BMW i7 prototype review
We drive BMW’s upcoming fully electric Mercedes EQS rival in pre-production form
|Car type||Range||Wallbox charge time||Rapid charge time|
|Electric||c.400 miles (estimated)||c.16hrs (estimated, 7.4kW)||c.35mins (estimated, 195kW)|
The BMW 7 Series luxury car, like its long-time rivals the Mercedes S-Class and Audi A8, has frequently previewed technology and features that have later appeared in more affordable models further down the range. That continues to be the case as the car enters its seventh generation, which will be available with mild-hybrid, plug-in hybrid and fully electric drivetrains, with deliveries commencing in November 2022.
Ahead of its full public unveiling on 20 April next, we’ve had a chance to drive the new electric 7 Series – which will wear the i7 badge in line with the rest of the marque’s EV line-up – in camouflaged prototype form. Under the metal is the same fifth-generation ‘eDrive’ electric drivetrain used by the BMW iX flagship electric SUV, although the range of power outputs offered in the i7 may not exactly mirror those for the iX.
The car we drove represents a mid-range version out of three that’ll be offered; it could wear the ‘i7 xDrive60’ badge and will likely put out more than the iX xDrive50’s 516bhp and 765Nm of torque. There are two electric motors for four-wheel drive, and the car predicted a 229-mile range with the battery 98% charged.
That calculation was based on indicated efficiency of 1.77 miles per kilowatt-hour (m/kWh), which suggests a battery size of 120kWh – larger than the nearly-108kWh unit in the i7’s chief rival, the Mercedes EQS. Better efficiency can be expected with driving in real-world conditions, so the production version could well have an official driving range of over 400 miles – although we’ll have to wait for the official numbers to know for sure.
Even a short time at the wheel is enough to confirm the impression that electric power suits the character of a big luxury car like the 7 Series. The smoothly delivered torque, swift acceleration and near-silent progress are an appealing combination, while if you need more performance, the Boost mode unleashes more power in 10-second bursts, for completing rapid overtakes. We had the opportunity to drive a mild-hybrid V8 petrol-engined version of the new 7 Series back-to-back with the i7, and although that engine pulled hard and sounded great, the seamless, gearless acceleration of the electric model just felt that bit smoother and faster.
When the time comes to slow down, the i7’s well set-up regenerative braking system allows for largely one-pedal driving in most situations, which is both more efficient and more relaxing than switching between pedals all the time. Elsewhere, adaptive air suspension and active anti-roll control contribute to excellent ride comfort that further enhances the relaxing feel; in combination with the weight of the batteries, this means the i7 feels fractionally more comfortable than its petrol-engined counterpart when driven back-to-back.
If you do want to drive a bit more enthusiastically, there’s a Sport mode that stiffens the dampers and tightens body control a bit, making the car slightly more agile, but also slightly more prone to transmitting vibrations through its big 20-inch alloy wheels into the cabin. Few 7 Series owners need or want sporty handling like this, but the capability is there if they do nonetheless.
Once you’re off the open road and into town, the i7 packs a range of technology aimed at making life easier. The automatic parking system now recognises the white lines that delineate spaces, rather than just seeing gaps between cars, so you can select one of many empty spaces you can see. The car can also remember up to 10 precise slow-speed manoeuvres of 200 metres or less, repeating them whether you’re in or out of the car, so a tricky regular parking spot at home or at work can be taken care of automatically each time.
BMW is also promising ‘Level 3’ autonomous-driving capability from this generation of 7 Series – although not immediately at launch. When it does arrive, it’ll be an expensive option – and only useable in countries where legislation permits – but will allow for full ‘hands-off’ driving at speeds of up to 37mph in urban traffic.
Like the exterior, the interior of our test car was under camouflage for the duration of the drive, so we can’t comment definitively about in-car technology and infotainment just yet. We could, however, make out a pair of large, gently curved screens similar to those in the iX, so it’s likely the i7 won’t stray far from that template. We do know that in the back seats, passengers will be able to enjoy BMW’s Theatre Screen. Previewed at CES (the Consumer Electronics Show) earlier in 2022, this consists of a 31-inch display that folds down from the headlining, giving a home-theatre-like viewing experience, either while on the move or when parked up.
Exact charging speeds haven’t been confirmed yet, but the i7 is expected to match the 195kW maximum rate offered by the iX, which would mean a 35-minute top-up time to go from 10 to 80% battery capacity from a suitable fast public charging point.
So far, then, there appear to be few chinks in the BMW i7’s armour. A definitive verdict will have to wait until we drive the production version later in the year, but for now, all signs are positive. What’s more, our back-to-back drive of the i7 with the V8-engined 7 Series made it clear that – in the luxury-car arena at least – electric power has definitively overtaken the combustion engine as the powertrain of choice.