When he’s not running across sand or wooing Audrey Roberts, actor Nigel Havers likes nothing better than to walk around London tapping on the windows of chauffeurs sitting with their engine running, telling them to turn it off.
The number of cars sat idling by the side of the road, doing nothing, is “extraordinary” he told BBC Radio 4 PM presenter Eddie Mair. And our Nige has been braving the verbals to try and stamp it out.
There’d be no tapping on the window of a new BMW 740Le xDrive, though. Because it’s a plug-in hybrid, with a big electric motor and even bigger battery, the little Mini Cooper S petrol engine supplementing this would already be switched off. Your lungs are safe, Nigel.
This is a car that’s so ludicrously common-sense. London air quality is pants, and many blame NOx exhaust emissions from diesel cars, buses and taxis. Big limos like the 7 Series are often used in the City, ferrying important execs from meeting to meeting. And most of the 7 Series sold in the UK come with a diesel engine. Not this one, though.
Plug in the batteries and you can run for nearly 30 miles in clean, green EV mode, even at speeds of up to 87mph. Hence the ‘e’ in ‘740Le’. When they go flat, the clean-burning 2.0-litre turbo petrol engine takes over, with regenerative braking topping up the batteries as you drive, so there’s enough charge to power the heated seats when you stop, keeping Havers happy.
Such is the wizardry beneath, this BMW tries to keep its engine switched off as much as possible, even when the batteries are flat. You cruise up to red lights with it off. Sit in traffic with it off.
It will even switch off if you gently lift off the throttle at speed. A claimed average of 117.7mpg is misleading, a test-cycle quirk that sees the car run in EV mode for most of the assessment. However, real-world economy in the 40s shouldn’t be hard to achieve. Economy test brilliance also means low official CO2 emissions, which will have business tax benefits. But this car’s biggest advantage is the fact it’s Not A Diesel. Westminster won’t hike parking charges for it.
You needn’t feel pangs of corporate guilt as you overtake cyclists puffing away behind their face masks. Indeed, you can feel epic as you saunter up to it while your driver unplugs it from the charging point. As if you needed anything else to make you feel good inside a 7 Series.
This is BMW’s most convincing Mercedes-Benz S-Class rival yet, a car that finally reckons it knows its reason for being. Taut, sharp and still deliciously comfortable, it’s the more dynamic luxury express choice, a bit more cool CEO than traditional chief executive.
It’s quite funny hearing a Mini Cooper S engine whirring away when you or your guy are exploring 0-62mph in 5.3secs. It’s a bit vocal when ragging it, but in a cute way, and as it’s near-silent at all other times, you can forgive it. This BMW won’t grind to a halt when it snows, either; xDrive all-wheel drive is standard.
Quick, clever, clean, cultured and wholesome. Nigel’s found his automotive soulmate with this 7 Series. More’s the pity BMW still expects nine in 10 buyers to still pick a diesel, despite this hybrid alternative being offered for similar money. Time to get pounding the streets, Havers.