2023 BMW i7 review - Silent on the inside, loud on the outside
The BMW 7 Series has always been defined by its size and engine line-up. The size is needed to make it look more stately than its siblings, but save for the Bangle-butted seven, most other iterations have looked like stretched versions of a 5 Series. Call it desperate measures or bold moves, BMW designers are now trying to ensure that all their model lines have a clear distinction from each other and don't appear like a set of German sausages in different sizes. The new 7 Series is therefore their boldest one yet and it stands out not only from its stablemates but also from the competition. And for this generation too the powertrain is an important talking point - probably more important than ever.
A bold new form
What you see here is the BMW i7. It's a brand new model name but because of its body style, it may appear to be just another variant of the 7 Series. You wouldn't be wrong to think that way, but the i7 demands to be seen as a fully electric flagship saloon from BMW. That said, don't think of it to be what the EQS is to the Mercedes-Benz S-Class. Unlike the born-electric EQS, the i7 was co-developed with the ICE-ed 7 Series to have common hard points and identical proportions, but a middle ground was reached to also incorporate a large enough battery pack without compromising on the tech, space or stance that a 7 Series BMW demanded in 2023.
Furthermore, BMW seems to have invited members of its Rolls Royce teams (and maybe even Mini, given how well it handles) to sprinkle a bit more luxury glitter and make the new 7 Series stand out even more. Take the shape for example, which appears like it is sculpted from a big brick of expensive stone. It has a rectangular profile fit for a Rolls Royce stable. Interestingly, the new, electric Rolls Royce Spectre has facial features echoing the design of the i7. If you want more Rolls Royce vibe, you can also specify the car in a two-tone paint scheme. This flagship bimmer has a humongous, imposing, upright grille too, but the trademark BMW kidney shape simply doesn't look as classy - more lighting strip outlines the shape of these kidneys. It's loud and bling but does the job of attracting attention whether it's night or day. Adding a touch of class and gleam are the Swarovski crystals in the new daytime running lights which now sit independent of the headlight assembly - highlighting that BMW designers are trying to break away from tradition. The bumpers, front and rear, still have that sporty BMW touch to them, even though the i7 is devoid of any tailpipes.
In a nutshell, the i7 bears a bold new design than anything we have ever seen on a BMW and casts a silhouette that looks stately and justifies its asking price.
But how is it on the inside?
Press a switch and (if the surroundings are devoid of obstacles) the doors can swivel open or close on their own. You may not use this feature often, but it's a conversation starter. It doesn't have the theatrics of the gesture-controlled doors on the Maybach S-Class, but it works more reliably so you can take a proud stride into either seats of the i7.
The cabin takes bold strides too! BMW's romance with crystal-work started a while back, but it has reached new heights with the i7. Apart from the rotary iDrive controller and the door knobs, the crystal treatment extends to the dashboard elements too. It is about an inch and a half tall and runs across the length of the dashboard, extending into the doors too. But it looks even better than you can imagine because it houses the ambient lights that change colour as per your preference, driving mode or infotainment theme. Such a wide light bar could look gaudy in most cars, but with the crystallised overlay panel and the choice of expensive upholstery all around, it looks classy and quite unlike anything we have ever seen on other cars. I hope BMW keeps its exclusive to its cars that are 7 Series and up, but the German brands have a habit of diluting such niceties rather quickly by making them common across the portfolio.
The cabin is packed to the gills with premium materials and tech. The front end gets two displays for the instrumentation and infotainment, clubbed together to create a single driver-centric curved display, much like some of the high-end televisions. Speaking of it, the rear passengers get an actual television - 31 inches in size with an 8K resolution - that descends from the roof and lets you play stuff off your favourite OTT platform. It is a bummer though that it needs a bespoke 5G dongle (because of 8K content) to connect to the internet and cannot simply connect to any other third-party hotspot/dongle.
There are more screens at the back! A smartphone-like screen in each rear door allows you to control the blinds, air-conditioning, massaging and recliner functions on the business-class seats, and certain controls of the television. When not in use, the television folds into the roof area that would have otherwise been the vertebrae in the sunroof and I suggest you leave it there when on the move because watching movies on such a large screen is likely to give you motion sickness.
Floats and stings like a Beemer
That said, the suspension setup of the i7 is phenomenal! It keeps the occupants inert of the road perfections despite those heavy batteries weighing down the car. Even around winding roads, the rear seat occupants don't move from side to side as often. I haven't experienced this level of body control and plushness in any other EV yet. So the i7 is reassuring in that sense and that air suspension works as advertised.
Speaking of winding roads, this Rolls Royce aping saloon manages to feel like a compact Beemer. This is why I wonder if the Mini engineers were involved in the development too. All that mass and size seem to shrink when the i7 hits the bends. There is only so much that rear axle steering can do, so the BMW engineers deserve a pat on their back for the kind of ride and handling they have achieved. The body control on the i7 is tight, the steering effort feels minimal and power delivery is buttery smooth.
The i7 simply does not feel like a two-and-a-half-ton saloon and that's a big feat. It is powered by two asynchronous motors capable of delivering a sportscar rivalling 545PS of power and 745Nm of torque. These figures ensure that there is no dearth of power even when you want to pull overtakes with a full house at autobahn speeds. But should you still feel the need for speed kicking in, a Boost paddle in place of a downshifter gives you 10s of an additional shove to make that rapid progress. Switch over to Sport mode, go pedal to the metal and the i7 will rush to 100kmph in under 5s. And since there is no engine to add drama, there is a bespoke, thrilling soundtrack that plays from the speakers and amplifies as the speeds rise. The notes are very similar to superhero flicks like The Dark Knight or Man of Steel, and that's because they literally got the same composer - Hans Zimmer - to compose each and every sound effect in the car - for acceleration, for the descending television screen, the different drive modes et al.
As may be evident to you already, the i7 rates performance higher than the outright range, which is why I left it for the end. The i7 will be able to comfortably do 350km on a full charge and highway runs can see this figure reach up to 470kms. The batteries are capable of 195kW charging, should you find such high-power DC chargers, but the standard 55kW fast chargers should fully top up the batteries in around 4 hours.
In terms of figures then, the i7 delivers on all the expectations one can have from a luxury electric saloon in 2023 - which is a big feat considering it was co-developed with an ICE counterpart. And in doing that is it able to retain all the luxury and tech that one expects at this price point. The bold styling may not be to everyone's taste - but if you are shopping in this space, don't discount the i7 until you have actually seen and driven it. If I had to choose a super luxury saloon at the moment, this one would be my pick without second thoughts.
Words Rohit Paradkar
Photography Anis Shaikh
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