BMW i7 prototype review (2022) – early drive of new electric 7-series

Published:05 April 2022

BMW i7 prototype electric luxury saloon review - front view, driving
  • At a glance
  • 4 out of 5
  • 4 out of 5
  • 4 out of 5
  • 5 out of 5
  • 4 out of 5

By CJ Hubbard

Head of the Bauer Automotive Hub, road tester, organiser, extremely variable average wheel count

By CJ Hubbard

Head of the Bauer Automotive Hub, road tester, organiser, extremely variable average wheel count

► Electric xDrive for new 7-series tested
► Quiet, comfortable, effortless – and fast
► 380-mile range, rumoured 600bhp

Electric cars create all sorts of opportunities for cleverness. In the new BMW i7 – the electric version of the next-generation 7-series – this manifests itself not just in the exceptionally intuitive one-pedal driving capability, but also in the form of a single paddle attached to the steering wheel. Which has Boost written on it.

A weird thing to install in a luxury limo, perhaps. Arguably a gimmick. But as a means of underlining just how old fashioned the equivalent V8 petrol has become it’s the automotive equivalent of being struck by a cattle prod. Pull this paddle and the entire car snaps taut as the twin-motor ‘generation 5’ electric powertrain spikes with potential and prepares itself for putting whatever piece of highway trash that’s been bothering you back into its box.

If you’ve even noticed it, of course. For riding in even this pre-production prototype of the i7 is a cocoon of comfort and serenity. The latest 7er will come as standard with maximised luxe, and the i7 is here to stake a claim as the end of level boss.

So the i7 is just a variant of the 7-series?

‘Just’ is probably a little unkind, but yes, the i7 goes on sale at the same time as every other type of seventh-generation 7er in November 2022. At which point, BMW will offer its customers a full range of powertrain choices all based on the same fundamental package: conventional petrol and diesel models (albeit brand new, equipped with mild-hybrid tech and ready to take on Euro 7 regs whenever they’re finalised), plug-in hybrids and full electric.

The new 7-series has been designed this way from the start. The approach is in contrast to Mercedes, which offers the EQS on a separate platform to the S-Class.

BMW i7 prototype electric luxury saloon review - rear view, driving

As with every other 7-series, the i7 will come as standard with air suspension, electronically controlled damping, variable ratio steering and a massive suite of technology. The full sensor package includes over 30 elements, including high-resolution lidar and a new radar system with vertical separation capability that allows it properly make a distinction between static and moving objects. The main camera is an 8-megapixel unit for better clarity – a first for a car.

Where the i7 diverges is at once obvious and telling. It has an electric motor on each axle – giving it four-wheel drive – and the front and rear subframes are linked by the gigantic battery pack as well as the bodyshell. It’s super rigid as a result, as well as super heavy. Initial WLTP estimates suggest a BMW iX-matching driving range of as much as 380 miles per charge.

Any idea how it’s going to look?

What you see in the pictures here is as much as we’ve seen in real life. Evident features include the iX-style recessed door releases and the slinky three-box lines, although the manner in which it appears low-slung is mildly deceptive as the car in the pictures is nearly 5.4 metres long, stretching further along the road than the LWB version of the previous 7-series.

The degree to which anyone should take offence at the grille remains unclear at this stage, though a recent official teaser image isn’t especially reassuring.

BMW i7 prototype electric luxury saloon review - interior, CAR driving

The inside comes with the same dual-screen layout as the iX, and a similar crystalline iDrive puck. Pretty much everything else was under wraps, though there’s definitely a kind of amphitheatre vibe to the dashboard – reminiscent of the last Jaguar XJ – and we did sneak a peak at the rear climate controls when we got a chance to test out riding in the back. These are smartphone-sized touchscreens mounted in the door armrests. Very fancy.

Though not as fancy as the 31-inch cinema screen rear-seat passengers will optionally be able to enjoy. We didn’t get to see this, but gather it’s mounted in the ceiling and streams movies over 5g. Legroom is unequivocally generous.

What’s the i7 like to drive?

Given the variations in mass and technology, BMW says creating the new 7-series has been like signing-off three different cars at once. The aim was to have them all driving the same way, but the weight difference between the i7 and the least complicated combustion models is rumoured to be in the region of half a tonne. And there ain’t no fooling that much physics.

This is in part why you want the i7 if you crave the ultimate in luxury. The extra heft in combination with that active air suspension setup means it smothers all but the meanest road imperfections, while the electric drive makes it silent and effortlessly effective at covering ground.

BMW i7 prototype electric luxury saloon review - driving on test track

Power output is unconfirmed but will be greater than the 516bhp the iX xDrive50 musters – perhaps even as much as 600 horses in final production trim. Though it didn’t feel quite that obviously powerful during most of the test drive we were restricted to following an enthusiastic but generally law-abiding X7 chaperone, so only really wrang its neck on the autobahn.

