BMW is tired of its 7 Series getting vaguely positive reviews but being destroyed in the sales race with the Mercedes S Class. That’s the sense you get the moment you step inside the 207 inch 2017 BMW 750i xDrive. BMW has thrown every ounce of technology and engineering expertise at this car like it had something to prove. Wrapped in a appropriately conservative (and handsome) exterior BMW has created a car for a market that has shifted greatly over the past seven years. The Tesla Model S on one side is driving consumer expectations of technology that weren’t there before. On the other is the Mercedes S Class which continues to be the market leader combining an excellent driving tool and a tour de force of technology. It’s within this landscape that BMW has produced a completely new 7 Series. But how do you judge a car that is part automobile and part transportation gadget?
Separately. Because here’s the thing. The 7 Series is a much much better car than it is a gadget. As much as those shiny bit of tech are the lead in BMW’s marketing, it’s the car underneath that deserves the accolades.
The G11 7 Series is the first ever non M BMW that’s actually lighter than in predecessor. The reason for that is what BMW calls its Carbon Core. While the 7 Series isn’t constructed with as much carbon fiber as the i3, engineers have carefully integrated the lightweight material in the chassis with weight savings in mind.
The results are 4623 LBS in US trim and that’s with substantially more standard equipment and gear. But the best part is what that does to the driving experience.
The Driving Experience
This is a BMW and therefore should be the best driver’s car in its segment. However over the last two generations the 7 Series lost some of that claim to competitors from Audi and Mercedes. Despite technology being the headline here it’s actually the way the new 7 Series drives that leaves the lasting impression. Put plainly this is the best 7 Series driving experience since the E38 from the late 90s. The chassis’ new found rigidity allows for the G11 7 Series enormous grip and just enough feedback through the wheel to give the driver confidence. It may lack the feel of the E38 but its trick four wheel steering gives it both more stability at speed, quicker turn-in and critically allows the driver more confidence.
But its not just that the 7 Series is at home on the open road. With the lighter weight and the extra agility of the four wheel steering it has become a car more at home in the tighter corners that big cars shouldn’t have a right to excel at. While the lack of feedback through the wheel keeps the 7 Series from becoming a true driver’s tool, the performance and agility is at times astonishing.
Part of that equation is also due to the excellent (and venerable) 4.4L twin turbo V8 which produces 445 hp and 419 lb-ft with much of torque available at just 1500 rpm. In our test car this power was efficiently laid down by the always excellent xDrive all wheel drive system. The result is 0-60 in 4.3 seconds and mid-range acceleration that feels like it defies physics.
Where it doesn’t defy physics is with potholes. Our right-front 20″ tire was obliterated on the Chicago skyway due to an epic pavement irregularity. Tire pressure went from normal to zero in under 10 seconds and I was left with only three inflated tires for the remainder of my 30 mile journey. On the plus side I’ve never experienced a moment when I’ve been more happy to have run-flats. The area around the Chicago skyway isn’t the best place to be stranded with a $130k car. The 750i performed as good as you could hope limping back home through the city at speeds up to 50 mph. While normally I’d consider it a fluke, there have been two other media outlets that have had similar experiences with a similarly equipped 750i xDrive in recent months. Something to consider if you’re deciding between the 19″ wheel/tire set up or the gorgeous but perhaps more fragile 20″ option.
The Technology Experience
The 7 Series is a complex car. But has companies a like Apple have taught us, complexity should be masked by user-centric interfaces. The problem is that the G11 7 Series has so many difference ways to interface with the overwhelming list of technology that it’s impossible for every one of them to be good much less consistent. And worse of all for a design obsessed company, the interface design and interactions don’t feel as cohesive as they should.
We’ve been big fans of iDrive over the years and the new version is a nice evolution to what has been around since 2009. But for those who have experience Volvo’s new infotainment system or Tesla’s it would seem that BMW is moving too slow and beginning to look like exactly what they railed against in 2001 when they debuted iDrive: old. The physical finishes look great in satin silver (never mind the contrast issues) and the optional ceramic controls look ultra premium (never mind the fingerprints) but the sum of it all doesn’t feel like the type of seamless experience we’ve become used to in our lives. There are so many physical and digital interfaces that demand attention from the driver that it can be bewildering. Worse the visual design, interaction design and interface design are often inconsistent. None of it is particularly damning but the sum of it makes the 7 Series feel pieced together rather than created from one vision. What the new 7 Series proves is that BMW needs is a single wholistic vision and solution to the interface of driving and operating a car.
That aside the technology itself mostly works mostly as advertised. The active cruise and the steering assist unquestionably reduced commuting fatigue. As does the improved seat massaging hardware and software (I recommend the full body workout). Our test car came equipped with the excellent Bowers & Wilkins Diamond Surround Sound System that delivered incredible clarity in every driving situation via 1400 watts and 16 speakers.
The optional rear seat tablet system worked well and allowed rear seat passengers (aged 4 and 7 during my time with the car) the ability to customize their environments endlessly. To the annoyance of their dad.
Perhaps best of all was the design detail and the associated quality. There’s no question that this is BMW’s finest interior in the company’s history. It was simply faultless in build and material quality. Surely what you’d expect at $128,000 but nonetheless impressive.
One of the new features making its debut on the 7 Series (there are dozens) is gesture control for the updated iDrive. While it does work there’s enough lag in the system interpretation the gesture that you’re better off using the steering wheel controls. But the system has promise as better sensors and faster processors make their way into future generations of the system.
There are so many other elements of technology (standard and optional) that it’s hard to mention them all. The ambient air package that produces fragrance throughout the cabin sounds like a gimmick but does legitimately seem worth the $350 over the course of the lifetime of the car. The Panoramic Sky Lounge LED sunroof at $900 probably does not but looks mesmerizing from the back seat.
BMW’s improved night vision is essentially worthless in urban environments but in the depths of the western Michigan night was priceless. The picture is now clearer and allows for a quicker read of what’s out there.
Perhaps the most interesting technology feature is the Active Lane Assistant combined with BMW’s Active Cruise Control. While this isn’t a fully autonomous function like Tesla’s Autopolit, it gives the car control of steering, braking and throttle applications up to a point. How it works is that the driver sets the cruise and the car uses radar to follow traffic adjusting sweet accordingly. While this is happening the Active Lane Assistant steering for the driver by reading the read in real time taking into account other vehicles as well as road markings. The system isn’t perfect (it often gets confused by poorly marked roads) but it materially changes the driving experience for long distance commuters. In short if this is the first step towards autonomous driving, I can’t wait to see what comes next.
The technology advancements in the new 7 Series are enormous. But it’s the heart of the car that impresses more than anything. In many ways the G11 is a return to the form of the first three generations of the 7 Series. It doesn’t have the E24’s balance nor does it have the steering feedback of the E38. But it has a similar satisfaction in total performance. The combination of the lighter weight of the entirely new chassis and the additional technology of the four wheel steering allows the new 7 to shrink around you like the best M cars can. This is how a big BMW should drive and feel. It coddles you in technology that both makes your life easy and more satisfying on the road. And it’s this that makes the new BMW 7 Series a welcome return as the segment’s ultimate driving machine.