In any version of the current BMW 7-Series, you'll have swifter acceleration and more ultimate grip than in some of the automaker's M cars from the past.
The entry-level cars, the 740i and 740Li, bring back the six-cylinder engine to the 7-Series for the first time in nearly two decades. This time around, the twin-turbo in-line six makes considerably more horsepower: it's rated at 315 horsepower and 330 pound-feet of torque, and BMW promises a 0-60 mph time of less than 6.0 seconds for either version. We haven't had the chance to test the six-cylinders, but other publications have noted the six-cylinder's smooth, linear acceleration and the fact that it's more than 200 pounds lighter than the V-8 versions. The engine's teamed with a six-speed automatic transmission.
We've had extensive experience driving the 750i and 750Li, the sedans outfitted with BMW's big twin-turbo V-8. The 400-horsepower, 4.4-liter twin-turbo powerplant provides a rush of torque as low as 1750 rpm, with just a faint whistle from the turbochargers. Tag-teaming the tires via a six-speed automatic transmission with a sport-shift program, the 750Li has a company-pegged 0-60 mph time of about 5.0 seconds, and a top speed of 155 mph. Fuel economy checks in at a middling 15/22 mpg for the 750i, 14/21 mpg for the 750Li. All-wheel drive is now an option on these sedans, and it's a sophisticated setup that can split up to 20 percent of the torque to the car's front wheels for better traction. These V-8 cars--at least the rear-drive ones--also can be fitted with a new M Sport package that brings with it a body kit; 19- or 20-inch wheels; and Active Roll Stabilization, as well as its own sport steering wheel.
At the top of the prestige scale is the twelve-cylinder 760Li, a long-wheelbase-only edition fitted with a 537-hp twin-turbo V-12. It's a rear-driver only, and it gets a new eight-speed automatic. Even though it checks in at 4,800 pounds, it zaps drivers from 0 to 60 mph in 4.6 seconds, while it slurps premium fuel to the tune of 13/19 mpg. The V-12 is an uncommon test car; we haven't driven it, but will update this review when it's available.
Next to last on the nine-member 7-Series family roster is the most technically complex version, the ActiveHybrid 7. By teaming the V-8 engine with lithium-ion batteries and electric motors, BMW promises fuel economy of 17/24 mpg and a 0-60 mph time of about 4.6 seconds--what it says is the fastest hybrid in the world. However, it's one of BMW's first hybrids, and it shows. There's a bit too much regenerative force when the driver lifts off its throttle below 25 mph, and the car can shudder when the engine is restarted in the course of its stop-start fuel-saving cycle.
Finally, there's the Alpina B7, a specially tuned version of the 7-Series. The direct-injection V-8's power soars through the miracle of tuning, from 400 hp to 500 hp; the transmission and adjustable steering and shocks are tightened up. The net is an acceleration figure that falls to 4.4 seconds to 60 mph, and considerably tauter handling than even the standard cars can manage in Sport mode.
Ah, for the electronics. Without them, the big 7-Series could feel like a real land yacht--but with them, even in their less refined-feeling modes, the electronic gadgets and assistants dramatically broaden the 7-Series' driving feel. In even Normal mode, across the lineup, the 7er is unbelievably nimble for a car so lengthy and heavy. From our first tests of the V-8 to our most recent drives in the Hybrid, the 7-Series has always felt planted and stable at low speeds and at Autobahn-style limits. While it weighs plenty, the 7-Series' lightweight control-arm independent suspension front and rear gives its responses an airier touch.
The electronics take charge for a sometimes maddening feel. Active Roll Stabilization engages anti-roll bars to limit excessive body motion; there's an air suspension on the 750Li and 760Li. All versions get Driving Dynamics Control, a system that governs shock firmness, transmission shifts, steering heft, and throttle response--but allows drivers to twiddle with the settings to fit their habits. In our experience with the 750Li, it's best to leave the 7-Series in automatic modes and to trust the transitions to its transistors. BMW also offers optional active rear steering, which turns the rear wheels opposite the fronts in some situations to enhance turn-in, which does noticeably speed up the steering response. If only the actual steering feel weren't quite so artificial, the 7-Series would comport itself better than any of the large German luxury liners.
Braking is exceptionally strong, as we've come to expect, with many electronic controls to prepare, dry, control, and unlock brakes in extreme circumstances.