The EV car revolution has a new trend. Manufacturers may introduce a similarly-sized, but entirely new EV model that’s meant to replace the gas equivalent, which often shares little design ethos with the car it runs parallel with. We’ve seen it with the Mercedes-Benz EQS which looks nothing like the S-Class it will eventually usurp when the brand makes the shift to full electric.
Yet, it seems like BMW’s walking away from the idea. First, the brand introduced bespoke ground-up electrified designs that were a whole new chapter design-wise, with the i3 and i8. But those models weren’t commercially all that successful, even leading to former BMW CEO Harald Krueger stepping down after those models flopped. Then, BMW introduced i4 in 2021, clearly a slightly restyled 4-series gran coupe, with electric motors and batteries. Now, the i7 is here, with seemingly less visual differentiation between it and the regular 7-series. I ask, is that a good thing? After a few hours with both the 7-series and i7, I can confidently say, well, it’s a thing. Will the choice pay off? I don’t know. I’m not sure if BMW knows, even. And I’m not sure if the i7 knows what it is, either. Sort of.
You’d be somewhat forgiven if you thought the new 7-series and i7 were merely heavy facelifts of the old 7-series. After all, the new cars share the same traditional proportions we saw on the 2015 model, the long hood, long wheelbase, and relatively short trunk decklid that made up the last car. No, the latest 7-series is an all-new car, riding on the CLAR platform that can handle ICE and EV models.
There’s no way to get around it; the i7’s front fascia is a lot to handle. On non-M-sport vehicles, the kidney (or, coffin-shaped) grilles take up most of the front real estate, but a new split-level headlight setup comprises the new lighting elements. The top-level act as the running lights and DRLs, but the bottom ones do the high- and low-beam work. Personally, the i7 looks better in non-M-sport trim; The M-sport trim obscures the shape of the characteristic BMW grilles, blending the front end into an odd, trapezoidal black hole reminiscent of the obscure and Europe-only SEAT Ibiza Bocanegra. I’ve heard it called anything from a bad Angry Birds original content fan art character to an angry beaver that unfortunately drowned in its dam.
I don’t know if those critiques are fair, but I do agree that the i7 is sometimes hard to look at. Whenever I thought I had warmed up to the front fascia, I’d look through my camera roll, furiously deleting all the pictures I thought weren’t worth publication, struggling to find ideal flattering angles of the big sedan. The worst sin of the i7 is that if you ignore the front fascia, it’s easy to see that the i7 is stylistically bland. The ergonomics and engineering limitations of an electric car are different, allowing manufacturers to come up with new shapes and designs that weren’t possible with ICE vehicles. The EQS isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but it’s a different design that looks nothing like the S-Class. The i7’s proportions are stately, but next to the unique shapes of other full EV designs, it’s a little boring, if not dated.
Inside, however, is a direct 1-for-1 import of the standard 7-series. The i7’s interior is almost architectural in essence, with random shapes, materials, and surfaces that interact in ways that are offbeat, but well-considered. The digital gauge cluster and infotainment screen subtly act as a freestanding element, appearing to hover ever-so-slightly away from the main dashboard shape. It’s a style we’ve already seen on the iX but punched up to the Nth degree for BMW’s luxury sedan flagship. The attention to detail is sublime, and the drive selector, seat adjustment, and rail that houses the hazard light switch and auto-close door buttons are crystalline, with a geometric triangle relief embossed into its form. The chairs are soft, made of wool, upholstered, and sculpted with the energy and spirit of Ray and Charles Eames. In theatre mode, all the shades roll up, and a huge 31-inch TV drops down from the ceiling in an experience unmatched by anything that isn’t a coach-built aftermarket limo. Curiously, the EV iteration of the i7 has nearly identical ergonomics as the standard 7-series, with no high floor inherent of most gas-powered cars that can be ordered as EVs. (Ahem, Genesis.)
The BMW i7 is meant to be an on-road, fully electric luxury yacht, and it’s mostly successful. But, is the car at odds with its clientele? On the road, the i7 felt hard to read. I asked myself “What is this car supposed to be? Who is this car made for?” BMW has a reputation for being the drivers’ choice of vehicle no matter the segment, yet the i7 is decidedly soft. Maybe, too soft, even compared to the standard 7-series.
Floor the throttle in the i7, and the front end rises to what feels like miles in the air, and the 540 horsepower twin-motor setup shunts the car to 60 in a speedy 4.7 seconds. But, the handling is less confident in the i7 compared to the gas-powered 7-series, the steering has less feedback, and the car doesn’t feel as if it can grip as well as its gas counterpart. I drove the 760i xDrive on the same roads as the i7, and the gas-powered (mild hybrid) 760i felt easier to drive and was less soft while still having the same admirable ride quality as the i7. The i7 was less agile than its gas-powered counterpart, and more importantly, wasn’t as dynamically good as efforts from some EV upstarts, like, say, Lucid. I asked a BMW engineer, and they explained there aren’t any suspension changes between the i7 and 760i. I’m not convinced that was the right move.
The more seat time I got with the i7, I couldn’t help but wonder, could BMW even make an M version of the i7? Could Alpina work its magic, and correct the i7’s dynamic soul? I don’t know. And I don’t know if BMW would want to, either.
Obviously, the i7 is more than just a 7 Series with electric motors and batteries stuffed under the floor, there’s more engineering work to make the systems work together and cohesively. The i7 works well but feels like it’s meant to serve as merely an electric option to the 7 Series. Cars like the Lucid Air, or Mercedes-Benz EQS are completely new schools of thought, new shapes, and ideas implemented on a brand new chassis. By comparison, there’s nothing inherently special to the i7’s EV exterior design that makes it stand out from the fully electrified competition or even its ICE sister model. The range of 318 miles from the 101-kWh (usable) battery, on paper at least, is mediocre, and the 195 KW DC fast charging rate isn’t as speedy as some competitors. Will the i7’s mere existence as an EV be enough to sway buyers to choose the i7 over the standard 7-series or more interesting ground-up EV designs? Only time will tell.
The i7’s base price of $120,795 price is competitive with the start-up crowd, and the i7 is a bigger, more mature car than the Porsche Taycan. If you’re in search of a big EV sedan with a sumptuous, well-designed interior, then the BMW i7 is just the ticket. But the buyer who has it in their head that BMW will offer the pinnacle of driving excellence, even when electrification has taken hold, may end up disappointed with what the i7 has to offer.