At first sight BMW’s largest hybrid vehicle is not distinguishable from its siblings. In fact the only differentiator from the outside is the rather large ‘Active Hybrid’ badge on the C-pillar of the vehicle. The usual 7 Series look is there, including the extensive use of chrome on the grill, front and rear bumpers, as well as the twin exhaust incorporated into the rear bumper.
Open the solid doors and you are welcomed by the traditional BMW high-end leather seats and soft carpets. Slip into the oversized front seats and you immediately feel comfortable. The steering wheel dashboard layout is once again identical to that of the normal 7 Series. So what makes this car unique?
Well, as you push the start button that’s when everything changes, as there is no roar from the 3,0 litre six-cylinder engine – instead there is a rather scary silence. Apart from the display panels that all come to life when the start button is pressed, you would not realise that the vehicle is switched on. You simply select ‘drive’ and depress the accelerator as usual. If you are light-footed it will seem as though you are driving a rather large and luxurious golf cart – that is, until you get up to speed. As the vehicle cruises between 25 km/h and 30 km/h there is a slight hum as the engine miraculously comes to life. All of a sudden as you put your foot down the power surge from the electric and combustion pushes you firmly back into the seat. This automatically sends a smile to your face.
It is at this stage that you realise that this hybrid is no flower-power vehicle, but rather a well-executed powerhouse that will keep the environment safe.
So how does it all work? Well, in actual fact, it is a very simple concept. The vehicle has two engines, a petrol and an electric engine, both mounted in the bonnet next to each other. Then there are the lithium batteries that are located in the boot. This is the only drawback of the hybrid, in that there is additional weight and the boot space is somewhat compromised due to the additional battery packs that power the electric engine so that at low speed or in parking the vehicle can be powered by the electric engine only. When additional speed and power are required, the petrol engine takes over. While the petrol engine is running, the batteries are recharged. Then, when you really need a sudden burst of power, say, to overtake, the vehicle is projected by both the petrol and electric engines. This makes the 3,0 litre engine feel more like a 4,0 litre.
That, in simple terms, is how the hybrid system works. Of course, as you know, nothing is simple with BMW and the technology that BMW put into its vehicles is mind-blowing. Some of the other features include power regeneration from the brakes (that is, the energy generated from braking is used to recharge the batteries), while the intelligent navigation system calculates the power required for the chosen route including gradient and works out the most fuel efficient way of travel to your destination. BMW claims a combined cycle fuel consumption of 7,2 litres per 100 kilometres and I have to admit I came pretty close to the claim.
BMW say that “the ActiveHybrid 7 is forcing the pace of progress by intelligently interlinking innovative technologies”. I say this is motoring perfected. ❐
Engine: 3,0 / 6-Cylinder Turbo
Power: 235 KW
Torque: 450 Nm
0 –100 km/h: 5,7 (claimed)
Fuel consumption: Average 7,2 l /100 km
CO2: 158 g/km
Price From: R1 104 000
Author: Azim Omar CA(SA) is a member of SAGMJ.