The new mad-looking BMW i7 limo has a folding cinema inside
All-electric mega-saloon has a mighty big screen – and BMW’s most controversial design yet
Luxury limousines are all about the tech, the gadgets, the features. And yet… it’s the looks, isn’t it? You need a moment to absorb how the new BMW i7 actually looks.
Imposing. Aggressive. Wantonly vulgar? It’s proof – if it were needed – that BMW just doesn’t give a damn if you don’t like its design direction right now. The M3 was controversial, the iX was strange, and now the i7 moves the game on again. To the comments section!
Actually, let’s back up a second and explain the i7. This is the new 7 Series. Unlike Mercedes (which builds petrol and diesel S-Classes and then creates a different all electric limo – the EQS – in a new bodyshell) BMW is staying old-school. Build one car, then offer it with or without batteries.
So the 7 Series can be specced with a straight six or V8 engines (no V12 this time) – or as a purely battery-powered i7. Incidentally, all 7s coming to the UK will have a charging cable – we’re only getting the plug-in hybrids and this i7. The unplugged straight-six and V8 engines are confined to the US and China. Meanwhile Europe will get a brand-new diesel engine.
The i7 doesn’t need a massive grille for cooling because it doesn’t have an engine, but because it shares its look with the 7 Series it gets the huge nostrils. BMW makes a feature out of it by encircling the grilles with a light strip. Meanwhile, the headlights tuck under the LED running lights, which are optionally festooned with shimmering Swarovski crystals.
Out back, the numberplate drops into the bumper, so the big Bangle-esque bootlid is back. The BMW badge is enormous, to cover the pop-up washer jet for the rear-view camera. From just about every angle, it’s a very upright and traditionally statesmanlike saloon with punchy detailing.
Why? BMW says sales data proves the key markets – America and China – love chrome, grilles and uber-aggression. This is Munich giving the (very wealthy business) people what they want. There’s no short or long-wheelbase choice this time: the one-size-fits-all 7 is 130mm longer, 48mm wider and 51mm taller than the old long-wheelbase 7. Yikes.
And because the headroom-enhancing three-box design means it’s less swoopy ‘n’ sleek than an EQS or a Tesla Model S, it won’t go as far on a charge. The 102kWh battery gives a claimed range of some 382 miles, a mighty 100 miles less than the Mercedes.
So, the BMW needs to be a car you’ll be very happy chilling out in while it’s parked up at a charging station. Well, they might’ve overcooked that, with the maddest in-car entertainment set-up you’ve ever seen.
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Welcome to the optional Theatre Screen, a 31-inch 16:9 aspect 8k-res display that motors down from the ceiling to entertain passengers in the (reclining) back seats. As it does so, the blinds rise to create the full cinema-dark experience and prevent nearby drivers being distracted. Meanwhile, a soundtrack from Hollywood’s Hans Zimmer is piped in. He’s the guy behind the soundtrack to Inception and The Dark Knight, so he knows his way around a keyboard.
The Theatre Screen is controlled by touchscreen panels within the rear doors, and can connect to Amazon Fire to stream shows, or play YouTube and the like. It’s supported by a Bowers and Wilkins surround-sound hi-fi.
Elsewhere the features list is enormous. The doors are motorised to open and close automatically. The dashboard features an ‘interaction bar’ which lights up in a spectrum of different colours depending on what personalised mode you select.
There are glass controls for the seats and the gearbox. You can have a passenger seat which curls up and folds away (when no-one is sitting in it, obviously) to give the rear seat passenger more space. It’s set up for Level 3 autonomous driving. We could go on.
Let’s finish with a canter through the powertrain options. The i7 xDrive 60 has dual motors with a total of 544 horsepower and 549lb ft. It’ll do 0-62mph in 4.7 seconds and top out at 149mph. Later there’s be an i7 M70 xDrive with well over 600 horsepower…
Not ready to go all-in on electric? For the USA and China there’ll be 48-volt hybrid 735i and 740i models with a 3.0-litre straight-six. Above that in the 7 Series range, a 760i V8 good for 544bhp. Still into diesel? Really? Well, you’ll be waiting until 2023 for a 740d good for almost 500lb ft and over 40mpg.
The plug-in hybrid 7s will all do a claimed 50 miles or 80km on e-power alone: the M760e xDrive promises to pack a 563bhp punch and still do diesel-busting miles per gallon.
Design and new-energy powertrains seem to dominate the discussion these days, but this is a BMW so it's supposed to ride and handle well. To that end it has an active anti-roll system, 4WD, 4WS, the usual alphabet soup. Project chief Robert Kahlenberg says "it's a precise car that can be driven like a real BMW, despite the weight". Strangely, they decided against using weight-cutting carbonfibre for the body structure, as on the old 7 Series and iX.
So, the 7 should have you covered on just about everything. Power, torque, economy, tech, and luxury. It’s even built more sustainably, featuring a higher mix of recycled materials and renewable energies powering the factory.
But back to the original question: can you get past how it looks?