The BMW 7 Series is in its sixth generation, after a technological leap for 2016, including engineering learned from the i electric car. Today’s 7 Series uses carbon fiber in the chassis, saving 90 pounds. Aluminum doors, trunk lid and suspension help bring the balance to a perfect 50/50, front/rear weight distribution. That’s saying a lot, for a big car, and the handling of the BMW 740i backs it up.
For 2017, the BMW 740i is available with all-wheel drive. Also new is the 2017 BMW M760i xDrive with a twin-turbo V12 making 600 horsepower and 590 pound-feet of torque BMW claims can blast to 60 miles per hour in 3.9 seconds. Also new for 2017: the Alpina B7 xDrive with Integral Active Steering that combines variable ratio electric steering system at the front axle with active steering on the rear axle, while blasting to 60 miles per hour in 3.6 seconds.
Most popular is the BMW 740i, which uses a twin-turbocharged 3.0-liter inline-6 making 320 horsepower, a sweet engine. The 750i packs a 4.4-liter twin-turbocharged V8 making 445 horsepower, mated to a silky 8-speed automatic transmission, pulling zero to sixty in 4.3 seconds.
The technological leap this latest-generation BMW 7 Series made was mostly in electronic chassis control. The steering, throttle, suspension and transmission can be set in three modes, Sport, Comfort and Comfort Plus settings. On all models, a complex system called Active Comfort Drive with Road Preview adds anticipatory functions to the active chassis with air suspension, while the Integral Active Steering (variable-ratio rear-wheel steering) now comes with all-wheel drive. The automatic transmission downshifts on its own, based on what the navigation system tells the transmission about the road ahead, for example a hill. We wonder why anyone would want their car to do this. We’re not sure we want our transmission shifting based on a nav system that’s lost half the time.
The 7 Series hasn’t been crash-tested because it’s a low-volume product. Standard safety equipment is bountiful, from active headlamps to active headrests to rearview camera. Optional safety equipment includes everything night vision to a watchdog sensor that flashes a coffee cup if it sees you getting tired.
Driver Assistance Plus Package II includes adaptive cruise control, active lane-keep assist, Side Collision Avoidance, and Traffic Jam Assistant. It provides semi-autonomous driving, following cars ahead and providing steering assistance to keep the car in its lane.
The 2017 BMW 7 Series lineup includes the BMW 740i ($81,300), 740i xDrive ($84,300), 750i ($94,400), and 750i xDrive ($97,400).
Options include the Rear Executive Lounge Seating Package with a sliding front passenger seat, footrest, rear entertainment with two 10-inch screens, a fold-out table, Touch Command Tablet enabling the passenger to control all his or her own creature comforts including web surfing. The Luxury Rear Seating Package includes heated and ventilated rear seats, massage, and a Vitality Program.
The styling of this generation of 7 Series turns BMW back toward classic, after more than a decade of pushing boundaries with wedges and swirls. There’s a formal profile, lots of glass, and clean sheetmetal. The nose is fairly blunt, with a proud kidney grille that actively manages airflow, behind the scenes. Beautiful beltline from hood to taillamps. Chiseled brightwork runs low along the sides, lifting the car.
If BMW exteriors are no longer pushing boundaries, the interiors are, by maximizing and exaggerating BMW design themes, using a lot of the leader of the future, the i8. The instrument panel is like a horizontal shelf, its formality enforced by satin-metallic brightwork on the knobs, many of which change temperatures for the comfort of your fingertips. It might be called retro-futurism. You’ll want to linger there.
The corners are pushed outward to make more space in the cabin, and the rear is limo-like, luxurious for two (who might be optionally ventilated and massaged), but room for three. Superb front seats hit the sweet spot between comfort during hours in the saddle, and support in the twisties.
The interior wood and diamond-stitched leather is the highest quality, as expected from BMW. Heated armrests, front and rear. Ambient carpet lighting standard. Fragrance is available, under a panoramic LED roof.
Although late to the theater, BMW does touchscreen now, to the max. The iDrive 5.0 uses a 12.3-inch landscape-oriented screen. Still, some people don’t like all those finger-smudges a touchscreen collects. So on the 7 Series there is also the familiar iDrive controller, now with a handwriting touchpad (also steering-wheel controls and voice recognition).
More futuristically, iDrive also now has Gesture Control. There’s a 3D sensor in the iDrive knob, and you just flash the sensor one of five hand signals, to get the sound system volume raised or lowered, answer or don’t answer the phone, or browse a 360-degree of the cabin. The system is a bit slow.
The Bowers & Wilkins surround sound is certainly not dull, with 1400 watts and 16 speakers. Nor is the head-up display. The standard Adaptive Headlamps don’t just turn with the car, they consider speed, steering angle and yaw.
For 2016, two new engines join the existing 3.0-liter inline-6, and 4.4-liter V8. The sexy V12 comes back to BMW, as a 600-horsepower twin turbo in M760i xDrive.
The 8-speed automatic transmission is linked to navigation data, making the shift characteristics change with curves and terrain. To save fuel, it coasts at speeds up to 100 miles per hour. Also to save fuel, automatic start-stop turns off the engine when the car stops, then back on again when it’s time to move.
The Carbon Core chassis combines high-strength steel, aluminum, and carbon-reinforced plastic. Lighter suspension pieces reduce unsprung weight by 15 percent, a significant step in the chase of good handling. The latest bonding methods add thermal and acoustic insulation, reducing the amount of sound insulation needed–more weight saving.
The 7 Series is sporty and comfortable to drive. With double-wishbone front and five-link rear suspension, with active air dampers, it can be set for firm or comfortable; the ride height changes with the settings.
The separate and standard Driving Dynamics Control sets the steering, throttle, shock absorbers and transmission, to three modes: Sport, Comfort and Comfort Plus.
In Sport mode, the active anti-roll bars keep the 740i fairly flat in fast corners, and help this car feel unlike any 4600-pound sedan you’ve ever driven. The power is responsive, the light steering is made heftier and quicker (some might think too quick), and there’s road feel without rigidity, although sharp bumps get through the low-profile tires. The Comfort mode backs off on the aggression and smoothes out the ride, while Comfort Plus adds float.
The BMW 740i is our choice among the 7 Series for its sweet inline-6-cylinder engine. That 50/50 balance is special, and makes the handling so. The cabin is way roomy, with elegant wood and leather. The lines are gorgeous. It’s expensive.
Sam Moses contributed to this report, with staff reports from The Car Connection.