CONDUCT | We drive the extraordinary new i7 – BMW’s limo that changes everything

  • The new 7 Series is symbolically reminiscent of Bangle-era BMW limousines, with a polarizing design and futuristic user interface.
  • But the defining aspect of BMW’s G70 range is the i7, which promises to revolutionize the perception of electric vehicles when it arrives in South Africa.
  • We drove BMW’s first all-electric 7 Series at the international launch in California. The future is now?

Before the (current) era of insatiable SUV demand, most halo cars were limos, especially if you were a German luxury car brand like BMW.

For decades, the 7 Series has been BMW’s somewhat rare but defining flagship vehicle. A majestic limo for CEOs and start-up founders who prefer to drive rather than be driven.

The i7 is huge. Wider than a Rolls-Royce Ghost.

BMW’s seventh-generation limousine is symbolic. This seventh-7 features a radical exterior design, very different cabin materials and, for the first time, a battery-only power option in the form of i7.

We spent time driving the i7 on some of the best roads in California. These included multi-lane highways with surface fatigue from the overwhelming volumes of trucking traffic that displace the world’s sixth-largest economy. But also narrow and technical passes, climbing from 100 to 2000 meters. The kind of driving topography that would drain the battery of an average EV pretty quickly.

Why the 7 Series is important to BMW

BMW has a curious dual presence in the ultra-luxury limo market. Its Rolls-Royce ownership gives access to the most elite customers imaginable. But many Rolls-Royce owners are driven. With the 7 Series, the customer profile has always been less passenger-oriented.

Immediate throttle response and precise steering p

Immediate throttle response and a precise steering platform make the i7 fun to drive.

Halo cars are influential tech demonstrators for all brands, and the 7 Series has been precisely that for BMW. Limo customers are also fabulously wealthy, making them willing and able to pay for early adoption features. The costliest early adoption feature in automotive history was the electrification of the powertrain. BMW is using its wealthier customers to show off what the Bavarian marque is doing with batteries and electric motor technology, making the i7 a deeply symbolic car – perhaps the most important 7 Series to date.

About the styling…

Everyone has an opinion on split headlights. For the first time in years, BMW followers aren’t discussing an oversized grille with a new model range – all judgment is reserved for the 7 Series’ new two-tier front lighting.

Why did BMW court such design controversy with its seventh-generation limo? Simple: to ensure it has a radically different look to the Series 5. Designer Sebastian Simm believes in the tactile simplicity of yellow Bic pens, has an eye for historic Alpinas and was the lead exterior designer for the new Series 7. At the global launch event, he offered an accurate preview of the appearance of the limo.

This is an EV where you don't have to save on the

This is an electric vehicle where you don’t have to save on throttle inputs for fear of battery range.

“We wanted to have simple side surfaces. It gets messy if you add too many lines and details to the side profile. A limo should be elongated and graceful.”

But what about split headlights? “The feeling was that the sixth-generation 7 Series was too close in appearance to the 5 Series. We wanted a signature look for our limos, and the split headlights accomplish that.”

Eight very bold two-tone color options might take on BMW traditionalists, but reflect the brand’s changing customer demographic. China accounts for 45% of global 7 Series demand and the average age of owners is 38. These two-tone 7 Series color options target the world’s most populous automotive market.

The cabin is comfortable and luxurious, without being

The cabin is comfortable and luxurious, without being traditionally ostentatious.

It’s amazing inside

Limousines are defined by their accommodation. Business class legroom, every possible luxury feature and a tactile feel that’s superior to anything else on the automotive market. BMW is sponsoring the Milan Furniture Design Expo, and no doubt its design team took inspiration from it.

Gone are the wood veneer inlays and soft leather seat trim.

The new 7 Series is built around the interior architecture of sustainable luxury, with fabrics replacing most traditional leather surfaces. While the plushest leather seats were once a defining feature of limos, the world has changed.

In the era of sustainable everything, even the limo market has to join. BMW did a tremendous job of creating a luxurious feel without relying too much on leather and wood trim.

There is drama getting in and out of a new Series 7. The automated door feature is smart but nifty, and it will rarely be useful to Series 7 owners in regions where security is difficult (such as Africa from South).

