PALMS SPRINGS, Calif. ̵[ads1]1; For decades, automakers such as BMW and Mercedes-Benz have battled each other in group tests for the title of “world’s best car,” an honor bestowed by various magazines. The battle has usually been between the 7 Series and the S-Class, with occasional challenges from Lexus. Jaguar and Cadillac often follow suit.
Today there is a serious new contender for the crown as BMW’s latest generation 7 Series goes on sale.
I got hooked on cars-as-technology in the early 90s, and what a way cars have come since then, as powertrains have pushed new limits and energy sources, and interiors have become more cozy and protective for passengers.
The Bavarian OEM made the decision a few years ago to invest in a powertrain-agnostic vehicle architecture, so the new 7 Series will be available with an internal combustion engine, as a plug-in hybrid (which will come to the US in time), and as an all-battery-electric version called the i7. BMW brought both gasoline and BEVs to Palm Springs for the international first drive, and you can read about the 760i xDrive elsewhere on these pages today.
But the star of the show is the i7, proving once again that if you want to make a luxury car even better, give it electric motors.
The electric version has full feature parity with its petrol-powered counterpart, including a new advanced driver assistance system that lets you cruise hands-free on pre-mapped split-lane highways and a huge curved theater screen for lucky backseat passengers. BMW has even managed to make the car fun to drive.
The electric powertrain technology in the i7 is now relatively well known. It’s BMW’s 5th generation EV powertrain, and it debuted in last year’s i4 sedan and iX SUV. It uses the same family of electrically excited synchronous motors for both axles, fed by a lithium-ion battery pack using prismatic cells. (BMW is switching to cylindrical cells for its sixth-generation EV platform, which we’ll see in 2025’s Neue Klasse.)
There’s only a single i7 for sale for now, the $119,300 i7 xDrive60. The vehicle uses a 255 hp (190 kW), 296 lb-ft (401 Nm) front engine and a 308 hp (230 kW), 280 lb-ft (380 Nm) rear engine for a combined total output of 536 hp (400 kW) and 549 lb-ft (745 Nm). The battery pack has a usable 101.7 kWh of a total capacity of 105.7 kWh.
The i7 has an official EPA range of 512 km on the smaller 19-inch wheels and 308 miles (496 km) when dressed with 21-inch wheels, as our test car was. During a 2.5-hour drive that featured a lot of elevation changes and very little city driving, I averaged 2.7 miles/kWh (23 kWh/100 km), slightly better than the 2.6 miles/kWh (23.9 kWh/100 km) EPA rating.
Charging up and down
DC fast charging takes 34 minutes to return the battery to 80 percent state of charge (SoC), or 80 miles (129 km) for every 10 minutes, and i7 owners will get three years of unlimited charging sessions with Electrify America. I tried to charge the test i7, but the attempt with fast charging was partially successful. I got to the charger with 56 percent SoC again, but the session ended due to a bug or error after only a few minutes and 9.5 kWh, taking the battery to 67 percent SoC.
If I actually needed to top the battery up to 80 percent I would have unplugged the car and plugged it back in to try to troubleshoot, but I didn’t need 80 percent and didn’t want to waste half an hour on the phone to be told that no one else knows why it’s happening, either.
When I got back I informed the BMW engineers about the problem and when they learned I was using an EVgo charger they gave a knowing nod and said yes, they had been having problems with that bank all month. (BMW brought in waves of international media over several weeks to run the i7; Ars and the other US and Canadian outlets were the last of these.) Beyond that, they didn’t know what the problem was, which only reinforces my argument about fast-charger reliability from earlier this summer.