Always more limo than sports sedan, the BMW 7 Series burnishes both sides of its personality with the all-new sixth generation, which arrives this fall as a 2016 model. The new 7 slims down thanks to a new platform that includes structural carbon-fiber elements, while at the same time turning up the luxury quotient and the techno wizardry.
It will take a sharp-eyed observer, however, to identify the new, sixth-generation 7 Series once the car starts gliding off dealer lots. Dimensionally very close to its predecessor, the 7 Series in its latest iteration grows just over an inch in length, while its width and height remain largely unchanged. Largely unchanged could also describe the styling, which is at most a measured evolution. The car's shoulder-line crease now continues forward through the headlamp cluster—with its familiar LED eyebrow—and into the twin-kidney grille (which hides active shutters to aid fuel economy), while in back it extends rearward into the more complexly shaped taillamps. There's also a new, hockey-stick-shaped design element along the lower body sides. The net effect is to take another baby step away from the leaden, dumpling-like form language introduced with the Bangle-era 7 Series of 2002.
Carbon Core, Not Common Core
Beneath the conservative exterior, however, the new 7 Series platform contains some major changes. What BMW is calling its "Carbon Core" structure (with a badge to that effect on the B-pillar) is in fact a mix of carbon-reinforced plastic, aluminum, and high-strength steel. The carbon fiber is used in key areas such as the A-, B-, and C-pillars, the windshield header, and the transmission tunnel. Molded-plastic front fenders and an aluminum trunk and door skins shave additional weight. The company says that as much as 190 pounds have been trimmed, with unsprung mass down by 15 percent—the weight that remains is balanced nearly equally among the front and rear tires.
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In addition to trimming pounds, the new car also trims its model lineup. Whereas the past few generations of the 7 have been offered in standard- and long-wheelbase variants, BMW will bring the new car to our market only in LWB form, following in the tracks of its top rival, the Mercedes-Benz S-class. BMW is therefore ditching the "L" designation (although it will remain on the cars sold in Europe, where SWB models also will be offered).
Under the Hood
Besides the elimination of the short-wheelbase variants, the model count is being further trimmed to just two core variants: six-cylinder 740i and V-8 750i. Although the 740i at launch this fall will be offered only with rear-wheel drive, an all-wheel-drive xDrive version will follow within a few months; conversely, the 750i will come first as an xDrive, with a rear-drive sibling following shortly after.
Left at the curb are the twelve-cylinder 760, the ActiveHybrid 7, and the Alpina B7 models. Although BMW isn't saying, we expect the V-12 and the Alpina B7 to reappear eventually. A diesel is also a possibility at some point. A new plug-in will carry the hybrid banner.
The six and V-8 in the 740i and 750i are familiar. The six-cylinder is again a 3.0-liter turbo, although it is part of BMW's new, modular engine family. Output is 320 horsepower and 330 lb-ft of torque, which enables the 740i to sprint from zero to 60 mph in 5.4 seconds, according to BMW. The 4.4-liter V-8 with two turbochargers spins out 445 horsepower and 480 lb-ft, cutting the zero-to-60 run to a factory-estimated 4.3 seconds. As before, a ZF eight-speed automatic shuffles the gears for you.
BMW has said that all its core model lines will offer a plug-in hybrid, and so it will be for the 7 Series. Arriving in 2016, the 740e xDrive plug-in will combine a 2.0-liter turbo four-cylinder, a lithium-ion battery located under the rear seat, an electric motor, and an eight-speed automatic. The maximum range on electricity alone is said to be 23 miles, with zero-emissions driving possible at speeds up to 75 mph. The all-wheel-drive 740e will be sold in all 50 states.
The new chassis features standard air suspension front and rear, along with electronically controlled dampers and optional active anti-roll bars (now electromechanically rather than hydraulically actuated). The driver can raise the ride height by 0.8 inch; it's also automatically lowered by 0.4 inch when the car reaches cruising speed in Sport mode. Four-wheel steering (BMW's Integral Active Steering) again is available, only now it can be paired with both rear-wheel drive and all-wheel drive. BMW claims it makes the long-wheelbase car as maneuverable as its short-wheelbase sibling. A new predictive adaptive suspension—Road Preview—that sounds very much like Mercedes-Benz's Magic Body Control, uses cameras to scan the road surface ahead and adjust the adaptive suspension accordingly.
