BMW Engineers for the EV-Transition Reality
The latest 7-series flagship is part of a cautious “no size fits all” platform strategy that comprises pure ICE, hybrid, and EV propulsion.
When the time comes for the debut of a new generation of a German flagship sedan, it’s best to expect the incremental. Sure, there will be technology stretches and conveniences so impressive you may never have imagined their need, but a top-of-the-range luxury model will remain a recognizable, even familiar, brand member. So it is with the 2023 overhaul of the BMW 7 Series, unveiled with moderate technical detail at the 2022 NY auto show.
The body contours of the seventh-generation 7 have evolved; the grille has dilated as the headlights became squintier, but the Bavarian bloodline is fully evident. All of that is reassuring to the car’s prestige-minded owner cohort. The new 7, which carries the internal code of G70, perseveres as a big, comfortable and muscular 4-door, with combustion-engine power coming from either a turbocharged inline 6-cylinder or twin-turbo V8, both of which BMW says are all-new.
Much of the attention to the new 7’s arrival in coming months will accrue to wonders like the rear-seat entertainment system, known as Theatre Screen, a 31-inch (787-mm) display that descends from overhead and will display your choice of streaming media. There will, of course, be conveniences like auto parking and remote parking, and the driver-assistance technology package now will be functional up to 80 mph (129 km/h).
Novel battery conditioning
The most significant shift comes in the addition of electric propulsion, with a hybrid entry (coming in 2023) and a pure battery-electric model, the i7, at the top of the class. The electrified models, BMW said, make the 7 Series the only car in its class offered with the full span of choices from all-gasoline to all-electric, a path that Olive Zipse, chairman of BMW’s board of management, summarizes as “no size fits all.”
For its part, the i7 paves the way for a 5-Series EV in 2023, as well as the Rolls-Royce Spectre. BMW’s trans-corporate switch to fully electric model lines will begin with Rolls-Royce and Mini, to be in place by the early 2030s, Zipse said in New York, and the BMW brand will follow their lead.
In coming months, headlines will naturally focus on the i7, appropriate as it asks the highest price of the 7-Series model range – $119,300 plus the $995 destination charge – and at 536 hp (400 kW) equals the output of the brawniest internal-combustion 7. Dual motors from BMW’s fifth-generation electric drive system give it all-wheel traction and a 107-kWh battery pack will provide a BMW-estimated driving range of 300 miles (482 km).
The i7 builds on the company’s development work with the i4, and particularly the iX crossover, from which it borrows the general configuration of the dashboard display. Other parallels with the iX include the design of the battery pack, using a taller layout and a more complex cooling strategy than the i4 sedan. Rated at 400 volts, the pack accepts DC fast charging at up to 200 kW, which is sufficient to load 100 miles (160 km) of range in 10 minutes, according to BMW.
While the 300-mile estimated range is at the lower end of driving distances for class competitors – Tesla and Lucid easily outrun it – the 400-volt battery and its 200-kW charging ceiling seem a half-step behind the leaders for a new entry. BMW counters by emphasizing that actual charging times will be in line with the needs of drivers, through use of a built-in battery-conditioning strategy.
When a driver selects a charging station ahead of time (or chooses one suggested by the system), the battery is brought to the ideal conditions while still on the route – temperature, accounting for ambient conditions – to its recharge. Owners will be depending on that system intelligence: considering the range and the battery’s ample energy capacity, the car’s efficiency, at roughly three miles per kWh, also falls short of competitors.
At odds with competing top-level EVs, the i7 largely shares it structure with the ICE models, a development choice that can lead to compromises in packaging the electrical components as well as reducing efficiency at the assembly plant. The decision to forgo a dedicated platform for the luxury sedan reflects caution on the part of BMW regarding how quickly the transition to an EV fleet will progress. Zipse framed this clearly: speaking at a spring 2022 roundtable in New York, he warned that a move to an all-EV fleet leaves automakers in the position of being too dependent on a few countries for the raw materials used in components such as batteries.
The internal-combustion versions of the 7 Series launch in November starting with the 740i, equipped with a 375-hp (280 kW) 3.0-L turbocharged I-6, at $94,295 including destination. The next step up is the 760i xDrive, powered by the 536-hp twin-turbo V8 at $114,595. Coming in 2023 is the 750e xDrive, a 536-hp, 48-volt hybrid with the turbocharged I-6 backed by an electric motor (pricing has yet to be announced). Previous model rollouts suggest that BMW will follow with a suite of variants, likely an M version and perhaps an Alpina offshoot. There is no longer a V12 in the line, per BMW’s announcement that the engine would end production this summer.
The i7 may not jolt the planet off its axis on the basis of technical specifications, but it promises to be the sort of executive transport to which BMW buyers aspire: a discreet statement that is luxuriously appointed, lavishly trimmed and deserving of the “private lounge” ambience for which the company aspires. Executives presenting the car at an offsite showing before the 2022 New York auto show emphasized dynamics as a distinguishing trait – a driver’s EV that will silently power to 60 mph in 4.8 seconds.
For the IC-engine models, BMW-level performance will be the factor that brings the roundel faithful back to a new generation of the 7 Series, last refreshed in 2016. Viewing the i7 variant as a conquest vehicle, one that would pry owners from their Teslas, is a less-certain proposition until it proves to excel with its on-road prowess. Market trends would seem to say that BMW’s efforts going forward will grow in the direction of the SUV and crossover format. And while a BEV flagship sedan has its place in the model line, it seems it will take a dedicated platform to achieve parity with a rapidly developing EV class.