The seventh generation 7 Series launches primarily as an EV – time to give it a grilling
By Stephen Dobie / Wednesday, 15 March 2023 / Loading comments
It probably makes sense to get the looks out of the way first. Firstly, because I think making this car bold is the right approach for BMW to have taken. You’ve a sharper memory than my own if you can remember precisely what either of the last two 7-Series generations looked like. Secondly, I think the once-controversial Bangle-era aged with pretty reasonable grace, so let’s give this one the benefit of the doubt for now. And finally, the rest of the car is so much of an event – so interesting, dramatic and downright beguiling – that you’ll soon realise the styling is the least important thing about it. Promise.
The seventh-gen Seven launches feeling among the most important of all. It’s back to being a wholly convincing brand halo again, one that’s chockfull of tech and making big, dramatic moves that the Threes and Fives of the future will replicate in smaller strokes.
While hybrid iterations with six and eight-cylinder engines start at £103,895, it’s the all-electric i7 – which kicks off at a mite over £110,000 – that feels like the car to focus on. If big limos like this are to forecast the cars us humbler folk drive in ten years’ time, then surely they’re most relevant with no internal combustion at all. (The US and China will get non-hybridised ICE options, incidentally…) It’s sold here exclusively in long-wheelbase format, making it a chonky 5.4m whether you like it or not. It does mean the boot space has increased despite the influx of batteries.
It’s four-wheel drive, with a 313hp motor on the rear axle and a 258hp motor up front. The maximum peaks when they combine are 544hp and 550lb ft, enough to hustle its 2,640kg to 62mph in 4.7secs with the top speed predictably – sensibly – limited to 149mph. The battery offers a useable 101.7kWh capacity for a claimed range of up to 387 miles; peak charging is currently 195kW, enough to add 100 miles in ten minutes.
You can assume a lot about the i7’s chief focus from how BMW’s ordered its bumf, with details of its retractable 31in 8K theatre screen, 36-speaker surround sound, business class seating and use of Merino and cashmere (as well as – ahem – its illuminated grille) arriving much sooner than trifling matters like ‘performance’ and ‘dynamics’.
Which isn’t to say it’s slow or drives badly. Quite the opposite, in fact. But it does say a lot that its single Sport setting is tucked away into a menu called My Modes, the rest of which are more concerned with the colour of the crystal-effect strip lighting than the responses of the standard air suspension (the former glows in M tricolours in Sport, by the way).
But find it and it toughens the car up to just the right degree, bringing smarter body control and neater steering. What doesn’t alter very noticeably is the drivetrain, with acceleration never especially crazy whichever mode you’re in, and while pulling the left-hand (well, only) paddle brings a potent boost function and activates Launch Control, it feels like the wham-bam, neck-smacking acceleration other EVs offer has been ironed out. Be it intentionally or simply due to the 2.6-tonne kerb weight. But the i7 still feels brisk for its leviathan proportions, and you’ll never actually wish it to be quicker.
Perhaps the big disappointment is that loosening the DSC (which you can do…) doesn’t seem to hand any additional role in the process of getting the i7 around corners to its driver. There’ll be some comedy tyre squeal out of especially tight junctions, but with no obvious change in traction to go with it. I mean, it’s well over five metres long and I’m not looking for lurid slides. But just a smidge of involvement would be nice – it’s veering towards a more binary EV driving experience without it.
Ultimately, this is a car orbiting around the passenger experience. And boy, does it excel at that. Progress is unfailingly swish, smooth and quiet when its driver isn’t fretting about stuff like ‘feel’ and ‘feedback’. The nearside rear seat folds like it’s in an airline business class cabin and offers 54 different iterations of massage, while that huge folding screen really is quite the party piece, even if TV shows don’t deftly fit into its letterbox shape.
