Back in 2013, BMW joined the battery EVs ranks early with the oddball i3. Then, for the next decade, the company all but squandered its lead while Tesla showed the way.
Fortunately, BMW recently woke up and delivered the all-electric i4 sedan and iX crossover. Now the company's getting even more serious with the i7, its flagship battery-electric luxury sedan.
We recently spent time with it in person, so here's our first look.
An executive lounge and Swarovski crystals
The BMW i7 is the all-electric version of the new 7-series sedan, and shares its platform with the ICE (internal combustion engine) model. As such, the i7 wasn't designed from the ground up as a battery EV, but as just another variant within the 7-series range.
This means there's no front trunk (frunk), and the cabin floor isn't flat. On the plus side, it's built on the same assembly line as its ICE twin, which simplifies production.
BMW offers a single i7 model: the dual motor (AWD) xDrive60, which starts at $119,300 / £110,455 / AU$TBD before incentives.
It delivers 536hp (400kW) and 549lb-ft (744Nm) of torque, accelerates from 0 to 60mph in 4.5 seconds (0-100km/h in 4.7s), and provides a range of 300mi EPA (369mi / 594km WLTP).
An M Sport package is available in some markets (as a trim level in the UK, as an option in the US).
It features a 105.7kWh (101.7kWh usable) battery, supports up to 195kW DC fast charging (CCS Combo 1 in the US and Combo 2 abroad) for a 10-80% charge in about 34 minutes or 80 miles (128km) in 10 mins, and up to 11kW AC charging for a full charge in 10.5 hours.
In the US, BMW's partnered with Electrify America to provide i7 owners with three years of free, unlimited DC fast charging.
The i7 is packed with standard features, including air suspension with adaptive dampers, rear-wheel steering (up to 3.5 degrees), matrix LED headlights, 4-zone climate system, heated and ventilated seats, a heads-up display, Touch Command units (5.5-inch touchscreens on the rear-door armrests), and a panoramic sunroof (with LED lightshow). Cargo capacity is 11.4 cu-ft (322 liters), and there's a ski passthrough in the trunk (boot).
Options include automatic doors (power open / close with ultrasonic obstacle and traffic detection), massaging seats, crystal daytime running lights (using Swarovski crystals, naturally) Executive Lounge (power reclining rear seats with power footrest, heated armrest, and headrest speakers), Bowers & Wilkins Diamond Surround Sound System, and 31.3-inch 8k BMW Theater Screen with Amazon Fire TV.
Polarizing design cues
It's fair to say that BMW purists will find the i7's design controversial. Like the i4 and iX, it flaunts BMW's new, massive kidney grille in the front. We still aren't big fans, but we're getting used to it.
And while overall, the i7 retains BMW's classic RWD-like proportions, the exterior inherits a lot of design cues from the iX. This ranges from that general angular-yet-soft vibe to more concrete items like the flush door handles.
Even more polarizing are the i7's two-piece split headlights, which are a big change for BMW. These new split headlights also carry over to the other 7-series models – including the newly refreshed X7 SUV – and will likely trickle down into the rest of BMW’s range over the next few years.
Overall, the i7is exterior seems boxier than its predecessor, and the thicker C-pillars remind us of the second-generation 7-series (E32, 1987–1994).
Like the exterior, the i7's interior follows in the iX's footsteps. It looks and feels a bit overdone, but offers high-quality materials like quilted leather and cashmere (for the seats), open-pore wood, and stainless steel (for the speaker grilles).
The ornate, faceted crystal-like material found in the iX is back on the i7, adorning the iDrive puck, shifter knob, power seat controls, and what BMW calls the Interaction bar, which spans the dashboard and front doors.
Obviously, BMW is catering to the tastes of its largest market (China) here. Still, there's absolutely no doubt that the i7's interior is supremely luxurious and extremely well appointed.
By default, the driver gets a two-spoke steering wheel with a flat bottom and multiple controls, including a rocker, a scroll wheel, and capacitive buttons with haptic feedback. The M Sport package comes with a sportier three-spoke steering wheel.
A 31-inch Theater Screen with Amazon Fire TV
As you'd expect from a modern EV, the BMW i7 packs a bevy of displays. This includes a 12.3-inch instrument panel plus a 14.9-inch infotainment touchscreen mounted behind a single sheet of curved glass in front, a pair of 5.5-inch touchscreens located in the rear-door armrests, and – optionally – a gigantic 31.3-inch Theater Screen in back.
This 8k, 32:9 aspect ratio touchscreen folds up (glass down) into the roof when not in use.
This 31.3-inch Theater Screen comes with Amazon Fire TV built-in, and provides a wide variety of entertainment options. Back passengers can also adjust their seats, blinds, lights, and climate using the Touch Command unit embedded in each rear door.
This pair of 5.5-inch touchscreens also provide controls for the Theater Screen and Fire TV, and can each be paired with a phone and even Bluetooth earbuds or headphones.
Both the 12.3-inch instrument display and 14.9-inch infotainment touchscreen up front are powered by the latest version of BMW's software (iDrive 8) and boast faster computer hardware for a more responsive user experience and better sensor fusion for Level 2 driver assistance.
We expect the i7's ADAS (advanced driver assistance system) to allow pre-mapped hands-free driving like Ford's BlueCruise and GM's Super Cruise.
Obviously, the i7 also inherits all of the i4 and iX tech features, like the Active Driving Assistant safety suite, a 360-degree view, 5G connectivity via eSIM, OTA (over-the-air) software updates, WiFi hotspot support, the Intelligent Personal Assistant, the My BMW app, UWB (ultra wideband) for phone-as-a-key functionality, wireless Apple CarPlay / Android Auto support, Qi wireless phone charging, and multiple USB ports.
In addition, the i7 features YouTube streaming on the 14.9-inch infotainment touchscreen, a heads-up display with AR (augmented reality) navigation, and multiple ultrasonic sensors mounted along each rocker panel.
These are used for BMW's Maneuver Assistant, which can learn and execute – hands free – maneuvers previously made by the driver – like a three-point turn required to park the car in an underground garage, for example.
The optional 36-speaker Bowers & Wilkins Diamond Surround Sound System includes headrest speakers and seat-back subwoofers, and supports directional audio for each rear passenger, allowing more private hands-free calls.
BMW Iconic Sounds Electric, created by Academy Award-winning composer Hans Zimmer, gives the i7 a unique soundtrack not only when driving, but also when starting the car and deploying the 31.3-inch Theater Screen.
An interior camera lets owners glance inside the i7 from the My BMW app, and automatically records video if the alarm is triggered.
Clearly, BMW isn't holding back on the i7's tech. But this EV also delivers solid range and performance, gobs of luxury and comfort, and a uniquely BMW design that's both familiar yet different.
Now we just need to take it for a spin, so keep an eye out for our first drive and review later this year.