COAL: 2018 BMW 740e – We Gonna Rock Down To Electric Avenue

2018 BMW 740e

Not aware that the “e” is back in Bimmer land? Neither was I.

This appears to be a 2018 7 Series, a nice enough car.

2018 BMW 740e

But around back, there’s an “e” instead of an “i”, sure enough. Maybe it’s a detuned version? Nothing else looks different. As far as I can tell, the last time BMW used the “e” suffix in a model name was the 325e of the mid-80’s. I’ll let you Google a full backstory, but it was a detuned six that gave little horsepower, but lots of torque and gas mileage for the time, relatively speaking.

2018 BMW 740e

Ah wait, now it’s coming into focus. We have an appendage there in the driver fender and sure enough,

Plug on a BMW 740e

we are plugged in!

I have only recently become aware BMW has in fact been selling plug-in hybrid electric vehicles for a number of years now. Embarrassing to be a “car person” and be so out of touch. In fact, they are in third place in annual sales worldwide, after Tesla (1) and BYD (2, a Chinese make).

They actually do pretty well here in the U.S. too. The 530e is their best plug-in hybrid (PHEV) seller. The plug in X5 gets a fair amount of love too. The recently cancelled gullwing gonzo i8 even manages 800 or so copies a year worldwide.

The 740e I fell in love with? Well, it’s the red-headed stepchild of the BMW Hybrid family in the U.S. I have one of just 339 model year 2018 740e’s that found their forever home in the States. The worst seller of the BMW Hybrid family.

How did this come to be? Well, the 2019 Suburban COAL I wrote up about a year ago is alive and well. My wife, who is a Realtor, went out on her own and the new firm needed a vehicle for accessing and showing properties in all kinds of weather (and terrain, being somewhat mountainous around here). So “my” company sold it to “her” new merry band of real estate agents. I put about 35,000 miles on it in the 14 months I had it, and I love it. I imagine the new 2021 Suburban would really knock my socks off.

I went looking for a used large sedan since I would have access to the Suburban still. I liked the 2016 Lexus ES350 COAL well enough, but I loved the 2007 S550 COAL I wrote up. I preferred something large and German, having had used S Classes from 1986, 1988, 1997, 2000 and 2007 over the last 20 years (some of which I have written up).

I started like most people do, online. I like the looks of the current 7 Series, 2016 to 2019, so I started with those. It got a new schnoz for a mid-cycle refresh in MY 2020 that I am not sure about yet, but the 2020’s were also too pricey.

The 2018 740i’s with a gasoline six seemed reasonable enough, and there were plenty of them coming off 24 and 30 month leases. I wanted all wheel drive, though, which was hard to find in my area.

I started looking to the north, around Maryland, Pennsylvania, etc. Close enough for me to drive to, and sure enough they had lots of all wheel drives up there, xDrive in BMW speak.

One at a Maryland dealer was a 740e all wheel drive. So that was the first I had heard of this model. They had it on the lot since January, and seemed willing to deal. We actually conducted the entire negotiations by text.

So long story short, it’s mine now and it has been great for me so far. I have only had it about a month, so I’ll have to save deeper observations for later. But in brief, it is the 255 horsepower, 2.0 liter gasoline turbo 4 cylinder from many other BMW models, mated to a 111 horsepower electric motor sandwiched between the flywheel and transmission, driving all the wheels through the same 8 speed ZF transmission found in most BMWs.

I have never driven any sort of hybrid aside from my mother-in-law’s former Lexus CT250, which none of us found especially pleasant to drive. So, this is another beast altogether. I have never driven a Tesla either, and I am sure they are stupendous cars. I am watching for Jim’s updates on his with great interest.

For someone with little to no public charging where they live (me), range anxiety (me), and the need to occasionally drive 500 or 600 miles in a day without planning out charging stops (me), a PHEV is a great compromise and makes me very hopeful for the future of EV technology.

BMW 740e dash

Here is the dash at press time (not the best picture, sorry), which has been a kind of light week for me. I filled up Monday and reset everything. 280 miles later, I have covered a pretty good mix of country roads, interstate, and city streets.

I plugged in each night with the included 120v charger, which takes about 5-7 hours to fully charge the battery (you can install a 240v, 30 amp wall charger for a 2 hour result). I left the settings on “Comfort” which means the car makes all the decisions about gas use, electric use, and shifting, but it does not scrimp on heat, air, heated seats, etc., in the name of saving energy (you can lock out the heated seats or A/C, for example, in the name of energy conservation).

So after 280 miles, you can see I have averaged the equivalent of 51.2 mpg. I did pay attention to my speed, but I more or less moved with traffic. Not bad for a 4700 pound, all wheel drive German boat.

The blue “e83.5” is the electric odometer. So 83.5 of the 280 miles were exclusively electric driven. The gas gauge is at half, so we used half a tank for 196 miles of gas movement. The tank only holds 12 gallons though, to make room for the battery. So we used 6 gallons more or less for 196 miles, or 32 mpg under gas movement. Which is a little better than the EPA ratings of 25 city, 29 highway, 27 mixed for gasoline-only consumption.

I was concerned about the inconvenience of the smallish gas tank, but if I can average 450 miles or more on a tank, that is fine.

The small gauge to the left is the gas gauge. The small gauge to the right is the battery. When the battery is fully charged, it shows 15 miles of range. Which doesn’t sound like enough to matter, but clearly it is a help. The car uses regenerative braking to constantly charge, and the alternator is always charging the long range battery.