Think you don’t care about such tech? BMW’s epic application of it wins you round. From the clever cost-saving of an original C4 Cactus to the gobsmacking aero of a 992 GT3 RS, us car folk can find different things to get excited about depending on their context. I took this i7 along to Werke magazine’s BMW cars and coffee event and guests who’d turned up in some real antidotes to current BMW design – a subtly modified E30, a green-over-tan E39 M5 – all pored over the i7 and begged for a seat. In the back, of course. It lined up beside an E38 7-Series displayed with its wooden tray tables deployed, each with a crystallised glass perched on top, proving backseat tricks have always been this car’s schtick.
Figuring it all out takes time, I’ll add. While there’s a printed manual (hurrah!) it’s over 400 pages long (boo!) and comes tucked in a glovebox it took me three days to figure out how to open – a problem Erwin Schrödinger would have been proud to present. Despite reading the relevant pages I simply never got the automatic door opening to behave consistently; happily, you can just pull and push the things like you can on those old-fangled cars without electrically operated doors.
I also never got around to turning off the powertrain’s piped-in Hans Zimmer soundtrack. Partly because it’s far too buried in a sub menu, but mostly because I actually don’t mind it. I’ve given more lifts to friends, nieces and nephews in this than most supercars; the curious aural accompaniment to spritely throttle use is just another fun party trick. There’s plentiful shock and awe and this car is suitably dramatic given its price and place in the world. The 7-Series is back to being BMW’s great tech pioneer, and I can only assume the hum of an engine and the extra complication of hybridisation would only weaken the effect.
Moreover, BMW could have gone for an SUV halo car – the iX briefly filled the role of one, perhaps – but it’s remained faithful to its saloon roots by giving us this. Whatever you make of the looks, it’s morr memorable than Mercedes’ soap bar EQS, too. Though the i7’s 0.24 Cd aero is beaten by the EQS’s 0.20, helping along the latter’s much more palatable range figure.
There are tricks to keeping the i7’s charging stops short, though, such as preheating the battery on the way to a charger to help it reach its 195kW max rate with more haste. It won’t blitz beyond 80% with the speed of Hyundai and Kia’s 350kW wonders, but you can pepper longer trips with quick 10-minute coffee and recharge stops all the same.
But I’m going to assume you still care most about how a car drives, not charges. And in summary there’s an inherent rightness to the i7’s behaviour just no obvious extrovert side; progress is always as smooth and grippy as possible. A range-topping i7 M70 will follow later this year, however, with 660hp and seemingly more intent. Consider us intrigued.
Last week’s Bentley Flying Spur Speed drive proved that a big chunky limo can truly entertain if it wants, after all. But of the pair, I’d rather be chauffeured around in the back of this i7, even if Bentley’s more restrained use of technology might better stand the test of time than BMW’s onslaught. If we’ve learned anything from modern used cars, it’s that their screen resolution usually ages them most tangibly.
I could write thousands of additional words describing every facet of this car, but despite its occasionally wild complexity, the i7 ultimately won me over pretty quickly. Parking can be a real chore (even with multiple assists) as it’s always half a metre longer than any parking space you find – including those at ultra-fast Ionity chargers. Driving an example without the £28,000 Ultimate Pack (and its all-wheel steering, 48V anti-roll system, ‘executive lounge’ rear seating and that theatre screen) might have dropped my jaw a lot less, too. Perhaps very few of those will ever exist.
But beyond that, it’s hard to criticise the i7 given the task it’s taken on – topping the BMW tree with real drama while foreshadowing a very brave route ahead. It’ll be fascinating to see what trickles down as the reborn Neue Klasse launches in the years to come.
Specification | BMW i7 xDrive60 M Sport
Engine: Dual motors, 101.7kWh battery (useable)
Transmission: Single-speed, all-wheel drive
Power (hp): 544
Torque (lb ft): 550
Top speed: 149mph
Weight: 2640kg (DIN)
Range: 387 miles
Price: £111,900 basic/£147,055 as tested
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