2012 BMW 7-Series Review

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Bengt Halvorson Bengt Halvorson Deputy Editor
February 23, 2012

The 2012 BMW 7-Series is the Bavarian automaker's flagship model, and it cleverly wraps vast interior space, industry-leading tech, and the expected BMW fleet-footedness.

Even several years after its release, we still think the BMW 7-Series is among the best-conceived big four-doors on the market, one of the best BMW has produced.

Why? For one, the prior car's awkward looks are gone. The slimmer, more exciting proportions of the current car agreeable to most eyes. Performance is stronger too, and a well-networked set of electronic componentry somehow works magic to assure that the 7-Series drives with the feel we've always associated with BMWs, as if they were much lighter than they are.

If you can spend $70,000 or more on a car, BMW has a 7-Series that will appeal to your fingertips and eyes. Even the base inline-6 sedans are sprightly. V-8s with twin turbos have the gusto to pull off triple-digit autobahn passes-yes, even if you just want the bragging rights. And for those who need to maintain a little more green credibility, the ActiveHybrid 7, with its V-8 and hybrid system, is a particularly strong performer while still earning a 24-mpg highway rating.

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Whether you go with the standard-length version or the extended-length (Li) version of the 7-Series, you'll find interior space vast. Long-wheelbase cars dole out chauffeur-ready room for both front and rear-seat passengers, and the ride is about as quiet as you can imagine. And with pretty much every typical luxury-car convenience standard here, the options are left for items like a Head Up Display, night vision, or custom leather and wood trim.

That low-$70,000s 740i climbs to over $135,000 for the range-topping 760Li. The 7-Series covers a wide range of purposes and budgets, but in any of these categories it remains remarkably well designed, tech-savvy, and opulent flagship sedan.

8

2012 BMW 7-Series

Styling

The 2012 BMW 7-Series models have slim, exciting proportions and a streamlined cockpit design.

With the current generation of the 7-Series, which made its debut in 2009, BMW has found a way to satisfy its loyal followers, as well as present a design that stands out in its class. While the previous-generation 7-Series had a tiered decklid (Bangle butt) that had trouble finding friends, along with some seemingly overwrought details, the current 7-Series sedans are knockouts, with more exciting proportions and a relaxed silhouette that stretches 5.5 extra inches on long-wheelbase cars.

The details work, inside and out, down to the wide air intake across the 7er's front end. The trunk is smoother, the shoulders fit better, the taillights look more integrated with the whole. The 7er's twin-kidney grille looks pleased, sitting atop a deep air dam, split into a wide grin. Sublime touches of BMW's sport-sedan heritage come at the kink in the rear roofline. Long-wheelbase cars don't stretch the shape out of balance -they just add more glass in the rear doors.

The dash flows in a serene way across the cockpit. Details like the iDrive joystick don't stick out in the blend of formal and cutting-edge shapes. Designers have tried to minimize the chaotic mix of screens, buttons, and knobs where possible, regrouping them into more logical groups. The dash itself has been streamlined for a cleaner appearance. The driver can black out the instruments entirely. They otherwise glimmer softly among ceramic-finished knobs, dense-grain wood trim,and the controllers that control its driving dynamics and transmission, as well as iDrive.

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2012 BMW 7-Series

Performance

Even though the 2012 BMW 7-Series is big and heavy, you'll forget about it behind the wheel.

The 2012 BMW 7-Series is offered with four different engines, some of them with xDrive all-wheel drive. And with any of these powertrain versions, whether you go with the standard or long-wheelbase body style, you get swift acceleration as well as amazing grip and more poise than you'd expect from a vehicle of this size and heft.

Base 740i and 740Li sedans have a twin-turbo inline-6 pegged at 315 hp and 330 lb-ft of torque. Even here, the 7-Series is quick--about six seconds to 60 mph. The character of the turbo six fits this car remarkably well, thanks to its abundant torque at low engine speeds, the inline-6's smooth and linear power, and the model's lighter curb weight (200 pounds lighter than V-8s, at a minimum). A responsive 6-speed automatic keeps it smooth yet responsive (there's no manual here).

Next up are the 750i and the 750Li, two models that we've had more experience with. They both feature BMW's twin-turbo 4.4-liter V-8, making 400 horsepower and providing a rush of torque as early as 1750 rpm, letting on only with a faint turbocharger whistle. The 6-speed automatic has a sport mode. In all this 7er hits 60 mph in about 5 seconds and charges on to 155-mph top speed. All-wheel drive is an option and can send 20 percent of the available torque to the front wheels to improve traction.

