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Munich’s new flagship arrives as technology-laden electric luxury saloon to rival Mercedes-Benz EQS

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Perhaps it’s the inherently traditional character of the full-sized limousine that has made it one of the slower vehicle classes to embrace electrification. The race is now on, however, to carve out a lead in the fully electrified luxury saloon market – and BMW is joining the vanguard with the new BMW i7.

Mercedes struck first with the EQS at the end of 2021, before the Genesis Electrified G80 arrived in 2022. And in 2023, we will see the segment-defining Tesla Model S return to the UK market in its latest form, reportedly followed by right-hand-drive examples of the Lucid Air. An all-electric Audi A8 is expected in 2024. There’s clearly no time to waste for any firm to build an early lead in luring luxury car buyers who are ready to electrify.

The i7 comes with another oversized kidney grille that seems to receive very little praise. This one is illuminated for extra after-dark impact, but why bother if you’re only going to black it out anyway (as part of the optional M Sport Pro pack)?

The seventh generation of Munich’s BMW 7 Series limo is designed to do just that. In UK showrooms now, the car has launched in all-electric form only, in the shape of this week’s road test subject: the i7 xDrive60. In due course, 7 Series buyers will also be offered two plug-in hybrid versions, and a range-topping M Performance model – the 651bhp M70 – has also now arrived.

Unlike some of its opponents, this car shares its platform with combustion-engined alternatives – but, as we will explain, that doesn’t prevent it from offering what looks, in principle, like a very complete package of performance, range, space and features, all wrapped in the expected 21st-century luxury.

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Range at a glance

BMW’s 7 Series limousine now comes in long-wheelbase form only, and with either plug-in hybrid or fully electric power. Diesel engines are offered in some European markets, but not in the UK.

All versions get four-wheel drive. While upper-level M Performance derivatives (M760e, i7 M70) are a trim level in their own right, on the lesser models the choice is between Excellence and M Sport trims, with additional option packs (M Sport Pro, Ultimate) also available.

VersionPower
BMW 750e xDrive483bhp
BMW i7 xDrive60536bhp
BMW M760e xDrive563bhp
BMW i7 M70651bhp

TRANSMISSIONS

8-spd automatic (750e, M760e)        

1-spd planetary per motor (i7)            

DESIGN & STYLING

02 BMW I7 RT 2023 front corner

There isn’t yet a successful template to follow for manufacturers such as BMW when it comes to electric limos. Mercedes elected to make the EQS a distinct entity from the S-Class, allowing greater freedom in its design, but BMW has chosen instead simply to electrify the 7 Series as part of a common derivative range that still includes combustion-engined options.

It will be fascinating to see which approach proves more commercially successful in both the shorter and longer terms. And it will be equally fascinating to watch just how the market reacts to the controversial styling of yet another big BMW. Our road test jury had mixed reactions to the car’s outward design but, tellingly, none considered its blocky, snouty appearance a particular draw.

BMW has actually gone a step further than with the iX front end here, separating the i7’s facial features (daytime-running lights and indicators) from its main and dipped beams as Citroën first did a few years ago. The effect is quite stark and challenging.

The i7 xDrive60, then, is part of a wider G70-generation 7 Series range that will shortly expand to include those plug-in hybrids (750e, M760e), each powered by BMW’s 3.0-litre turbocharged straight-six petrol engine and an electric drive motor. All versions will come with xDrive four-wheel drive, and power outputs will ultimately range from 483bhp up to 651bhp.

No derivative offered in the UK will need more than five seconds to accelerate to 62mph from rest, but that’s partly a consequence of BMW UK’s decision not to offer mild-hybrid petrol or diesel models. So, in quite a bold repositioning, no UK-market 7 Series will be available for less than £100,000.

With powertrain options so widely different to accommodate, a dedicated electric-only model platform clearly wouldn’t have been an option for the i7, although its CLAR architecture was designed for all-electric applications as well as combustion engines.

The car adopts height-adjustable air suspension, with adaptive dampers, as standard – something of a departure for a saloon that has hitherto stuck with steel coils as a default option. It is offered in de-facto long-wheelbase form only, and has also grown by around 50mm in terms of both overall width and height compared with the old G11/G12 version, the car’s front axle showing a matching increase in track width. Integral Active four-wheel steering is technology offered as an option on most versions, as are Executive Drive active anti-roll bars. Our test car had both.

