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.