For the first time in living memory, BMW has built a flagship 7 Series that isn’t specifically aimed at its traditional rival, the Mercedes-Benz S-Class. That’s because the all-new BMW 7 Series has it all – combustion, plug-in hybrid and pure EV powertrains – in one body, unlike the S-Class. Instead, the 7 now not only takes on its rival familiar gasoline, but also the diamond shape of the S-class, everything-electric EQS brother and sister.
Given how separate marketing has been for BMW i4 and its essence Series 4 sibling, you’d think the 7 Series and the i7 would be different models, but that’s not how BMW sees it. “The customer who orders a 7 gets a 7,” said Christian Schneider, i7 project manager. Forbes Wheels. “We can let them decide which powertrain they like.”
Expected to hit North American showrooms later this year (not that there are many left), the BMW 7 Series will arrive with its sizable armory on fire. There’s a twin-turbo, straight-six for the 740i, twin-turbo V8 for the 760i and a pair of Herculean electric motors powering the i7.
The Prime will land at $93,300, the Tab V8 will be $113,600, and the i7 60 will be $119,300, all topped off with a destination fee of $995. (And, of course, options, and there will be plenty of them because it’s BMW.)
BMW has done a great job of standardizing the interior, styling and tech experiences across each variant, and there are plenty of new luxuries like the rear cinema screen and cashmere-blend fabrics, but the V8 versions and EV drives a bit differently.
The battle is renewed
2023 sees the start of a very different battle between luxury heavyweights. Whereas Audi’s A8 looks like it always has and Genesis G90 wow with new styling, neither offers an electric option and BMW and Mercedes-Benz are the traditional big sellers in this bunch. By offering two very different choices, Benz has either foolishly divided its forces or has BMW in a pincer movement. Only time will tell.
There are two entirely different strategies deployed to capture the same well-heeled lease payments, but it’s a game BMW seems to have played superbly well. Traditionally, the S-Class has had the upper hand when it comes to luxury and technology, while the 7 Series has prioritized handling and dynamics to project a youthful zest. This is not the case this time around.
BMW Chairman Oliver Zipse called this dynamic focus a losing strategy, and so the 7 Series pivoted, hard. “Of course, some people think you’re crazy. BMW has always built this sports limo in the previous six cycles,” defended Zipse. Forbes Wheels. “Then you ask the customer and he says it’s a great car, but only for the driver. After six generations, is that what you still want to hear? Enough.
At 212.2 inches long, the new 7 is the largest car BMW has ever built and the old short-wheelbase model (not offered in the US for many years) is no more. It’s also wider (76.8 inches) and taller (60.8 inches), and as roomy as ever.
It added adaptive air suspension, rear-wheel steering, four-zone climate control, heated and ventilated massage seats front and rear, an almost completely new infotainment system, crystal headlights Swarovski and more.
Not all of these features are necessarily aimed at Americans, as China is now the largest market of the 7 and its demographics are different. The average Chinese 7 Series buyer is only 38 (!). That’s 18 years younger than the average US shopper, and 95% of them are male (compared to 75% in the US).
And Chinese customers, explained BMW 7 Series Vice President Robert Kahlenberg, love their digital bling, like the 31.3-inch rear entertainment screen, which can stream almost anything you might have a craving for. subscription. The car is awash in digital bling, like the lights on the dashboard layout itself, the ambient lighting, the touchscreens in the rear doors and so on.
All of that digital functionality comes through iDrive 8 and the curved dashboard display, Munich’s latest and greatest iteration of its infotainment software and screen layout first seen on the i4. and iX. iDrive 8 is intuitive and beautiful, and some lower end models it’s a huge upgrade from what’s come before.
In the 7, however, there are miles of pages to wade through and many sub-menus, so there will be a considerable learning curve. Fortunately, BMW’s Intelligent Personal Assistant (IPA) is here to help, incorporating world-class voice commands and responding accurately to normal human speech patterns.
Still, there’s a little too much going on in the 7, and the physical controls for things like heated seats might have been better.
So how do they drive?