Available on the 750i cars is a M Sport package. It provides 19- or 20-inch wheels; body add-ons; Active Roll Stabilization; and a sport steering wheel.

The 12-cylinder 760Li comes only as a long-wheelbase car powered by a 537-hp twin-turbo V-12. It's the prestige peak of the 7-Series family. The rear-drive sedan now shifts via an 8-speed automatic. It reaches 60 mph in 4.6 seconds, though it weighs a portly 4,800 pounds.

The ActiveHybrid 7 is another alternative in the lineup. With V-8 engine plus a hybrid system using electric motors and a special lithium-ion battery pack, it improves the 7's 0-60 time to 4.6 seconds while also promising an EPA rating of 17/24 mpg. In earlier drives of this model, we've noticed that it's not as smooth as other hybrids, though, with more of a shudder when the engine is stopped and restarted than on other models.

The tuner-edition Alpina B7 is an entirely different kind of niche model. Power soars thanks to aggressive tuning, hitting 500 hp from the previous 400-hp level. BMW also remaps the shift schedule, adds weight to the steering and stiffens the shocks. Zero-to-60 mph times fall to 4.4 seconds. The Alpina delivers far more taut handling than other 7s, even when Sport mode is selected.

Without its battery of electronics, this big sedan might feel like a land yacht, but altogether they broaden dramatically the 7's driving feel. Even in Normal mode, the 7er drives very well for a car so heavy and long. It always feels stable and planted, whether at low speeds or at Autobahn-style limits.

Credit goes to a lightweight independent suspension front and rear composed of control arms. A system called Active Roll Stabilization moves anti-roll bars to cut down on excessive body motion. An air suspension on 750Li and 760Li cars increase isolation without adding copious body lean. All 7-Series cars have Driving Dynamics Control, which lets the driver choose settings for transmission shifts, shock firmness, steering heft, and throttle response.

We've driven the 750Li, and recommend letting the car handle the handling. In auto mode, the 7er takes smart control over the transistors for smoother transitions--and that's a marked difference from early electronic-infused BMWs with uncoordinated, algorithmic responses.

We'll reserve criticism for the 7er's steering. It feels artifical in a way other big German sedans do not. An available active rear-steer system doesn't help with the lack of feedback, but it does push the rear wheels in the opposite direction of the fronts at low speeds so parking-lot maneuvers aren't so cumbersome.

10

2012 BMW 7-Series

Comfort & Quality

The 2012 BMW 7-Series has excellent seats, vast rear-seat room and, regardless of price, among the best fit and finish of any sedan.

With an astounding amount of space--especially in long-wheelbase versions--along with luxurious trims and materials, the 2012 BMW 7-Series cossets occupants, whether they're in front or in back.

The interior of the current 7-Series is vast, especially in its long-wheelbase (iL) forms, and it's become very close to the Mercedes-Benz S-Class in interior room. And unlike S-Class, which only comes to the U.S. in its long-wheelbase forms, the 7-Series still offers a choice.

Front seats in the 7-Series are superb; they're multi-adjustable, and good for keeping you ache-free for hours, over long stretches of smooth and rough roads. And we've been able to get comfortable with a wide range of heights and sizes; as you might expect, the 7-Series is an especially strong pick for some of the tallest drivers.

You'll find almost limo-like legroom (an extra 5.5 inches) in the long-wheelbase 7-Series, letting you truly sprawl out in the back seat. The standard-length versions don't have that, but they're no slouch.

Outfit your 7er properly and it can be fitted with bucket seats in back instead of a bench. Those individual seats can have massaging functions built in, as well as heating and ventilation, and they get a dedication climate control zone, too.

The 7er has a serenity in the cabin that's tough to match. Finishes and fit are on the level of BMW's Rolls-Royce cars, with beautiful woods and leather, lush carpeting and sound deadening.

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2012 BMW 7-Series

Safety

Despite a lack of scores from both major safety agencies, the 2012 BMW 7-Series has a good track record for safety plus one of the best rosters of safety gear.

The 2012 BMW 7-Series hasn't been crash-tested by either of the major agencies, the IIHS and the NHTSA. That's because it's a very expensive, and relatively rare, model, and both agencies tend to favor the most popular models.

But the BMW 5-Series has fared quite well, and the 7-Series is at least somewhat mechanically related to its smaller sibling. Furthermore, the 7-Series' big dose of safety equipment goes a long way toward earning our respect.

