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.
At the base level, the 740i and 740Li come with a version of BMW's twin-turbo in-line six, making 315 horsepower and 330 pound-feet of torque. Even here, the 7-Series is quick--about six seconds to 60 mph. And the character of the turbo six fits this car remarkably well, thanks to its abundant torque produced at low rpm. six-cylinder's smooth, linear acceleration and the fact that it's more than 200 pounds lighter than the V-8 versions. A responsive six-speed automatic transmission keeps it smooth yet responsive (there's no manual here).
Next up are the 750i and 750Li, two models that we've had more experience with. They both feature BMW's big twin-turbo 4.4-liter V-8, making 400 horsepower and providing a rush of torque as low as 1750 rpm, with just a faint whistle from the turbochargers. The six-speed automatic transmission gets a sport-shift program, allowing it to get to 60 mph in about five seconds and on to 155-mph top speed. xDrive all-wheel drive is optional here and can send 20 percent of the torque to the car's front wheels for better traction.
Available on the 750 models is a M Sport package that provides a body kit; 19- or 20-inch wheels; and Active Roll Stabilization, as well as its own sport steering wheel.
The twelve-cylinder 760Li, a long-wheelbase-only edition fitted with a 537-hp twin-turbo V-12, is at the top of the prestige scale. It's a rear-driver only, and it gets a new eight-speed automatic. Count on 4.6 seconds to 60 mph, even though it weighs in at a more 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 you might find in other models.
And the Alpina B7, a specially tuned version of the 7-Series, is an entirely different kind of niche model. 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.
Without its battery of electronics, this big sedan might feel like a land yacht, but altogether they dramatically broaden the 7's driving feel. Even in Normal mode, 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. Active Roll Stabilization engages anti-roll bars to limit excessive body motion; additionally, 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.