BMW has decided to take the 7 Series where it has never been before, in the realm of true cozy luxury. But despite Zipse’s talk, the engineers couldn’t really let go. “A lot of people think Series 7 customers are usually in the back seat, but that’s not the case,” Schneider said. “The majority of our customers prefer to drive themselves.”
So the 7 Series has become the car that can do both very well. It just does a little better than the other and surprisingly that area of expertise is luxury.
The 760i xDrive indeed behaves like a mega-luxury limo when wanted and like a massively impressive (but clearly huge and heavy) sports sedan when the driver finds a road worthy of waving the dragon inside.
The V8 is quiet when you want it and stirring when you want it to unleash the 536 horsepower and 553 lb-ft of torque and rarely stray into the nothingness in between. There’s also 12 hp and 147 lb-ft of torque thanks to its 48-volt mild-hybrid electric boost system, which fills in the gaps when the turbo isn’t fully wound up. It is transparent and soothing, but roars when commanded. It goes up to 60 in 4.2 seconds (we tested it).
There are so many unusual pieces that make up this puzzle that BMW is looking to push its luxury credentials like never before. The doors close with authority, although the interior button-opening system takes some getting used to.
There’s a bit more wind noise than the S-Class, but it’s perhaps quieter in road noise and the rear feels calmer in the way it lays flat in corners and refuses to shake the passengers.
While luxury is the priority like no 7 Series before it, the flagship hasn’t given up on dynamics, as the California launch routes have proven. Nothing in the luxury class (apart from a Porsche Panamera) hustle through corners with the safety, skill and even joy of this car.
Then there is the electric…
The BMW i7 is a trailblazer for the brand, with plenty of innovation packed into a package that looks more or less identical to the rest of the 7 Series models. next behind the wheel. Adding 950 pounds over the 760i is sure to fatigue chassis parts. This is 1,323 pounds more than the 740i.
Beneath the cabin and trunk is a 101.7kWh lithium-ion battery that can be charged from 10% to 80% in just 34 minutes with a 350kW DC fast charger. It can deliver 318 miles of EPA range and 80 miles of charging in just 10 minutes (at a maximum of 195 kWh).
There are no rare earth minerals in the i7’s motors, which are electrically excited synchronous motors, with the rear being a bit more powerful than the front, to maintain the traditional performance balance of BMW.
It’s a gem of a machine, with its quiet cruising backed by strong straight-line performance (reaching 60mph in 4.5 seconds), peaking at an electronically limited 149mph.
There’s an amazing, overwhelming competence to the way the i7 eats up the miles, whether in a straight line, in heavy traffic or on a twisty mountain road, and at no point does it feel stressed. It feels less supple than the 760i, but its grip levels defy belief and BMW hasn’t sacrificed a chunk of comfort to get there.
The less painful 7 Series is the only one we couldn’t test, the 740i, in rear-drive form with 375 horsepower and 383 pound-feet of torque, at $93,300. Meanwhile, in Stuttgart, the six-cylinder Mercedes S 500 starts at $111,100, then climbs up to the S 580 at $117,700, slightly more than the 760i xDrive.
The entry point for the Mercedes-Benz EQS is the $102,310 EQS 450, but the more powerful ($125,900) EQS 580 is a better match for the $119,300 i7 60. There’s also an AMG EQS with lots more punch at $147,500. BMW will also respond to this challenge, but not yet.
In the meantime, there’s a lot to like here, though style will always divide opinion. The best of driving the new BMW 7 Series is not that you cannot see the front of the driver’s seat. It’s not even in the top five.
BMW has embarked on a perilous new journey to luxury, and it has done so so convincingly that there are areas where its limo topples even the mighty S-Class. The ride quality is on par. , interior noise levels are also on point and rear seat comfort could even be better.
There’s work to be done on the infotainment system and its clunky electronics, but even S-Class die-hards should take note.
BMW provided accommodation and meals to enable Forbes Wheels to bring you this first-person driving report. Although Forbes Wheels sometimes participates in manufacturer events, our coverage is independent, unbiased and aims to give consumers an unbiased view of every vehicle we test.