BMW i7

bmw i7 01 front tracking
Munich’s new flagship arrives as technology-laden electric luxury saloon to rival Mercedes-Benz EQS

You can tell much about a car in just the first few metres of driving it. Yet in the case of the new BMW i7, the electric flagship saloon that sits atop BMW’s range, we’re not actually doing the driving.Instead, the start of our test route has been preprogrammed so the car can drive itself. The Parking Manoeuvre Assist function can ‘teach’ the car up to 600 metres of road, such as in and out of driveways, so it can do it itself next time. It’s debatable quite how useful that really is, yet it’s impossible not to be impressed as the i7 creeps silently out of the car park, the steering wheel spinning on its own.As a scene-setter, this gives insight into the i7’s role as not just a flagship model in size and prestige but also in technology, of which it is jam-packed full. The i7 is not a replacement for the BMW 7 Series but a part of the new line-up. All eighth-generation 7 Series models are derived from BMW’s now familiar CLAR architecture, which allows electric and combustion-engined models to be built on the same underpinnings – unlike at rival Mercedes-Benz, where the Mercedes-Benz S-Class and Mercedes-Benz EQS models are entirely different underneath.The i7 is the launch model for the range, arriving in the UK next month in the xDrive60 form we are testing here. This four-wheel-drive model uses twin electric motors (fifth-generation motors from BMW that are said to use no rare earth materials) with a combined 536bhp. A 102kWh battery is good for an official 367-mile range on the WLTP cycle, and it can be recharged at up to 195kW, at which speed a 10-minute charge will add 106 miles of range.Next spring, it will be joined by two plug-in hybrid versions, comprising a base 750e xDrive and a range-topping M760e xDrive that mixes a 3.0-litre six-cylinder petrol engine with an electric motor for a combined 563bhp. Later next year, i will meet M in the i7 range with a 597bhp i7 M70 xDrive flagship. While diesel and petrol versions will be offered in some markets, the UK is not among them.All UK models will be longwheelbase as standard. Make no mistake: this is a very big and very heavy car. It is the largest BMW yet at just shy of 5.4 metres long, and it weighs in at 2715kg. It’s 100mm longer than an S-Class and 130mm longer than the outgoing 7 Series, and it does look bigger and more substantial on the road than a predecessor that was hardly shy and retiring. That the i7 is likely to sell particularly well in China gives you an insight into why it has taken on the, er, ‘imposing’ character it has. Graceful, elegant, timeless: none of these words can be used to describe the way it looks from the outside, most people, China’s discerning buyers aside, will surely agree.While it’s all big and shouty on the outside, the interior is the opposite. The cabin presents as a calm and comfortable environment, with a fine mix of technology and craftsmanship. The seats in particular are lovely to nestle into, and they’re luxuriously trimmed in cashmere wool that makes leather feel rather old hat. Some of the front cabin is familiar from the iX, including BMW’s curved display for the infotainment and driver instruments, a combination of 14.9in and 12.3in screens that merge together behind glass and sit proud of the dashboard.The amount of switches and buttons has been reduced from the outgoing 7 Series, yet pleasingly a rotary controller remains, so it’s not a touchscreenonly environment. There are also voice and gesture controls, although neither is as intuitive as one’s jabbed inputs. Where a leap over the BMW iX has been taken is in some of the details and the aforementioned craftsmanship. Most notable is the crystal-like Interaction Bar running across the full width of the cabin. This lights up according to the driving mode selected (the red and blue colours of M in Sport mode, for example) and is also integrated with touch controls for functions at various points, including the heater controls and vents. It’s easy to dismiss such things as gimmicky or just decoration, but it’s impressive to use and makes for a really classy environment that leaves you in no doubt that this is a very special BMW.Rear-seat in-car entertainment is always a bit naff. The screens rarely work well and run operating systems years behind what we’re used to. But not so in the i7. Spec the BMW Theatre Screen and out of the roof folds a 31.3in 8K screen running Amazon Fire TV, with Amazon Prime Video and Netflix just a click away. The picture quality is fantastic, the sound from the Bowers & Wilkins system even more so.For added drama, the doors open automatically at the touch of a button as standard, and if you select the Executive Lounge rear-seating option, you can recline fully to watch your favourite movie under a blanket with some popcorn, made possible by the front passenger seat folding forwards and down itself. Closing all the rear blinds completes the movie night experience.‘Very special’ are words that have never typically followed the 7 Series around in the modern era. But not so this time, for electric power turns out to suit the car very well indeed. The 7 Series has always been a curious kind of luxury saloon, one seemingly more keen to try to handle like a BMW 3 Series than provide the comfortable ride of an S-Class. Typically, and inevitably, 7 Series’ overall size has compromised its handling, and the ride has never been that good anyway. Not so here: this is one comfortable and refined car.The clever two-axle air suspension is automatically self levelling and controls the air supply at each wheel, allowing the load to be evened out. There are adaptive dampers that are also electronically controlled at each wheel, and there is a 10mm drop in ride height in Sport mode or when speed exceeds 87mph. This all adds up to a car that is very comfortable over bumps both large and small, while remaining seemingly unflustered by anything even quite scarred roads have to offer. It is an impressive leap forward for the 7 Series, and those new-found levels of comfort combine with the near-silence of the electric drivetrain to make for a car that could fool you into thinking it’s a Rolls-Royce, such are its levels of refinement.Those new-found comfort levels aren’t at the expense of handling, either, as the i7 remains one of the more keen steers in the class. Its outright size and weight prevent it from ever exciting or really engaging you, but there’s pleasure and involvement to be had on a B-road in the way there isn’t in an iX, because both your backside and all of that weight are so much closer to the ground. There is rear-wheel steering, too, to help manoeuvrability at lower speeds and aid agility and stability at higher speeds. It can’t cheat physics, yet there is a pleasing heft to the variable-ratio steering that adds to the overall dynamic package, which brings with it plenty of grip and predictability.It won’t surprise you to hear, given that the i7 develops 536bhp and has a 0-62mph time of 4.7sec, that this is a very quick car, too. But then so are many other electric cars. Pace is not what the i7 is all about; what matters here is how it’s delivered. Much like the rest of the car, it’s done in a quiet and effortless way that remains entirely in keeping with the rest of the dynamic character. A soothing car to drive and most likely be driven in. One-pedal driving is easily achievable when you select ‘B’ mode from the gear selector on the centre tunnel. On a cool, wet day in Denmark, we were being shown an indicated total range of 277 miles.The only thing to even slightly spoil the calm quiet of the cabin is some wind noise around the door mirrors and pillars. It will be interesting to see BMW fits more aerodynamic cameras in place of the mirrors to reduce or get rid of that noise and further elevate this car’s tech.A bit of wind noise, some challenging looks and a rather eyewatering price of around £138,000 as tested for our car, fitted as it was with so many options that if we listed them all you would still be reading this review for a few paragraphs more. Those are the only real downsides to what is a seriously impressive luxury saloon.The sheer size and price of BMW’s new luxury saloon will always confine the i7 to niche status on the UK’s roads, but in its new guise, what was the 7 Series has been given a new lease of life in its switch to full electric power, and it is at last fully worthy of its flagship status for the brand.Pros- Impressive refinement- High-quality interior- Class-leading comfort Cons- Challenging looks- High price
Source: Autocar

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