Aside from the ride, super-impressive aspects include the B mode, which may as well stand for Brilliant given how well sorted the one-pedal driving is, and – conversely – the actual brake pedal. As with the iX, the i7 has a neat system that maintains the consistency of brake feel no matter if it’s friction or regen slowing you down. All electric cars should be like this.

What’s the catch?

While the weight works for the ride it works against the handling. So although this is still one determined disco dancer – it is genuinely not going too far to say the familial ties to the 3-series are clearly apparent – it can’t quite muster the nimble fleetness of foot the equivalent V8 petrol manages to deliver.

To this end you are definitely going to want the active ride control – an optional extra based on the same 48v technology that Rolls-Royce uses, this keeps faster direction changes civil, especially in the heightened state of alert that Sport mode offers, something that is achieve without ruining the ride quality.

Similarly, the rear-wheel-steering option is surely a must-have for its added incisiveness and stability. Plus it makes wriggling around car parks much less terrifying.

And what about that Boost paddle?

The rush nominally lasts for 10 seconds, which counts down in the head-up display while also switching the graphics to something that would appear suitable for bombing the Death Star – though you can simply pull the paddle again to keep extending the moment, assuming you have the battery capacity to spare.

BMW i7 prototype electric luxury saloon review - driving, side view, Boost mode

The car’s reaction is instantaneous – it even tightens the seat bolsters if you’re not already in Sport mode – and decisive, like chucking a boatload of extra horse off a cliff or something. Presumably this is in part because it changes the accelerator pedal map. The i7 seems to leap forward even if your right foot doesn’t so much as twitch; pin it and that anticipated 600bhp seems suddenly more believable.

Equally, once the time is up it’s as if the whole car breathes a sign of relief, palpably dropping out of high tension and relaxing. Not something many will be encouraging their chauffeur to experiment with on a regular basis, but if you really must make it to the ballet on time it could be priceless.

Any other tech to tickle the fancy?

BMW is working on Level 3 autonomy for this car – which is extended self-driving in specific circumstances, such as traffic jams and on motorways. In the USA this means it will, in theory, be able to cross six lanes to exit a highway junction without intervention; European legislation isn’t quite so accommodating. Regardless, Level 3 won’t be made available until BMW is sure it’s ready, a distinctly different approach to that of a certain electric car brand you could mention.

BMW i7 prototype electric luxury saloon review - autonomous driving Level 3

Other high-tech flexing includes augmented reality now appearing in the instrument display rather than on the central infotainment screen, and the ‘Professional’ version of the parking assistance.

This can be taught to follow 200 metres of complex manoeuvres in 10 different locations – and can automagically reverse back in the direction you’ve just come for the same distance, should you be presented with an unexpected dead end. This is the kind of self-driving we can all get behind, since it will save you from silly low-speed scrapes when you arrive at home or office (or wherever) dog tired.

The augmented reality shows you what the car is seeing and the path it plans to follow, while safety systems will take evasive action should the unexpected happen. In more routine parking scenarios, the system will give you a choice of spaces, the choice to drive in forward or backward, and park using the lines as guidance. Leaving you neatly positioned no matter how wonky the surrounding vehicles.

Having tested all of this parking trickery, it seems to work superbly.

BMW i7 prototype – verdict

With this kind of car the looks and interior play a big part in their appeal, so we’ll reserve final judgement until we’ve seen the full finished article – later in April 2022.

But based on this prototype, the driving experience is every bit as good as you’d hope from an electric version of BMW’s flagship, and for most buyers the extra degree of comfort will surely out-weigh the slight deficit in handling chops. Pun intended.

Specs

Price when new: £0
On sale in the UK: November 2022
Engine: Front and rear mounted electric motors, max system horsepower 600bhp (est)
Transmission: Single-speed transmission, electric all-wheel drive
Performance: 4.5sec 0-62mph, 124mph top speed (electronically limited), 105kWh net battery capacity – all est – plus 380-mile WLTP driving range, 0g/km CO2 in motion
Weight / material: 2600kg (est) / CFRP, aluminium, steel
Dimensions (length/width/height in mm): 5390 / 1900 / 1700 mm (all est)

Rivals

Photo Gallery

  • BMW i7 prototype electric luxury saloon review - rear view, driving
  • BMW i7 prototype electric luxury saloon review - driving, side view, Boost mode
  • BMW i7 prototype electric luxury saloon review - front
  • BMW i7 prototype electric luxury saloon review - rear
  • BMW i7 prototype electric luxury saloon review - autonomous driving Level 3
  • BMW i7 prototype electric luxury saloon review - driving on test track
  • BMW i7 prototype electric luxury saloon review - interior, CAR driving

By CJ Hubbard

Head of the Bauer Automotive Hub, road tester, organiser, extremely variable average wheel count

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