2009 BMW 7 Series: Five Steps to a Smaller Bangle Butt

October 21, 2008
After years of car-writer controversy for its shape, its controls, and its inability to knock the stuffing out of Lexus, the BMW 7 Series is all-new. So what makes its subtly reworked shape work so much better than the previous generation?

While I'm writing down my impressions for our full review of the 2009 BMW 7 Series, which I drove after the recent Paris auto show, I've been looking more closely at pics of the previous car and the new one. Styling's an easy place to start dissecting the 7 Series, since the last generation bowed to howling controversy over its distinctive look, pioneered by BMW design chief Chris Bangle. We called it "controversial," "unsettling," and "polarizing"--and we were among the easiest on the new shape, which BMW says still sold more cars than any prior generation of 7 Series. The overwrought look earned the nickname "Bangle butt," for its stacked rear end and unusual surfacing.

The 2009 model is an undeniably more handsome car, regardless of the spin. A simple side-by-side against the old version reminds us why the last version simply didn't have a coherent look, and why it was so controversial--and why the new car's much more successful at giving BMW a range-topping sedan with hallmark looks, avant-garde details and a high-tech sheen.

It's all in the greenhouse


BMW's tagline of the "ultimate driving machine" applies even to the big 7 Series, but the previous car ditched some of the typical BMW roofline for a taller, more formal look that didn't live up to the immortal tagline. This time around, that formality has been ditched for a faster, sexier look. Take a look at the pics above and below, and you'll see the new car's windshield is laid back more, and its glass area is a little shallower, giving this bruiser a much more sporting profile.

2007 BMW 7-Series 4dr Sdn exterior front upper left

2007 BMW 7-Series 4dr Sdn exterior front upper left

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2007 BMW 7-Series 4dr Sdn exterior rear right

2007 BMW 7-Series 4dr Sdn exterior rear right

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A broad-shouldered look


What better way to drive a wedge in the 7 Series' stuffy reputation than with a big, wedgy line running the length of the car? BMW amps up the new 7 Series' muscular silhouette with a taller, more pronounced shoulder line. Last year's 7 Series had a lower, undercut line that tried to take weight out of the sideview, but didn't really succeed; on the 2009 7 Series, the line plays up its broad shoulders while it still slims down the shape at the sills--like a men's suit with a large drop, or a big difference between the shoulders and waist.
2009 BMW 7-Series

2009 BMW 7-Series

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Big mouth


The new 7 Series needs to breathe--and it sure has a prettier mouth than before. The wide air intake returns the front-end mass that the old car tried to diminish. The old 7's intake was nearly as wide, but upturned at its sides, and that pulled its chin up like a helmet strap. The new car's air intake is wide and squared-off, complementing the  broader look of the front end and the taller, flared nostrils.

2009 BMW 7-Series

2009 BMW 7-Series

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Lighting matters


All sorts of visual tricks seem to lower the 7 Series' mass, but the boomerang shape and ribbed lighting at the rear end does it most deftly. It's the inverse of the old shape, which seemed to lift the decklid to those Banglerian heights--now it's low and lean, thanks to trimmed-down tail lamps. (The eagle-like headlamps are a big boon to its menacing look, too.)

2009 BMW 7-Series

2009 BMW 7-Series

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The right amount of bling


We've seen some bad examples of jewelry on new vehicles--like the sedan in the TCC driveway this week, where fender logos are almost as large as a Texan belt buckle. On the 7 Series, there's ample bling--but it's actually functional, with running lights glowing down its flanks like runway illumination. Tim Gunn would probably agree: The excess here works.

Later today, I'll try to lay out the 7 Series' overwhelming dose of technology--including the revamp of iDrive and the debut of Google mapping. Then, later this week, I'll bring you our full driving impressions and our Bottom Line on the 2009 BMW 7 Series.

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