Every time you lift your foot off the gas in normal driving, like coasting down a hill, it goes into charging mode. When you brake, it uses the pads of course eventually, but light braking is caused by the regeneration. So the battery never really goes to “zero”. Like a non plug-in hybrid, it is constantly making enough juice to move you away from stoplights and creep in stop and go traffic under electric, etc.

The other interesting thing I learned is the heat and A/C are electric, run off the long-range battery at all times, and not supplied by the engine. There is not an A/C compressor under the hood. I guess a Tesla must work that way, I don’t know about other hybrids.

So, the BMW manual says to “preclimatize” on a hot or cold day when you are plugged in, such as prior to setting out for the first time of the day. It uses the “shore” power to run the heat or AC for a while, thus saving battery range and/or saving the gas engine’s efforts to recharge the long-range battery from a big heating or cooling job. You can set a schedule to do this at multiple times of day, if you head to work and head home at set times for example. You can also tell it to start the climate control from your phone if your days vary as do mine, so I did it from the phone while I had my coffee this morning.

Of course, I don’t know that any of this saves any money since you are also buying the electricity, but it is a lot of fun to watch. It does save gasoline, clearly, so if your power source is nuclear (like my utility provider) or renewable, then you are using “carbon free” energy to a limited extent. About one-third of my sample week of driving consisted of “clean”, nuclear-fueled miles (83.5 / 280).

(ED: since the battery has a 7.4 kWh usable capacity, and there’s roughly 10% losses in the charger, it takes approximately 10 kWh to charge the battery from empty. I don’t know the electric cost where the author lives, but the US average is 13 cents/kWh. Thus at that rate it costs approximately $1.00 to fully recharge the battery from empty. Whether the battery is fully empty or not each evening is another matter. That $1.00 electric cost comes to 7.2 cents/mile, based on its rated 14 mile pure EV range.  Assuming the author can keep getting 32 mpg from gasoline-only operation (higher than its EPA rated mileage), at a price of $2.00 per gallon, that comes to 6.25 cents/gallon.  So in strictly economic terms, electric operation is costing almost 15% more. So the benefit is primarily environmental, not economic, but that depends on electric cost and gas costs. The reason is because this BMW 740e is not very efficient in electric mode, rated at 64 mpge. A comparable-size Tesla Model S is rated at 117 mpge, or twice as efficient.  Obviously these numbers will change depending on the local cost of electricity and gasoline.)

While the Editor’s comments are helpful and informative, I take issue with comparing the efficiency of a plug-in hybrid (like the 740e), with the Tesla Model S (which is a ground-up, pure EV). Seems like apples and oranges to me. The 740e and all plug-in hybrids, by their very nature, are intended as a “compromise” with strengths (ability to use gasoline and charge themselves, albeit slowly, without an outlet) and drawbacks (electric range and efficiency) compared to a pure EV. The 740e does better on the mpge rating as it’s true competition, the other large plug-in hybrids: Mercedes-Benz S550e (58mpge); Volvo S90 and XC90 (54mpge); the Audi A8 (53mpge), and Porsche Panamera (46mpge), to name a few. See here.

I have ordered an outlet power meter from Amazon to calculate how much money the charger costs to run. It says it is 10 amps, 1500 watts, so I guess it is about like a built-in microwave running several hours each night. That will shed more light on whether we are actually going in the hole financially, driving a car that uses less gasoline.

BMW 740e driver seat

So what are the strengths of a lightly used 740e?

First and foremost: it’s a 7 Series in all other respects. It is a large, silent (gas or electric), safe, comfortable sedan. It is expensive when new, and feels like it in everything you see, touch, or operate.  The fit and finish are beyond reproach. It will whisk you and three or four others in complete comfort to anywhere you wish to go. It has an air suspension, and renders both great handling and a great ride.

Does it use more gas than a Tesla? Of course it does, anything is more than zero. But you can drive as long as you want, more or less uninterrupted. You’ll use less gas than most any other large luxury sedan while doing it. 0-60mph is about the same (5.1 sec.) as a six-cylinder 740i. You are giving up nothing in performance or convenience, for the way many people drive, especially in rural areas.

Second strength: it suffers from the same (or worse) depreciation as most big German luxury sedans. We are talking Grade “A”, breathtaking depreciation.

This is of course a huge bonus if you are the second owner, like me. The sedan you see started at about $91,000.00, and then was festooned with over $15,000.00 of options.

Some are great ($3,400.00 for a Bowers & Wilkins sound system; $1,000.00 for front massaging seats and yes, there is a setting for your buttocks) while others are of questionable value ($1,700.00 for 360 degree cameras, as if a rear camera and parking sensors front and rear aren’t enough; $1,000.00 for black shearling floor mats).

The $3,500.00 “M Sport” package is just cosmetics, but gets you sportier bumpers and rockers, “M” wheels, “M”-only paint color choices, a black suede headliner, black stained wood, and lighted “M” door sills to spiff things up. Despite the high price of admission, the original owner had to pay extra for Apple CarPlay, blind spot, lane keeping, cross path detection, heated seats, cooled seats, and a host of other things that should have been standard.

So 30 months and 10,895 miles from the original in-service date, I paid $53,000.00 and change. The first owner (it was not a lease, surprisingly) took a hit of roughly $5.00 a mile. I guess that’s a rounding error to the one percenters out there. I’m more than happy to reap the benefit. As nice as the car is, I can’t wrap my head around paying over $100 grand for it, but it’s a free country.

Now, off to download some Eddy Grant!