EV tech really shows off its advantages when applied to the ultra-luxury class of sedans and SUVs. Rolls Royce, a marque that only makes cars for the one-per cent recently announced that all their vehicles would be electric after 2030, which makes complete sense. The new 7 Series arguably one of the finest executive limos out there also has a new battery electric version called the BMW i7 and it goes head to head with Mercedes’ latest EV flagship, the EQS
In this upper echelon of vehicles, cabins are not merely places to sit and drive, they are rolling sanctuaries where quietness and isolation are key factors. The large engines traditionally mounted in the front of these heavy cars have always provided engineers with the challenge of making their noise, vibration, and harshness disappear, and that’s no easy feat.
With electric motors, this isn’t necessary. There is no noise, no harshness, and no need to balance champagne glasses on the hood to demonstrate smoothness (sorry, Lexus
). EV motors are silent, powerful, and efficient, the perfect recipe for a luxury vehicle.
The i7 xDrive60 has two electric motors, one on each axle, and combined they make 536 hp and 549 lb-ft of instantly available torque driving all four wheels. Feeding those motors is a large 101.7 kWh (usable) battery that lives under the floor. A heat pump is standard and makes heating or cooling the cabin of the i7 much more efficient. Total range is 498 km but that’s dependent on a variety of factors including weather, and driving style.
With a maximum charging speed of 195 kW, BMW says that you can top up your i7 at a rate of up to 128 km every 10 minutes when connected to a capable DC fast charger. Level 2 or AC charging maxes out at a respectable 11 kW. While it would be nice to have seen something remotely close to those charging speeds, the Electrify Canada station I tried, supposedly rated at 150 kW, only put out about 45 kW and it still charged me by the minute.
Frustrating charging experience aside, which was not the fault of the car, the BMW i7 is everything you expect from a 7 Series. You can also get the 7 series as a 760i xDrive with a 4.4-L twin-turbocharged V8 that also makes 536 hp and while it’s a great engine the electric motors offer a better experience and in this class, it’s the experience that counts.
It starts with getting in because this i7 has power-operated doors, a $2000 option, and worth every penny. Pull on the fixed door handle and the door pops open, move out of its way and it will continue to swing open fully. Ultrasonic sensors will stop the door from contacting other cars, pedestrians, and cyclists. Inside there are touch buttons to open and close the doors and you can even control them from the infotainment screen.
Once seated a large curved display houses screens for the driver and centre console but the most striking aspect is what BMW calls the interaction bar. It’s a backlit clear strip with a polygon design that runs the length of the dashboard and changes colours depending on the drive mode you're in. There are capacitive touch controls built in for the defroster and defogger and to open the glove box. Most everything else is controlled through the infotainment system, including the climate control but iDrive remains one of the best systems in the business, not only because of its cutting-edge graphics and snappy responses but because it still uses a rotary controller which makes interacting with the screen easier on the move.
There are more screens in the i7. Rear passengers each get one embedded in their door armrests. These 5.5-inch screens control the sunshades, entertainment, and the climate control of which four distinct zones are available. But the real party trick and a 7 Series has always been about party tricks, is the Theatre Screen, a $4900 option. For that not-insignificant sum of money, you get a 31.2-inch 8K screen that drops down from the roof at the touch of a button and is controlled by either those rear passenger screens or the main infotainment screen.
It’s got Amazon Fire TV built-in and that means you can stream video from Netflix, Prime, or your most of your favourite services. You can even play games, stream music, or connect your Playstation to it. And since the i7 is fully electric you can charge the car while catching up on the latest episode of “Beef”.
The i7 I was driving also had the Rear Comfort Package ($4700) and the Executive Lounge Package ($2800), which adds a reclining rear seat and leg rest behind the front passenger. When you lower the Theatre screen all the sunshades also extend and with the brilliant 36-speaker, 1965-watt Bower and Wilkins Diamond Surround system ($5900), you get the full IMAX experience in a car. Not only did I watch TV while charging, but I also did it with my legs stretched out while getting a massage. It was the best charging experience I’ve had so far.
One problem with the Theatre screen that’s hard to overlook is that it completely blocks the driver’s rear view when extended, and there’s no option for a digital rearview mirror which would render that issue moot, a bit of a miss there.
Seats are epic. Big, coddling, and supportive with a built-in massage function and buttery Merino leather upholstery. They make long drives feel shorter. A 7 Series has always been a quiet and serene car to drive, but the i7 is in another league. Once the door is powered closed, because you couldn’t be bothered to close it yourself, the outside world is effectively muted and you can enjoy a relaxing escape wafting along riding on a cumulus cloud.
Cramming all this technology into a car means the i7 is monstrously big and heavy, but the electric motors make it feel weightless. And with active 4-wheel steering and active roll stabilization it still manages to balance the athleticism a 7 Series has always been known for with a magic carpet ride courtesy of the standard air suspension and adaptive dampers. BMW even puts the more powerful of the two EV motors on the rear axle giving this i7 a playful rear-wheel drive feel.
My last experience in a 7 Series was in the last-generation M760Li, which was powered by a 600hp V12. I missed that car and its 12 sonorous cylinders when I had to return the keys to BMW but this i7 felt even better. There’s just something so cool about being able to accelerate so quickly and so smoothly in complete silence. I might not want that in a sports car but in a luxury sedan like this, it feels perfect.
The i7 is less a car and more a full-fledged luxury experience on wheels, though with its powerful motors and sharp handling it’s also a lot of fun to drive. And if you can get over the looks, mainly the front, which is kinda hard to love, the new i7 is everything a 7 Series is supposed to be and then some.
2023 BMW i7 xDrive60
BODY STYLE: 5-door, 5-passenger
CONFIGURATION: Dual motor, all-wheel drive battery electric vehicle (BEV)
Dual current-excited electric motors, Combined Power: 536 hp; Torque: 549 lb-ft
: Single-speed direct drive
EV RANGE: estimated 496 km (21-inch wheels) from a 101.7 kWh (usable) battery
; city: 2.8 ; highway: 2.6; combined: 2.7
: 501 litres
$147,000 (MSRP); $194,200 (as-tested not including freight and fees)
WEBSITE: BMW Canada