BMW 7 Series review

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The BMW 7 Series re-invents itself. Jonathan Crouch takes a look.

Ten Second Review

With this seventh generation 7 Series saloon, BMW elevates itself back into contention at the top end of the boardroom-level luxury sedan segment. Yes, it makes more of a frontal statement, but equally important are the changes made to the engineering and technology of this car, which include a full set of electrified powertrains. It's a rejuvenated proposition.

Background

The BMW 7 Series has been with us for almost half a century and it's always been a showcase for the Munich maker's latest technology. What it's never really had though is what a large luxury saloon like this really needs: presence. But that changes right here, right now with this seventh generation model. What do you think?

Makes more of a statement doesn't it? The 7 Series has long provided the basic engineering for Rolls Royce models; now, it gets Rolls Royce-style visual impact. And if you don't like it, BMW won't mind too much because 75% of 7 Series production is aimed at markets like China and the US who've long demanded this kind of enhanced pavement presence. For too long, BMW's flagship four-door has been merely an enlarged 5 Series. This one aims to stand out. It has to.

Of course, the changes made to create this MK7 model weren't only about aesthetics. It's significantly larger, more luxurious and considerably more spacious than before. The underpinnings have had to be substantially redeveloped, but only for the enhanced PHEV tech but also for an all-electric i7 model. It all sounds intriguing. Let's take a look.

Driving Experience

The introduction of a full-Electric model to the range meant the need for a substantial six year redevelopment of the previous generation design's CLAR architecture. The resultant, evolved 'Flex' platform supports pure EV, Plug-in Hybrid and 48V hybrid drivetrains, the latter a diesel, the 740d xDrive with 299hp from its 3.0-litre straight six. If you want petrol, you'll need a PHEV, either the 750e xDrive (with 490bhp) or the M760e xDrive (with 571hp). Both use an in-line six cylinder petrol unit and can travel up to around 50 miles on their 18.7kWh battery.

Sales of the i7 are primarily based around the xDrive60 model, which uses two electric motors, a front one with 258hp and one at the rear with 313hp. The combined total is quoted at a potent 544hp. And BMW quotes a WLTP-rated range of up to 388 miles. Which of course you'll get nowhere near if you habitually enjoy the rapid 0-62mph sprint time of 4.7s, en route to a 149mph maximum. Should the i7 xDrive60 somehow not be fast enough for you, your dealer can brief you on an alternative i7 M70 xDrive model with 660hp. Like the combustion variants, the i7 is clearly engineered for motorways as well as the metropolis. And secondary roads should feel cruisey too, thanks to adaptive self-levelling air suspension (fitted to all 7 Series models), which lowers itself by 10mm in 'Sport' mode (and at speeds of over 75mph) to improve stability. You can also use it to raise the ride height by 20mm to avoid damage on rougher sections of road.

Design and Build

For some time, BMW has known that the 7 Series needed a more striking look, hence the ungainly grille added to final versions of the old sixth generation model. This replacement car is striking for more of the right reasons, a larger, more sophisticated and more cohesive design, though one that still references the familiar long bonnet and three-box silhouette proportions of its model line. It's 130mm longer, 48mm wider and 51mm taller than before and is only offered in long wheelbase form, that body shape's between-axles length being 5mm longer than the previous model. The main visual talking point is the huge (and optionally glowing) front grille, flanked by two-tier matrix LED headlights. The main beams sit on the lower tier. The upper tier delivers daytime running lights and indicators bejewelled with Swarovski crystals.

The cabin provides even more evidence of BMW's desire to deliver something quite different in this segment. Much, predictably, is borrowed from the brand's iX flagship EV; the curved display with its central infotainment monitor and instrument screen; the two-spoke steering wheel; and the crystal iDrive controller. But there clever touches too, the main one being this 7's so-called 'Interaction Bar', a glossy back-lit panel that stretches across the fascia. It reacts to inputs and what's happening as you drive - so will flash, for instance, if you get a phone call.

