimates 16 miles of electric-only driving in its combined cycle, and we managed to squeeze 18 miles of EV driving in at the start of our 75-mph highway fuel-economy test. (The car will go up to 87 mph before the gas engine kicks in.) The 745e returned 35 mpg on that test, which is the same figure we recorded for the 740e. Considering the 2020 model packs both 269 more pounds and 67 more horsepower than before, that fuel-economy result—which is a 6-mpg gain over the 750i's—is a solid accomplishment.
Searching for Purpose
As in all of the latest 7-series models, BMW's interior materials are high in quality and nice to touch, and the entire cabin maintains a consistent design. The rear seats are the place to be, though, with optional entertainment screens mounted on the backs of the front seats and a removable tablet in the center console that can control nearly everything in the car, from window shades to seat massagers. The 745e's interior checks all the luxury-car boxes, but its confines fail to achieve the prominent wow factor of its key German rival, the Mercedes-Benz S-class. Whereas the Benz feels as if it's a rolling living room, the 7-series comes off as less special, as if it is merely a spruced-up and stretched 3- or 5-series. The hybrid 7 takes another hit in regard to practicality with a trunk that gives up 3 cubic feet versus its gas-only siblings, which means it carries two fewer carry-on-size boxes in our testing.
All of this distills down to one question: Who is the 745e xDrive for? Aside from being able to write a check for at least $96,545—about $6K more than the non-hybrid 740i xDrive model—potential 745e buyers must have interest in owning a plug-in hybrid, which means being prepared to plug in at home and, given its modest EV range, likely on the go as well. If dipping your toes into the electrified future with a tony luxury barge is your thing, the 745e xDrive fits the bill—even if the statement it makes is more in regard to its owner's tastes than actually saving the environment.
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