The all-electric i7 xDrive60 is powered by a pair of electrically excited drive motors, the more powerful at the rear. They combine to create 536bhp and 549lb ft – enough to shade a non-AMG-branded Mercedes EQS, but a way off Tesla Plaid territory. They draw power from an under-floor drive battery of 101.7kWh of usable capacity, which the equivalent EQS trumps but a Genesis Electrified G80 doesn’t really approach.

bmw_i7_m70_xdrive_aurora_diamond_green

Those in need of the most extroverted, powerful i7 money can buy will gravitate towards the M70. It uses a new, six-phase electric motor at the rear axle, which BMW claims is both more efficient and power-dense than using two separate motors. It takes the M70's total output to 651bhp and an ample 811lb ft of torque, and 'M Performance' revisions have been made to calibration of the damping, rear-steering, active anti-roll bar, by-brake torque vectoring and, of course, the character of the torque-split between the axles. 

INTERIOR

11 BMW I7 RT 2023 dashboard

This, it’s reasonable to assume, is where BMW imagined the 7 Series had the most ground to make up – and boy, does it ever do that. For the last few model generations, Munich’s big saloon has shied away from a straight fight with its opponents from Audi, Mercedes and elsewhere when it comes to second-row lounging space and comfort, outright material quality, technological specification and lavish luxury feel. But the G70 fully commits on all of those fronts, and to hell with the kerb weight (which on our car was more than two-and-three-quarter tonnes as tested).

Sitting in the front, the i7 follows very much where the iX led. Its ambience is conjured by cleverly combined leathers, veneers and decorative chrome trims; by beautifully presented secondary controls made out of cut glass, which are enticing to touch; by broad front seats with every motorised adjustment, massage and heating function you could wish for; and by BMW’s gently curved touchscreen infotainment and instrumentation display console.

The i7’s sat-nav has an annoying habit of continually suggesting alternative ‘charging-optimised’ routes if your plotted one is going to deliver you home with less than 10% in the drive battery.

Our car’s specification had been hiked by the addition of BMW’s Ultimate package. As standard, the 7 Series might not have quite as many luxurious high notes. Even so, there’s an expensive feel to all of the car’s fixtures and fittings, which can only have been painstakingly engineered in – right down to the indicator stalks and sliding cupholder covers (both move with a damped tactile heft that brings an E39 5 Series to mind).

In the back, a three-seater bench with folding seatbacks is standard, and electrically adjustable lounge-style outer chairs are an option. The one on the passenger side reclines and extends at the touch of a button, converting into a ‘sleeping seat’-style position that is both surprisingly roomy and supremely comfortable.

Each rear-seat passenger has his or her own door-mounted touchscreen console for control of the car’s entertainment functions. Each can take advantage of BMW’s roof-mounted folding Theatre Screen (see ‘Multimedia system’, right). And each can connect his or her own smartphone to the car’s Bluetooth system, and make and receive calls routed exclusively to the speakers around their own seat.

The M70 brings some added verve, albeit nothing too drastic. A trim level in and of itself, M70-spec adds illuminated M doors sills, custom merino leather trim and an 'M driver's footrest'. The car's cabin is spectacularly wrought, but this is more to do with it being of an extremely high specification than anything legitimately performance-related.

Multimedia system

16 Bmw i7 rt 2023 infotainment 1 0

Fitted with BMW’s kitchen-sink Ultimate equipment package, our i7 test car had fully four touchscreens dotted around the cabin, plus a 12.3in Live Cockpit Professional digital instrument screen and an adjacent head-up display.

BMW’s Operating System 8.0 main infotainment system remains a little bit hard to penetrate, with a very busy top-level app screen. You learn to tame its complexity via the user-defined drop-down shortcut buttons at the top of the touchscreen, though, and the iDrive manual input device for cursor controls helps a lot.

In the back, it’s the 31.3in widescreen that folds down from the roof that might be this car’s biggest technological lure. You can connect video sources to it via HDMI or USB-C cable, or stream video via a dedicated eSim data connection and the built-in Amazon Fire software.

Our test car also had BMW’s top-level Bowers & Wilkins Diamond Surround hi-fi system, with its 1965W of power and 36 speakers. Its output was not disappointing.

 

ENGINES & PERFORMANCE

23 BMW I7 RT 2023 performance tracking

The i7 would make a useful test of the impact of dwindling battery condition and associated voltage on measured acceleration. We benchmarked it, as we always do, with more than 80% charge in the battery. With the eerily smooth and totally seamless power that it has, and dedicated launch control, it completed four standing-start acceleration runs to 100mph (and then beyond) each within a few hundredths of the same time.

On a slightly blustery winter day, the car seemed largely impervious to wind resistance – and, weighing what it does with the power it has, it would take a lot of blowing off course in any case. But on motorway and A-road, especially when travelling long distance, this feels like a new high-water mark for the full-sized German limousine: for its cabin isolation especially, but also for its expertly executed blend of luxury-level drivability and authoritative, effortless, mile-covering pace.

Wheel options range from 19in to 21in in diameter, and if the brake calipers behind are black, you’re looking at an M Sport Pro car (updated brakes, tinted rear side windows, aero kit).

