The BMW 7 Series can now be had in full-Electric form. Jonathan Crouch drives the i7.
Ten Second Review
With the i7, BMW proves it can make a really credible modern era full-Electric model that isn't an SUV. This car is aimed directly at the Mercedes EQS and brings a prodigious level of Munich's technological firepower to the task.
A full-EV luxury model should look different, futuristic. Well this one, BMW's i7, does. But visually, it's virtually identical to ordinary combustion-engined versions of the seventh generation 7 Series large segment saloon it's based upon. So, convention, evolution and cutting-edge technology, all in one prestigiously-badged package. How could any self-respecting, ecologically minded company board member resist?
Well possibly quite easily because the car this i7 is directly up against a model lauded as one of the greatest luxury EVs so far produced in this era, the Mercedes EQS. That's a model with great front-of-cabin wow factor. This one though, aims to trump it an area arguably more important in this class of car: back seat luxury. Sounds intriguing.
The full-electric i7 model is available in three guises; a base rear-driven sDrive50 derivative with 449hp; the mid-level xDrive60 version we tried with 544hp; and the fastest M70 xDrive variant with 650hp. All three variants use the same 101.7kWh battery, which offers a best of 379 miles with the base sDrive50 version, 387 miles of range in the xDrive60 guise or 348 miles in the M70 model.
Enough with the facts and figures; what you really need to know here is that, better than any 7 Series design before it, this MK7 G70 model manages that ellusive combination of comfort and handling in a manner that sets a fresh class standard. There's a proper air suspension at last in a 7 Series - a two-axle set-up which can lower itself at speed or raise itself for rough roads. It also adapts to the various 'My Mode' drive settings, with the 'Sport' option featuring a powertrain soundtrack created by Hollywood composer Hans Zimmer.
If you're prepared to spend more, you can add two further key drive tech features - an active anti-roll system and rear wheel steering. Even with a standard-spec model, there's a completely different level of driver engagement to that you'd get in an A8, an S-Class or an EQS. Thanks to the way that BMW has re-engineered this seventh generation design with features like a near-actuator wheel slip limitation system, sharper Servotronic steering, a more rigid body, wider tracks and broader tyres, all combining with the prodigious all-weather grip on offer from the standard xDrive system if that's been fitted. It's all quite surprising. Quite a lot about this G70 model is.
Design and Build
If you've seen BMW's latest seventh generation 7 Series saloon, with its divisive new look, you'll know what to expect because almost everything's exactly the same with the i7. There are a few differences of course; an 'i' badge on the front grille, various decorative blue touches and of course, the conventional model's exhaust is missing here. As with the ordinary 7 Series (which is a PHEV), only a long wheelbase body style is available. And, as with that car, the main visual talking point is the huge (and illuminating) front grille, flanked by two-tier matrix LED headlights. The main beams sit on the lower tier. The upper tier delivers daytime running lights and indicators that can be be-jewelled with Swarovski crystals.
The cabin provides even more evidence of BMW's desire to deliver something quite different in this segment - and again, it's just as in a comparable 7 Series. Much, predictably, is borrowed from the brand's iX flagship EV; the curved display with its central infotainment monitor and instrument screen; the two or three-spoke steering wheel; and the lower iDrive controller, which can be crystal-finished. But there clever touches too, the main one being this i7's so-called 'Interaction Bar', a glossy back-lit panel that stretches across the fascia and is standard above base trim. It reacts to inputs and what's happening as you drive - so will flash, for instance, if you get a phone call.
There's even more tech in the rear, which can be had with an 'Executive Lounge' package featuring a reclining seat with foot rest, allowing for a torso angle of up to 42.5-degrees. Once you're comfortable, you can even enjoy your own private cinema experience. The car can be fitted out with an enormous 31.3-inch 'BMW Theatre Screen' that folds into the ceiling when not in use and has built-in Amazon Fire TV. There's also a black-out screen for the rear window, touchscreens in the door panels and the option of 'seat exciters', which vibrate and pulse the seat with loud sounds from the 'Theatre Screen'. Out back, there's a big 500-litre boot.
Market and Model
Prices for this all-electric i7 start from a fraction over £100,000 for the entry-level sDrive50 rear-driven version. At the time of filming, you needed around £114,000 for this AWD xDrive60 model with 544hp. Either way, there's a choice of two spec levels - 'Excellence' or, for £4,500 more, this 'M Sport' version. At the time of this test, BMW hadn't yet provided a price for the faster i7 M70 xDrive model, which ups power to 650hp, but we think you should budget around £130,000 for one of those.
Your i7 will at least come fully loaded for the asking figures, with features like adaptive air suspension, a gesture-controlled powered boot lid and a panoramic glass sunroof. But you'll want to spend more on some of the key features. The highlight is the 'BMW Theatre Screen' rear seat cinema system we briefed you on in our 'Design' section. We'd also want to spend more on the automatic door mechanism. With this, to open or close the front and rear doors, all those on board need to do is touch the handles set flush into the body, or use the buttons in the 'BMW Interaction Bar' at the front of the cabin or on the rear door trim. The opening and closing sequence can also be activated using the radio-operated key.
Also leave some spend for the optional 'Sky Lounge panoramic glass sunroof', which will delight those inside the car with a bespoke light show, which uses light threads back-lit by LED units. The structure this creates replicates the pattern of the quilting on the seat surfaces. The glass construction consists of three highly functional and fully integrated individual sections of glass. A pattern within this construction emits the light and intensifies the feeling of acceleration when the car is moving. Lovely.
Cost of Ownership
We gave you the i7 xDrive60's driving range figure in our driving section - 387 miles, 8 miles more than the base sDrive50 version. It's 348 miles for the M70 xDrive variant. These range figures come via an extremely slim high-voltage battery with a cell height of just 110mm, located low down in the vehicle floor and providing 101.7kWh of usable energy. The heat pump technology used in the integrated heating and cooling system for the cabin and drive system also helps boost efficiency, as does the adaptive or individually adjustable recuperation feature. The high-voltage battery is heated using a dedicated 5.5 kW electric flow heater.
The i7 offers 195kW of DC charging speed at a high-power charging station, which allows 106 miles of range to be added in just ten minutes, while a 10-80% charge is possible in 34 minutes. Back at home, AC charging is possible at a rate of up to 11kW. Hooked up to a 7.4kW garage wallbox, a full charge would need 16 hours 15 minutes.
The 'BMW Charging' package comes as standard, which gives i7 owners attractive kilowatt hour tariffs for AC and DC charging throughout the UK and Europe. The high-power charging network run by the BMW Group's joint venture IONITY also forms part of the BMW Charging network. Almost 16,000 charging points are included in the UK and Ireland, while the monthly fee for BMW Charging and IONITY is waived for the first 12 months for all retail customers.
The divisive looks that might make a typical customer question the conventional version of this seventh generation 7 Series seem better suited to this i7. Customers of expensive luxury EVs expect their cars to look different and this one will stand out in the boardroom car park just as much, if not more, than its arch-rival, the Mercedes EQS.
If you're fortunate enough to have a chauffeur, the i7 might well be the preferential choice, providing it's specified with the rear 'Theatre Screen' system. And even if you like to drive yourself, this BMW might well present a fractionally more engaging option. It's hard though, to make a wrong choice between an EQS and an i7. Time moves on but luxury driving decisions get no easier. Which is as it should be.