The large rear passenger entertainment screen is

The huge rear passenger entertainment screen is ideal for when you’re stuck in traffic.

Better infotainment than your living room

What will be very useful to the rear passengers is the ridiculously huge 31.3-inch folding cinema screen. It is controlled by two 5.5-inch touch screens integrated into the armrests of the rear doors. At 8K resolution, the image quality is remarkable, but I don’t see its use at cruising speed. The potential car-sickness risk of splitting your visual attention between a 31-inch entertainment screen and passing scenery through the i7’s side windows is real.

Whether you’re at crawling speeds or commuting through traffic, the movie screen provides a complete form of entertainment to pass the time.

With many limousines, especially in China, rarely moving at pace on city roads, one can understand the logic of BMW’s product planners to include the cinema screen as an option.

Love or hate split headlights, but these

Love or hate split headlights, but these will be the future signature of BMW’s ultra-luxury cars.

The heaviest BMW limousine, but does it handle?

I hate huge, unnecessarily heavy cars. At 2640kg and 2mm wider than a Rolls-Royce Ghost, the i7 is anything but light and narrow. It should be noted that the battery weighs 698 kg of this empty weight. The 7 Series always promised to be the driver’s limo and equipped with an active steering system (allowing to align or counter wheel angles on the rear axle). He may never feel nimble, but there is unmistakable agility.

The i7 is huge and a theoretically unsuitable car if you find yourself on a steep, narrow and winding section of a mountain road. Southern California has many such roads, and BMW wanted us to experience them in the i7.

Despite its advanced UX and impressive electrified powertrain, the best engineering work on i7 has to be credited to the suspension team. Even with the center of gravity advantage of low cell height batteries mounted in the i7’s floor structure, it’s extremely difficult to calm the body roll of such a heavy car. In theory. BMW’s solution is an advanced air suspension system with self-leveling technology.


Does it work in reality?

The CA-243 is one of the best roads in the world. It connects the town of Banning to a small village in the San Jacinto Mountains called Idyllwild. The steepest mountain pass section of CA-243 is called the Esperanza Firefighters Memorial Highway, and it’s the kind of road where big, heavy cars fumble around corners.

From the first sweep left to a series of tight radius hairpins, i7 steered and balanced through the turns more like a 5 Series than a 2.7t limo. Its air suspension system is the ultimate cheat code on tight mountain roads, and despite its size and weight, the i7 stays true to BMW’s inherited marketing slogan of “pure driving pleasure”.

Speed ​​and range

With 400kW of power, 745Nm of torque and virtually no lag in throttle response, the i7 is a devastatingly fast luxury car, despite its mass. Select a dynamic drive mode, and it even has signature electric vehicle acoustics, courtesy of famed composer Hans Zimmer.

Acceleration is a matter of irrelevance with electric cars. They are all terribly fast from 0 to 100 km/h. What matters is the range. Especially in the luxury car market, where incessant public charging can annoy wealthy customers.

BMW promises 625 km of range on a single charge. It’s a bold statement. The i7’s performance potential wasn’t avoided on our California test runs, with its signature Hans Zimmer sound often triggered by bursts of acceleration.

Despite climbing and navigating through some of the most awe-inspiring mountain passes imaginable, the impact on range was minimal. We drove with a real autonomy beyond 500 km.

The BMW that goes beyond range anxiety

Drive however you want, and the actual range of the i7 should be a repeatable 500km. And that’s the magic number. The idea of ​​electric vehicles with a range of 1000 km is silly. How many gasoline or diesel cars on sale can reach 1000km on a full tank of fuel?

Exactly.

The actual range of most vehicles is around 500 km. And BMW knows it. The only reason not to buy an i7, opting for one of BMW’s 7-series internal combustion engines, is the lack of charging infrastructure in South Africa.

With a theoretical range of 625 km, i7 could travel from Johannesburg to Ballito, KwaZulu-Natal without recharging. Its real range of 500 km will take you from Cape Town to Knysna without a trace of anxiety. And the possibility of those referral rides is what matters to limo buyers.

At R2,825,000, the i7 makes far more sense as a statement car, with truly advanced engineering, than many similarly priced petrol or diesel luxury SUVs.