Against the clock, on a mostly dry surface, it hit 60mph from rest in 4.5sec (just as BMW’s figures suggested it should) and a standing quarter mile in 12.9sec. The Mercedes-AMG EQS 53 we tested last year was quicker still (given its price and positioning, so it should be), while the Genesis Electrified G80 was markedly slower, if only beyond 100mph.

As in most EVs, the i7’s outright performance is more urgent below 50mph than above it. But even at motorway speeds, it retains a sense of muscularity that feels cut out for the autobahn (50-80mph was 3.3sec, just a tenth slower than the Porsche Taycan RWD Performance Pack).

Power is delivered in a studiously progressive way, so there would be little chance of taking your passengers by surprise with a sudden pedal input unless you really meant to. Likewise with battery regen, which is managed adaptively by default, or in a choice of three set modes (high, medium, low). The adaptive setting works well to regulate the car’s momentum in traffic and to slow it for junctions automatically.

But those who want the last word in chauffeuring smoothness will no doubt choose to turn it down, and regulate progress themselves with the by-wire electronically actuated brake pedal, which has noticeably better progression and synthesised ‘feel’ than many EVs manage.

Behind the left-hand spoke of the steering wheel is a ‘boost’ paddle that primes the electric powertrain for short bursts of peak acceleration. Much as it does deliver an appreciable benefit at low speeds, in a car like this it does seem a little unnecessary.

Thankfully, it’s not symbolic of misallocated tuning priorities. The i7 is a luxury car that knows what it’s for, and that cocoons its occupants very effectively indeed.

As for the monstrous M70? We're yet to affix the road-test telemetry to it. However, on the open road, with the 'boost' paddle pulled, it feels every bit worthy of its claimed 3.7sec 0-62mph time, and then some. That such a hefty, lavish machine can move so fast quite the party trick, but as an experience, it's more curious than it is enjoyable. 

RIDE & HANDLING

25 BMW I7 RT 2023 front cornering

BMW’s exhaustive modern armoury of assisted driving technology makes the i7 the kind of car you can actively drive almost as much or as little as you choose. Activate every aid on a long motorway cruise and it requires little more than a steady hand on the wheel, and the occasional nudge of direction for a lane change, between your junctions of entry and subsequent exit.

But even with those lane keeping and active cruise control systems off, the car has excellent high-speed stability and good on-centre steering feel, making dynamic hay with its sheer bulk to stick faithfully to your chosen path irrespective of outside influence. Above all else, this is a very relaxing car to drive.

The i7 is strong and smooth in a straight line but surprisingly nimble through corners, BMW’s four-wheel steering system making light work of the limo’s size and weight.

And yet that bulk presents so little at lower speeds that you will marvel at how a car weighing so much, and serving a comfort-first brief as well as it does, can still carve a line around a tight corner with apparent poise. The i7’s sheer size is always a factor defining how you drive it, yet BMW’s four-wheel steering system makes the car wieldier in tight spaces, and more agile around junctions and roundabouts, than you will expect it to be.

The active chassis systems use a combination of active anti-roll control and active air suspension to support the car on the loaded side as it corners, and to keep body roll consistently in check. The net result doesn’t feel unnatural; it lets both chassis and steering communicate the cornering load that the car is generating just enough to put driver and passenger at ease. Meanwhile, the i7 can tuck its nose towards an apex surprisingly tightly; follow that tight line with a good balance of grip; resist pitching or rolling remarkably well; and maintain quite a neutral cornering posture even as it accelerates.

There’s little heave or sway about the car’s body even when driven fairly hard, and little undamped or unsupported movement. The i7 is always isolated, always comfortable, but neat and precise too; seldom loose, never wallowing. The modern limousine just as a great many might want to find it.

Those craving a marginally more engaging i7 driving experience will get that from the M70. However, it's important to note that targeted revisions to the car's chassis and electronics, along with a set of 'lightweight' M-specific alloy wheels, do not transform this 2.6-ton limousine into something you could reasonably describe as a super-saloon. 

Nevertheless, in it's sportier driving modes, which is where the M70's alterations come to the fore, it cuts a remarkably controlled and balanced figure on roads that should, by all rights, put the i7 well out of its comfort zone. Few will ever need their i7 to be so proficient cross-country, but as ever, it's nice to know the ability is there.

Comfort and isolation

26 Bmw i7 rt 2023 rear cornering 0

The i7 is offered with alloy wheels of between 19in and 21in in diameter. Ours ran on 21s, and conventional rather than run-flat tyres. Clearly, you could order a car in a more optimal specification if you wanted to minimise road noise and maximise ride isolation – as well as cutting rolling resistance and boosting real-world electric range, which we will come to shortly.

