Review and road test of the BMW 7 Series ActiveHybrid7 (2012 - 2015)
By Car & Driving
Take a facelifted post-2012 fifth generation BMW 7 Series luxury saloon. Then add a twin turbo 3.0-litre petrol straight six and a pokey electric motor. Give this hybrid blend the ability to run on silent electric-only power at low speeds. Then add a more driver-focused set-up than any other full-sized luxury saloon has yet managed to offer. The result is the rare, covetable and eco-minded BMW Active Hybrid7. It was a rare sight on our road when it was new, but does it make sense as a used buy?
Models Covered: ActiveHybrid7 320bhp 3.0-litre straight six hybrid - swb/lwb
BMW wasn't the first to bring hybrid drive to the full-sized boardroom level luxury saloon segment. What the Munich brand did do when it launched this Active Hybrid7 model in 2012 was to bring an added an extra driving dimension to petrol/electric power in the full luxury saloon sector. A car that allowed you to sack the chauffeur and enjoy yourself with a green-tinged conscience.
This proved to be a rare choice amongst 7 Series buyers on these shores but it was a car that back in 2012 the Bavarian brand had to offer in its major American and Chinese markets, countries not as dominated by diesel as we are in Europe. At the time, BMW also needed to be seen to be providing hybrid technology if it was to match rivals from Mercedes, Audi, Jaguar and Lexus.
None of these brands had then developed hybrid luxury saloons that majored on providing a dynamic driving experience. This was where this Active Hybrid7 model aimed to set itself apart with a hi-tech 8-speed auto gearbox drivers could get the most from via a Drive Performance Control system optimised for petrol/electric motoring.
The ActiveHybrid7 model was dropped when the sixth generation 7 Series was launched in late 2015, that range replacing the 'ActiveHybrid' approach with the Plug-in technology used by a more sophisticated 740e variant.
What You Get
The ActiveHybrid7 model was based on the facelifted fifth generation 7 series we first saw in 2012. This improved model got a 8mm drop in overall height, a revised front kidney grille, a three-sectioned lower air intake with chromed outer edges and Adaptive LED headlight technology.
And inside the leather-lined cabin? Well, as you'd expect for this kind of money, everything is just beautifully built and has a lovely feel in operation, the only exception being the steering wheel that though perfectly functional, feels a bit 3 Series. Through it in standard versions, you glimpse a conventional set of instruments, but some new model buyers opted to pay extra for a higher-tech 'black panel technology'-style screen - basically a facsimilie of a set of instruments, with colour and display variable based upon selection between the various Drive Performance Control modes.
The standard seats are supportive, but it's even nicer if you can find a car fitted with the wonderful extra-cost multi-adjustable comfort chairs that we guarantee are better than those in your front room.
And boot space? Well luggage resides in a beautifully carpeted compartment but unfortunately, the battery pack that this Active Hybrid7 model has to lug about reduces the size of that cargo area from the 500-litres you get in a standard 7 Series model to just 360-litres.
Still, at least the batteries don't impinge upon rear seat accomodation. Here, the experience on offer depends largely upon your choice between the standard bodyshape and the long wheelbase version which offers 14cms of extra rear legroom for a presidentially-sized space that enables you to really stretch out.
What to Look For
In typical BMW fashion, reliability will be excellent. Certainly, there have been no significant reports of major engine issues, despite the complexity of the ActiveHybrid powerplant. Ensuring the 7-series has been specified with the 'Mobile Application Preparation' option is extremely important as it enables the 'BMW Connected Drive' app for the iPhone. If the car doesn't have it, BMW will not retrofit so the only option is to have a 'fix' done independently.
(Based on 2012 model ActiveHybrid7) Choosing a full-size luxury hybrid saloon of this kind means replacement parts are not likely to be cheap. Despite this petrol/electric 7-series sharing its petrol engine with a normal 740i model, certain parts can be pricey. An exchange starter motor retails at around £245 while a windscreen will set you back around £250. Front brake pads cost a stinging £185. An entire xenon headlamp pod will relieve you of £358. Replacement xenon bulbs are £99 a pair.
On the Road
Here, you essentially have the 320bhp TwinPower 3.0-litre straight six petrol engine from the 740i mated to a synchronous electric motor and a lithium ion high performance battery to deliver a combined output of 354bhp and 500Nm of torque - good enough to get you from rest to sixty two in just 5.7s.
Of course, a 7 Series diesel model goes just as quickly but one of those can't cruise around town for over two miles on pure, silent electric power - as this model can, provided you don't exceed 37mph. When we tested this car, we never managed anything like that two mile range as you need to be incredibly careful with the throttle pedal if the petrol engine's not to thrum almost imperceptibly into life. Show it a hill and it'll also cut in and unlike some hybrid cars, there's no EV button that will force the car into an electric-only mode until the batteries deplete. A Lexus LS would give you that - but it wouldn't rival this Active Hybrid7 as a driver's machine. Ultimately, if you want a luxury hybrid saloon from this era in this segment and you enjoy yourself at the wheel, then this is where you have to come.
Just how involving should a car like this really be to drive? It's a subject fiercely debated, not least within BMW, whose engineers erred on the side of limousine comfort with the previous generation version of this model, relinquishing the 'Ultimate Driving Machine' honours to rival cars from Jaguar and Audi. This fifth generation 7 is much more driver-orientated than earlier versions (which means that some rivals are marginally better in terms of ride and refinement) but the balance BMW has chosen still shouldn't upset those CEOs who prefer to stay in the back and read the FT.
Should the current economic climate force them to sack the chauffeur however, there are plenty of compensations to be had from a seat up front, even on the kind of twisty B roads where cars like this are often least at home. Some of the credit for this is down to some well chosen chassis tweaks that were applied to this model. And some of it is due to the Drive Performance Control system which, according to a choice between four modes - Comfort, Sport, Sport+ and ECO PRO - enables the driver to alter the engine and throttle response, power steering characteristics, the shift points of the auto gearbox and the stability control system thresholds. If you've got a car where the original owner specified the optional Integral Active Steering - for more precise inputs at the helm - and the optional Variable Damper Control set-up - so you can match the ride response to the mood you're in and the road you're on - Drive Performance Control will tweak those two systems too.
There's also a Dynamic Stability Control system that can be activated by the driver to make it easier - in 'Traction' mode - to pull away on loose surfaces or in deep snow. In this setting (as well as in 'Sport+' on the Drive Performance Control system), the stability control thresholds are raised and DTC Dynamic Traction Control is activated.
BMW of course didn't really build this Active Hybrid7 model for European buyers, people more likely to be swayed by the merits of diesel power. But that doesn't mean such a customer couldn't find this a rewarding choice as a used car. Being able to sprint to sixty two mph in under 6s in a super luxury saloon capable of over 40mpg has a strong appeal. As does being able to cruise around town on silent electric-only power.
Ultimately though, you're going to be buying this car if you really must have the most driver-orientated luxury hybrid saloon from the 2012 to 2015 era. Or even more simply, the most technically advanced and arguably most desirable 7 series that BMW made in that time. If that's the case, you'll be an unusual customer of course. But if you're one of those people, then you probably didn't get to where you are in life by taking the usual path. This car's different. If you are too, then you may just like it very much indeed.
BMW 7 Series ActiveHybrid7 (2012 - 2015) review by Car & Driving