PALMS SPRINGS, Calif.—For decades, automakers like BMW and Mercedes-Benz have fought each other in group tests for the title of “world’s best car,” an honor awarded 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 trail behind.
Today, there’s a serious new contender for the crown as BMW’s newest generation 7 Series goes on sale.
I got hooked on cars-as-technology during the early ’90s, and what a way the cars have come since, as powertrains have pushed new limits and energy sources, and interiors have become more cosseting and protective of their occupants.
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 a fully 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, which yet again proves 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 partner, including a new advanced driver assistance system that lets you cruise hands-free on premapped divided-lane highways and a huge curved theater display for lucky rear seat passengers. BMW has even managed to make the car fun to drive.
The electric powertrain tech in the i7 is now relatively familiar. 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 that uses prismatic cells. (BMW is switching to cylindrical cells for its sixth-gen EV platform, which we’ll see in 2025’s Neue Klasse.)
There’s just a single i7 on sale for now, the $119,300 i7 xDrive60. The vehicle uses a 255 hp (190 kW), 296 lb-ft (401 Nm) front motor and a 308 hp (230 kW), 280 lb-ft (380 Nm) rear motor with a combined total output of 536 hp (400 kW) and 549 lb-ft (745 Nm). The battery pack has a usable 101.7 kWh out of a total capacity of 105.7 kWh.
The i7 has an official EPA range estimate of 318 miles (512 km) on the smaller 19-inch wheels and 308 miles (496 km) when clad with 21-inch wheels, as was our test car. Over the course of a 2.5-hour drive that featured a lot of elevation change and very little urban driving, I averaged 2.7 miles/kWh (23 kWh/100 km), slightly better than the 2.6 miles/kWh (23.9 kWh/100km) EPA rating.
Charging ups and downs
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 at Electrify America. I attempted to charge my test i7, but my fast-charging attempt ended in partial success. I arrived at the charger with 56 percent SoC remaining, but the session was terminated due to a fault or error after just a few minutes and 9.5 kWh, which took the battery to 67 percent SoC.
If I had actually needed to top the battery up to 80 percent, I’d have unplugged the car and plugged it back in to try to troubleshoot, but I didn’t need 80 percent and didn’t feel like wasting half an hour on the phone to be told that no one else knows why it happens, either.
Upon my return, I let the BMW engineers know about the issue, and when they learned I was using an EVgo charger, they gave a knowing nod and said yes, they had been experiencing problems with that bank all month. (BMW brought in waves of international media over several weeks to drive the i7; Ars and the other US and Canadian outlets were the last of those.) Beyond that, they didn’t know what the problem was, which just reinforces my argument about fast-charger reliability from earlier this summer.