Yet our test car kept surface roar very well filtered. The axles can fidget and fuss – just a little but perceptibly enough – over broken edges, giving enough room to question whether one or two super-luxury rivals might offer better low-speed compliance. But these moments are rare. In terms of settled touring comfort, few luxury operators do it better than this – perhaps because the slightly taut edge of the i7’s suspension tuning so effectively prevents longer-wave body movement at a fast cruise.

A little wind noise can present itself, but hardly enough to mention. The i7 registered 63dBA of overall in-cabin noise at a 70mph motorway cruise: three decibels less than the Range Rover Sport D300 we tested last year (which itself won praise for its cabin isolation), although three decibels noisier than the Rolls-Royce Phantom tested in 2018.

Assisted Driving

27 Bmw i7 rt 2023 assisted driving 0

BMW fits its Driving Assistant pack to the 7 Series and i7 as standard, including an AEB crash mitigation system with both pedestrian and cyclist detection, which also monitors traffic at a junction. A manual speed limit detection and assist system also come as part of the car’s standard cruise control offering, and likewise a lane departure warning system. Our car had the Driving Assistant Professional option (£1500), bringing BMW’s full suite of driver assistance systems (also including active lane keeping and auto speed limit assist).

The level-two assisted driving features work well on the motorway, helping you stay in the centre of the lane but not fighting for control. The AEB system avoided unnecessary activations during our testing, and the speed limit assist system recognised most posted limits, getting caught out only once or twice by speed limit indication signs on nearby lorries.

 

MPG & RUNNING COSTS

01 BMW I7 RT 2023 lead driving

As the UK’s network of DC rapid chargers expands, it’s tricky to judge how much range is enough for a £115,000 electric limo. We must acknowledge, however, that if the i7 has a vulnerability, range might be it. With less usable drive battery capacity than a Mercedes-Benz EQS 450+, and weighing more on the scales even than the Mercedes-AMG EQS 53 we examined last year, our i7 averaged 2.6mpkWh over this test.

Aside from being a long way short of the car’s combined WLTP figure, its 264-mile real-world range isn’t quite the liberating factor that some owners might wish for, above and beyond the capabilities of EVs costing half as much. More pertinently, our test experience suggests that an EQS 450+ might go 50 to 75 miles further on a charge.

Spec advice? Go for an xDrive60 Excellence on 19in wheels. Add BMW’s Technology Plus (£550) and Executive (£10,500) packs, as well as Executive Drive suspension (£3500).

It’s important not to overestimate the impact of that ‘obvious’ charging hurdle in this case, though. In our new DC rapid charge test, the i7 recorded a weighted average rapid charge rate of 148kW: the best result the test has produced to date – and by a reasonable margin beating Mercedes EQE by nearly 20kW. BMW claims to have rethought its battery cooling control strategy during rapid charging for this car, producing faster charging speeds at higher states of charge – and to evident effect.

Charging test i7

 

VERDICT

28 BMW I7 RT 2023 static

There are piston-engined versions of the new ‘G70’ BMW 7 Series, and there’s an air of reassuring familiarity to the renewal of the model as a whole, but there’s no disguising what’s been put at stake here.

If the all-electric i7 hadn’t simply proved itself to be a better luxury saloon, judged next to its immediate range-mates and its rivals, it might have done more harm than good to one of Munich’s proudest nameplates. This car can’t easily be airbrushed from the record as an experiment – it’s been given a place right at the core of the model range.

And it’s more than worthy of that place. It’s no traditional limousine, but with its urgent, super-refined performance, excellent drivability and serene cruising manners, the BMW i7 xDrive60 demands consideration by anyone who wants a luxury saloon in the traditional mould. It’s richer, more inviting, more technology-packed and more spacious than any 7 Series before it, and it earns its stripes on handling, too.

Perhaps it should offer greater range, and be easier on the eye, but with those exceptions, this grand old Bavarian could hardly have put its foot forward better.

Matt Saunders

Matt Saunders Autocar
Title: Road test editor

As Autocar’s chief car tester and reviewer, it’s Matt’s job to ensure the quality, objectivity, relevance and rigour of the entirety of Autocar’s reviews output, as well contributing a great many detailed road tests, group tests and drive reviews himself.

Matt has been an Autocar staffer since the autumn of 2003, and has been lucky enough to work alongside some of the magazine’s best-known writers and contributors over that time. He served as staff writer, features editor, assistant editor and digital editor, before joining the road test desk in 2011.

Since then he’s driven, measured, lap-timed, figured, and reported on cars as varied as the Bugatti Veyron, Rolls-Royce PhantomTesla RoadsterAriel Hipercar, Tata Nano, McLaren SennaRenault Twizy and Toyota Mirai. Among his wider personal highlights of the job have been covering Sebastien Loeb’s record-breaking run at Pikes Peak in 2013; doing 190mph on derestricted German autobahn in a Brabus Rocket; and driving McLaren’s legendary ‘XP5’ F1 prototype. His own car is a trusty Mazda CX-5.