There's even more tech in the rear, which can be had with an 'Executive Lounge' package featuring a reclining seat with foot rest, allowing for a torso angle of up to 42.5-degrees. Once you're comfortable, you can even enjoy your own private cinema experience. The car can be fitted out with an enormous 31.3-inch 'BMW Theatre Screen' that folds into the ceiling when not in use and has built-in Amazon Fire TV. There's also a black-out screen for the rear window, touchscreens in the door panels and the option of 'seat exciters', which vibrate and pulse the seat with loud sounds from the 'Theatre Screen'. Out back, there's a big 540-litre boot in combustion models, which shrinks to 525-litres in the Plug-in Hybrids and 500-litres in the i7.

Market and Model

We can expect an increase over previous 7 Series prices, which will mean that you're unlikely to get much change out of £80,000, once you've fully specced up the entry-level 740d xDrive variant that most customers here are expected to continue to want. The alternative full-electric i7 xDrive60 variant costs just over £107,000 and there's a choice of 'Excellence' or 'M Sport' trim. At least your 7 Series or i7 is likely to come fully loaded, with features like adaptive air suspension, rear wheel steering, a gesture-controlled powered boot lid and a panoramic glass sunroof. But you'll want to spend more on some of the key features. The highlight is the 'BMW Theatre Screen' rear seat cinema system we briefed you on in our 'Design' section. We'd also want to spend more on the automatic door mechanism. With this, to open or close the front and rear doors, all those on board need to do is touch the handles set flush into the body, or use the buttons in the 'BMW Interaction Bar' at the front of the cabin or on the rear door trim. The opening and closing sequence can also be activated using the radio-operated key.

Also leave some spend for the optional 'Sky Lounge panoramic glass sunroof', which will delight those inside the car with a bespoke light show, which uses light threads back-lit by LED units. The structure this creates replicates the pattern of the quilting on the seat surfaces. The glass construction consists of three highly functional and fully integrated individual sections of glass. A pattern within this construction emits the light and intensifies the feeling of acceleration when the car is moving. Lovely.

Cost of Ownership

For the 740d xDrive diesel with its 48V mild hybrid powertrain, expect around 40mpg on the combined cycle and just under 150g/km of CO2. As for the petrol Plug-in Hybrids, the 750e xDive manages up to 282.5mpg on the combined cycle and up to 22g/km of CO2; for the alternative PHEV variant, the M760e xDrive, the figures are up to 256.8mpg and up to 25g/km. As we mentioned in our 'Driving' section, both the PHEVs can offer up to 50 miles of all-electric driving range when fully charged.

We gave you the i7 xDrive60's driving range figure in our driving section - 388 miles. This comes via an extremely slim high-voltage battery with a cell height of just 110mm, located low down in the vehicle floor and providing 101.7kWh of usable energy. The heat pump technology used in the integrated heating and cooling system for the cabin and drive system also helps boost efficiency, as does the adaptive or individually adjustable recuperation feature. The high-voltage battery is heated using a dedicated 5.5 kW electric flow heater.

The Combined Charging Unit in the i7 xDrive60 allows AC charging at a rate of up to 11kW, while DC power can be taken on board at a rate of up to 195kW. This allows 106 miles (WLTP) of range to be added in just ten minutes at a high-power charging station. The 'BMW Charging' package comes as standard on the i7, which gives owners attractive kilowatt hour tariffs for AC and DC charging throughout the UK and Europe. The high-power charging network run by the BMW Group's joint venture IONITY also forms part of the BMW Charging network. Almost 16,000 charging points are included in the UK and Ireland, while the monthly fee for BMW Charging and IONITY is waived for the first 12 months for all retail customers.

Summary

Nearly two million 7 Series saloons have been sold since production first began back in 1977 but the significance of this model line goes far beyond mere sales figures. Most of the technology that buyers of affordable BMWs enjoy today first appeared on a 'Seven'. And, since the turn of the century, this design has provided the engines, drivelines and body framing for modern-era Rolls Royces. In short, it's a crucial car for BMW.

But would you walk past a Mercedes S-Class or an Audi A8 to buy one? Previously, that might have been something a potential customer would have thought long and hard about, but this seventh generation model has a much more distinct appeal. Even if you don't go for the all-electric i7 version. If you're fortunate enough to have a chauffeur, this 7 Series might be a particularly appealing choice, providing it's specified with the rear 'Theatre Screen' system. And even if you like to drive yourself, this BMW might well present a fractionally more engaging option than its two arch-rivals. Overall, we think your typical Asian or American plastic surgeon or company director will love this car. And there's just a chance that you might too.

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