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- Lighter weight improves dynamics
- Smooth ride
- Willing power
- Roomy, isolated cabin
- iDrive goes touchscreen (and gesture-based)
- No major step forward in design
- So many active/anticipatory systems
- Even pricier than before
Don’t let the conservative wrapper fool you, the 2016 BMW 7-Series charges boldly into a new generation as a sporty big sedan, with new ride-and-handling tech, space-age construction, and a plug-in hybrid version.
The BMW 7-Series makes tremendous technological leaps with every generation. And rather than keeping its transcendence to what's under the hood or to technology on the dash, the sixth-generation 2016 BMW 7-Series learns a bit from BMW's carbon-fiber "i" cars underneath and inside.
The 2016 7-Series is about the same size as the outgoing car, yet it's built on a new platform and from a combination of ultra-tensile steels, carbon fiber-reinforced plastic, and aluminum. BMW says it's lost 190 pounds. The 7-Series' doors and hood are aluminum, lighter weight suspension components cut unsprung mass, and BMW notes that the 7-Series keeps ideal 50/50 weight distribution.
BMW keeps the exterior design of the 7-Series remarkably clean, and it builds on the classic sport-sedan proportions that the brand has reestablished with the current 3-Series and 5-Series models. Just as we've seen in BMW's recently renewed utility vehicles, there's a taller, larger version of the brand's dual-kidney grille that also serves as an air intake-while a lovely sculpted crease rises from the hood to continue subtly all the way to the rear lamps and a chrome accent bar across the rear. A chiseled piece of brightwork starts behind the front wheelwells, where it incorporates an air breather, and continues along the lower side of the vehicle, taking visual weight out of the car's profile.
Inside, BMW continues some of the design themes it's already embarked upon with other recent vehicles. The instrument panel gets more shelf-like and horizontal than ever. There's more brightwork here than in the outgoing 7-Series, with a satin-metallic look that also involves the facing for climate and audio controls. Yet the look remains relatively formal.
The 2016 BMW 7-Series arrives in the U.S. market in 740i, 750i (both with rear-wheel-drive), and 750i xDrive (all-wheel-drive) forms. The 740i is powered by a 3.0-liter twin-turbo inline-6 making 320 hp, with the 750i packing a 4.4-liter twin-turbo V-8 that produces 445 hp. BMW says that the efficiency of both engines has been increased.
In the coming year, a 740e xDrive plug-in hybrid is set to join the 7-Series lineup. It unites a 2.0-liter turbo-4, a lithium-ion battery pack mounted under the rear seat, and an electric motor integrated into an 8-speed automatic. The 740e xDrive should have 23 miles of electric-only range, BMW says, when the car does not exceed 75 mph. A Battery Control mode maintains or adds battery charge when driving as a hybrid.
The chassis controls that underpin the 7-Series become far more complex this year. A new feature for the air suspension and adaptive dampers uses predictive information to respond to road surfaces. (The 8-speed automatic also uses satellite navigation data for predictive shifting.) The 7-Series' optional rear-wheel-steering system has been updated so that it can be fitted to all-wheel-drive cars.
The 7-Series offers copious interior space, and a low-set dash that gives the visual impression of an airy cabin. Only long-wheelbase cars are sold in the U.S.; they have an inch more rear legroom than the standard model sold in other markets. As always, the 7-Series back seat can be fitted with luxury-liner features such as a fragrance dispenser, ambient lighting, and a panoramic roof.
It doesn't end there. The rear seats can be surrounded by heated armrests, can be fitted with ventilation, and can be equipped with a tablet device connected to the Internet via in-car data. Separate from those options, another package gives the car's right-rear passenger a footrest, and moves the front seat forward 3.5 inches so they can use the footrest. A tray table, more storage, and two rear console cupholders finish off that package.
On the technology front, the 7-Series isn't just the flagship of the BMW line but also the debut stage for leading-edge technology features that eventually trickle down to the brand's other models. This model is no exception. There's a new wireless charging system for smartphones, and gesture control for iDrive. The head-up display occupies more of the front glass, and night vision and adaptive headlights return with even more capability.
BMW is finally caving to finger-driven technology in its cars as well. The 7-Series now has a large 12.3-inch touchscreen. A Bowers & Wilkins surround sound system, with 1,400 watts of power and 16 speakers, takes care of the aural needs of passengers.
According to the the EPA, the 2016 BMW 740i is rated at 21 mpg city, 29 highway, 24 combined. The 750i was rated 17/25/20 mpg; adding all-wheel drive drops those numbers by roughly one mpg across the board.