In our limited drive in a preproduction 7 Series, we found that the car's lighter weight and revised chassis have given the big Bimmer newfound verve. But showroom shoppers likely will be wowed not by issues of dynamics but by the über-h interior and the dizzying array of electronics.
A Triumph of Touch Screens
Any discussion of a BMW's in-car electronics must start with iDrive, which retains its control knob but now incorporates a touch screen, thus adding pinch-and-zoom functionality and the ability to move the nav map with your finger. Lest rear-seat passengers feel left out, they can have a touch screen of their own in the form of a built-in, removable Touch Command Tablet in the center armrest. With it, one can adjust the climate controls, the seats, and the infotainment system (to play on the dual screens in the back of the front headrests); alternately, it can be used to surf the web via the Wi-Fi hotspot. Finally, because one's self worth is based on the number of touch screens in one's life, there is an optional touch screen even on the key fob. It can tell you whether the car is locked, the windows are open, and the fuel level and range.
To mark itself as a truly forward-looking luxury car, however, the new 7 Series had to go beyond even touch screens, as important as they are. Thus, the new 7 introduces Gesture Control. A camera up by the rearview mirror peers down and recognizes five hand gestures, which the driver makes in the vicinity of the center stack: rotating a finger clockwise turns up the audio volume; counterclockwise turns it down; a swiping motion to the right waves off an incoming phone call, while pointing at the dash accepts a call. Finally, a two-finger jab is a programmable gesture, which for example can be set to jump to the next radio preset or to set the nav destination for home. In our brief demonstration, however, the system recognized the gesture about one-third of the time. Which means that not only can drivers feel ridiculous talking to their dashboard trying to get voice recognition to work, they can now also look ridiculous waving their hand at the dashboard.
Go Park Yourself
A more impressive party trick would be standing outside the vehicle while the new 7 Series parks itself—unfortunately, that functionality is available but will not be offered in our market. Instead, we'll have to be satisfied that the parking-assist system can maneuver into perpendicular as well as parallel spaces. Nor does the automated steering in the adaptive cruise control's traffic-jam assistant enable truly hands-free driving. Although it helps steer, you're supposed to keep at least one hand on the wheel.
Other driver-assistance systems have enhanced functionality. The adaptive cruise can work with speed-limit recognition to automatically reset the car's speed in reaction to changes in the speed limit; it can be set to cruise at the speed limit or, more helpfully, a fixed amount above it. The Side Collision protection feature makes the blind-spot-warning system more insistent: Ignore its warning and attempt to change lanes anyway, Jersey-style, and the steering wheel will fight you. The Active Park Distance Control includes an auto-stop feature when reversing, preventing touch parking. Thankfully, these more-intrusive driver-assistance systems can be more easily controlled: A single button turns them all on, all off, or calls up a programmable mixed setting.
Scent of an S-class
Other accouterments recall the latest S-class. Beyond the mere Luxury Rear Seating package (rear seats with massage and ventilation, heated door and center armrests, and the Touch Command Tablet), an available Rear Executive Lounge Seating package brings a center console with a fold-out table, a reclining rear seat, and a front seat that can scoot farther forward and features a flip-down footrest on the front seatback. Yes, there is also an automatic perfume ionizer.
There is also wireless phone charging in the center console, a 1400-watt Bowers & Wilkins audio system with 16 speakers, and a standard panoramic sunroof. The latter can be upgraded to a Panoramic Sky Lounge LED Roof, in which the glass is etched and illuminated by LEDs to look like a starry sky. If that feature recalls the starlight headliner offered by Rolls-Royce, well, that's probably not an accident.
It seems that BMW tried to think of everything, and if the new 7 Series owner finds it all a lot to learn, BMW has a solution for that, too. The company's Encore Delivery program will send out a "BMW Genius" (hey, just like Apple!) to show the new owner how to use it.
The tally for all this is $81,300 for the 740i, an increase of $3300 over the 2015 740Li, and $97,400 for the 750i xDrive, a nearly equal $3400 above the outgoing 750Li xDrive. Those prices are before destination charges—that's currently $950 but, in a slightly underhanded gesture, may increase by the time the new 7 reaches dealerships.