All 7-Series cars get the usual airbags and stability control, with the addition of front knee and rear-seat side airbags. A rearview camera is standard, as is a front-end 180-degree-view camera. Parking sensors provide audible warnings of parking-lot obstacles.

All-wheel-drive models sport hill descent control, more for messy roads than for any implied off-road ability.

On the options list, BMW offers lane-departure warnings, automatic high beams, and blind-spot monitors. Take those-but pass on the head-up and night-vision displays. The concepts are sound, but the output displays distract and clutter the view out from the driver seat.

10

2012 BMW 7-Series

Features

The 2012 BMW 7-Series offers a full range of entertainment and tech options on top of its luxurious appointments; iDrive is now quite user-friendly, too.

In nearly every model in the 2012 BMW 7-Series lineup, you're bound to feel a little overwhelmed by all the technology on board. Especially as you move up the model line, to the $150,000 760Li, the 7-Series' features tend toward absolute comfort and ultra-luxury upgrades. But if you want to geek out, there are plenty of chances to do so.

The feature that does the most, and takes the most heat, is iDrive. The latest version of BMW's haptic-feedback-controller system uses simplified menu systems now, with clearer, more intuitive symbols, and it now seems to wade into the car's climate, audio, phone and telematics services with something approaching ease of use.

As it's improved, iDrive's also been augmented with new bookmark buttons and direct-function buttons that let you drill more rapidly in through its deep database. In the process, it's dialed back more physical controls into the cabin--while the original goal was to replace all of them with a single wheel.

BMW's voice-activated navigation system remains one of the best, outputting its data on a wide, gorgeous 10.2-inch high-resolution display, and storing its maps on an 80GB hard drive. If you're tired of wading through iDrive, you can always Google a destination and send it to your car's GPS live from the Web.

We're always happy to listen to BMW's audio systems, which now have the firepower to match the best luxury vehicles on the planet. The head unit in the 7-Series will play DVD-etched music files, and also has built-in HD and satellite radio hardware. A rear-seat entertainment system is optional on V-8 cars, and standard on the most expensive 7ers.

Options, even on the 760Li, include night vision, massaging rear seats, adaptive cruise control, and a choice of wood trim.

For years, BMW stubbornly considered Bluetooth and other connectivity items as options--even in the 7-Series--but it's gradually getting past its quixotic ways. For 2012, the automaker has at last has made a USB port and iPod adapter part of the 7-Series' standard kit, and all models get a rear-view camera system as well as a sport steering wheel. Also for 2012, all 750i models and above get premium sound.

Also new this year with the Driver Assistance Package are side and top-view camera views; that package also includes the Head-Up Display in all-wheel-drive xDrive models.

7

2012 BMW 7-Series

Fuel Economy

From the thirsty 2012 BMW 760Li to the impressive ActiveHybrid 7, the 7-Series casts a wide net on the EPA fuel economy chart.

Among the gasoline versions of the 2012 BMW 7-Series, there's a relatively narrow spread in EPA ratings-that is, until you get to the more efficient 740 or ActivHybrid 7 models.

BMW's 6-cylinder 7-Series cars generate the best fuel economy, thanks to efficient engines and 8-speed automatics. They're EPA-rated at 17/25 mpg. These sedans can very comfortable carry four adults and their luggage, cross-country.

The ActiveHybrid 7 is the next most efficient model. Both its short- and long-wheelbase editions are rated at 17/24 mpg.

From there, fuel economy slides more perceptibly. In the V-8-powered, rear-drive, short-wheelbase 750i, gas mileage is set at 15/22 mpg. Adding a few inches to the wheelbase tips the scales heavier, which trims the numbers to 14/22 mpg in the 750Li.

Adding all-wheel drive to the stock V-8 sedans exacts its own penalty, with the 750i xDrive and 750Li xDrive both earning EPA ratings of 14/20 mpg.

The same 14/22 mpg rating is applied to both the short- and long-wheelbase twin-turbo Alpina B7, the high-performance edition of the 7-Series.

Finally, at the low end of expectations, the V-12-powered 760Li checks in at a not unrespectable 13/19 mpg.

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January 12, 2016
2012 BMW 7-Series 4-Door Sedan ALPINA B7 SWB xDrive AWD

Tossable luxury car.

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My Alpina is almost the perfect car with a couple of exceptions. First mileage. If you're concerned about that type of thing, get a Suburban or similar type of vehicle that will get more miles to the gallon... + More »
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