What it is: 2016 BMW 7-Series full-size luxury sedan
Price Range: $82,295 for the 740i, up to more than $120,000 with options
Pros: A major step up in comfort and technology, especially from the rear seat
Cons: Not a track car, not a value proposition
Would I Buy it with My Own Money: Were I in the market for a business sedan where I could see myself equally happy as the driver or the driven? Absolutely.
Automotive luxury is a never-ending game of one-upmanship, though it can be argued that the game is won by any customer with the money to participate. Recently, however, the expression of luxury has moved beyond leather-lined interiors, fat chrome grilles and big motors (although all are still requirements.) Modern luxury has evolved to include high technology, world-class materials, and even olfactory stimulation. Mercedes-Benz threw down the gauntlet two years ago when it launched its current S-Class, which it called the best automobile in the world. Brandishing massaging seats with “hot stone” pistons, a perfume atomizer, and enough road-sensing technology to nearly allowing the car to drive itself, Mercedes had a strong case.
Come this fall, archrival BMW’s all-new, sixth-generation 7-Series flagship hits dealerships, which like the Benz, will only be offered in long-wheelbase form. Would it—could it?—out-pimp, out-hustle and out-luxuriate the Benz?
BMW just gave us our first stint behind the wheel to gather our first impressions, and being BMW, the drive included some time on a track — the private Monticello Motor Club in upstate New York.
We’ll get to the surreal experience of pounding a limousine around racetrack after we talk about what qualifies it to be there. For starters, the 7-series has shed nearly 200 pounds overall, thanks to aluminum and carbon fiber in the skeleton and body panels. The new 7’s available four-wheel steering can also be combined with all-wheel drive on V-8 models for the first time.
A 320-hp six-cylinder-powered 740i and rear-wheel-drive 750i models will be available from launch, though we were only granted wheel time in the all-wheel-drive 750i, which is powered by a 4.4-liter V-8 that churns out 445 hp and 480 lb-ft of torque, mated to a responsive eight-speed transmission. Thus endowed, the 750i accelerates like a cruise missile. Power builds in what seems like an unstoppable wave that, by the time it has reaches redline, pins your ears to the side of your head, accompanied all the while by a muted growl. BMW says it can attain 60 mph in 4.3 seconds. Which for a car this huge, is really quick.
But that’s not to say it’s engaging. While our track cars were further sportified with the $3,000 M Sport package (sport exhaust, a body kit), a $4,100 Autobahn package (active steering and a road-sensing suspension), and rode on a set of $1,300 20-inch M-sport wheels, we learned within the first few corners that the new 7 is no M6. Even with the active suspension in its most aggressive setting, the body heaves, pitches and dives as we struggle to keep up with BMW’s pro driver, who is tasked with showing us Monticello’s racing line in an X6 M. The new variable-ratio steering communicates a little but not a lot of what is happening beneath us, and by the end of our session, the brake pedal has gone disconcertingly soft.
Remarkably, what it doesn’t do is put a foot wrong or understeer off the track; the 750i does everything we tell it to do — things that, in the real world, we suspect no one will ask it to ever do outside of a movie set — but as we exit each corner in the right place at the right speed, we sort of feel like we’re the last to know.
So it’s not a track car. Big surprise. If you want excitement, you’re probably not in the market for a 7-Series in the first place. Driven at sane speeds, the 7 is unflappably stable and mannerly, if none too communicative. Normal-speed cornering is flat and tilt-free, the better to allow rear seat passengers to enjoy the available dual screen entertainment system, massaging seats, or even get a mild shoulder/ab workout courtesy of a nifty BMW Vitality Program feature, which we can say from experience is best attempted on a long, straight highway, not a twisty two-laner. Rear passengers may also control most systems (that don’t drive the car, anyway) via a seven-inch tablet. Indeed, touch screens and information displays seem to be everywhere. Even the optional Display Key ($250) has a touch screen.
And for those with VIPs to scoot about, the $5,570 Rear Executive seating package, like similar setups in the Audi A8L and the Mercedes-Benz S-Class, snugs the passenger seat to dash (unoccupied, of course) and presents a footrest to the right rear-seater. Other new livery-minded features include an available etched glass moonroof (a panoramic glass roof is standard), a “light carpet” that illuminates the ground from the side mirror to the trunk, and naturally, a perfume atomizer, with not one but two interchangeable fragrances. Take that, S-Class. For drivers, the list of goodies includes an enhanced heads-up display, a gorgeous instrument cluster, and an industry-first gesture control that allows one to answer or reject phone calls, raise or lower audio volume, and more with the wave of the hand. The 7’s e’er-more-sophisticated lane-keeping and cruise control systems now more or less match the Benz in terms of nearly robotic driving.
Craftsmanship is another arena in which the 7 makes a huge leap. Perusing the gorgeous inlaid wood veneers and soft leather reminds us that BMW has been the steward of Rolls-Royce Motor Cars since 1998, and while every Roller since then has clearly benefitted from its German benefactors, the 7-Series shows that the relationship is a two-way street. As with every Rolls, authenticity is the tenet here: wood is wood; metal is metal. With luxury like this, the new 7 will certainly do well in certain markets (namely China) where being chauffeured is the rule, not the exception.
Indeed, boosting sales in emerging markets could explain why BMW invested so much into cushifying the new 7, and to an extent, why BMW kept styling updates so cautious. (“Not everyone this rich wants to look this rich,” a wise luxury car salesman once told us.) While every bit and piece is new, the most dramatic visual changes are graphical in nature, including squiggly LED headlamp innards, a wide, chrome-framed grille with aero shutters, and an “air breather” vent behind each front wheel arch that introduces a hockey-stick-shaped lower body garnish.
Base prices start at $82,295 for the 740i and climb to $98,395 for the 750i xDrive. Load them up like our test cars and don’t be shocked if prices approach $130,000. As for the matter of whether BMW has out-luxed the similarly priced S-Class, we may have to spend more time in each side-by-side to find out, because at first blush, the contest for ultimate luxury appears to be uncomfortably close.