► New V8 twin-turbo petrol 7-series tested
► Active chassis and xDrive at their best
► Enthusiastic but anachronistic?
While the all-electric i7 was undoubtedly the headline act of the pre-production drive event for the next-generation BMW 7-series, it wasn’t the only star of the show. For providing a back-to-back on-road comparison was a similarly disguised combustion engine model, powered by nothing less than an all-new petrol V8.
This will go to market at the same time as the i7 in November 2022, although its primary target will be the USA, inevitably. As we’ve recently learned from the official reveal of the production version of the new 7-series, UK buyers will have to make do with petrol plug-in hybrid powertrains or the 100% electric version when it starts reaching dealers here in early 2023.
It looks… big
It is big. The car in the pictures is nearly 5.4m long – longer than the outgoing LWB model – and is wider and taller than before as well.
That width and the high window line makes it feel a little bit like you’re sitting in a particularly luxurious bathtub from the driver’s seat – though this is in part down to how low the seats go. Even from this aspect it’s clear that BMW hasn’t forgotten that its primary brand value is as a maker of drivers’ cars.
There is plenty of tech available to take the intimidation factor out of the size – including rear-wheel-steering, a suite of over 30 external sensors, and a ‘Professional’ parking assistance that can be taught to make complex low speed manoeuvres you can then control from outside the car with your phone. But the cross-cabin front corner visibility is going to take some getting used to.
What’s it like inside?
Heavily disguised on this particular event. But the elements that were on display are all very modern BMW in the front. Which is to say it features twin digital screens butted together to create one curving length of techno-glass and a crystal iDrive controller. Augmented reality features heavily. It appears less radical than the inside of a BMW iX, but we haven’t seen the exact material usage yet…
In the back there is a huge amount of legroom, and some very comfy seats. Peering beneath the covers on the door trim reveals large touchscreen for the controlling the climate system –like smartphones embedded in the handles.
Key options for backseat shenanigans will include a 31-inch theatre display that will turn the 7-series into a rolling cinema. Complete with automatic blackout blinds and 5g movie streaming.
What’s BMW saying about the engines at this stage?
Not a great deal – except that they are, apparently, all-new, in preparation for the eventual announcement of the Euro 7 guidelines.
When pressed about what this actually means, BMW was cagey – not least because no-one knows exactly what Euro 7 will involve at this stage. But we should take it as a given that mild-hybrid technology will be deployed as standard in an effort to minimise emissions and increase fuel efficiency.
Despite the eco handwringing, the V8 in this particular example was said to be even more powerful than the motor fitted in the current-generation 750i. Which means it has in excess of 523bhp and probably more than 553lb ft.
What’s the new 7-series like to drive?
It’s quite the contrast to the i7, even though both vehicles have been engineered with the intention of having them drive broadly the same. Though no doubt rolling refinement will be outstanding in both come final production, while the i7 is basically silent thanks to its electric motors, the V8 is far from shy about the multi-cylinder origins of its forward motivation.
Which is to say it sounds like a proper eight-banger – and goes like one, too.
The i7 maintains an air of ultra-modern superiority; the V8 has a multispeed transmission – albeit an automatic one – no one-pedal driving, and no instant electric thrust. The downshift paddle does have Boost written on it, as per the i7, but that might be some pre-production humour reminding people about how gearboxes work. As it is still the downshift paddle.
That said, this remains a very, very satisfying expression of the plant foot, make noise, go fast school of big-engined, big-boned motoring, capable of merging into rocket-like outside lane autobahn traffic in little more than an eye-blink. Pickup is mighty, really, for all that electric motors have shifted our perspective on this, and it truly does have an excellent soundtrack.
Punching along straight bits of road is therefore certainly still fun. Where the petrol-powered 7-series starts to assert some actual authority, however, is in the corners.
Both the V8 and the i7 we’ve been sampling were equipped with identical chassis technology, including not just all-wheel drive and air suspension with electronically controlled dampers but also 48v active roll control and rear-wheel steering. Both are impressive from behind the wheel, but only the conventional combustion engine pulls off the trick of feeling genuinely nimble.
Which is quite some feat, given the size of the thing. The width remains a concern – we’d need more than an hour and half behind the wheel to make that fade away – but the balance and the poise belie the V8’s dimensions in a manner the much heavier i7 can’t quite match, as the latter always feels like its arm-wrestling physics.
Conversely, however, when it comes to smothering poor surfaces, the electric car is the master, the petrol the student. The V8 isn’t bad in this regard, just not as good as the i7. Which is exceptional.
We find BMW’s approach to the new 7-series generally appealing – instead of building a bespoke electric car, in this instance it’s engineered its latest flagship right from the start to accept every kind of powertrain. That might be less obviously forward-looking than Mercedes’ approach with the EQS, but it means that every 7-series customer knows that they’re getting the best of BMW’s best, no matter which kind of engine suits their needs and lifestyle.
This eight-cylinder petrol model might be a niche choice by modern standards. But for some – and especially those who like to drive themselves – it looks set to scratch an itch the i7 can’t quite reach…