2023 BMW i7 Prototype First Drive: Bavaria’s Big, Bodacious BEV
An early taste of the BMW i7 previews a bold take on the luxury EV.
The BMW i7 is a newcomer in the full-size electric sedan space, a segment currently dominated by brands like Mercedes-Benz, Lucid, and Tesla. But, Bavaria’s first big BEV brings technology, power, and poise to the party, even if it is a late arrival.
BMW invited me to Munich to test the new i7 prototype (and the V8-powered 7 Series) at its testing facility just outside of the city. There, I got the chance to sample the electric i7 and its laundry list of new technology, which includes Level 2 hands-free driving, advanced remote parking, and the latest version of BMW's infotainment interface. Although I didn't get a ton of time in the new i7, this short test was proof that BMW is betting on beating the competition.
Since the i7 is still in the prototype stages, the car I drove wore more camouflage than G.I. Joe. BMW wasn't ready to show me the final product yet, and that won't happen for another few weeks. The i7 and 7 Series debut in full on April 20. But there was some obvious evidence underneath that black-and-white exterior. For one, this thing is massive.
The BMW i7 is way bigger than the outgoing 7 Series. And in person, it's jarring how large this luxury sedan looks, even underneath camouflage. At around 213 inches in length – exact measurements haven't been released – the i7 is longer than the current Mercedes-Benz EQS (206 inches) and the Lucid Air (196 inches) and Tesla Model S (197 inches).
The i7 and 7 Series, admittedly, do have a lot to carry. This particular car will likely have a huge battery pack – probably the same 111.5-kilowatt-hour pack as in the iX – while the traditional gas model has diesel options in Europe and a mild-hybrid V8 on the top end. And all of those powertrains need to fit onto a single, unified chassis, as opposed to a more traditional skateboard platform designed for BEVs exclusively.
While extending the 7er, the new platform also yields a fresh exterior design. A quick peek beneath the camouflage, courtesy of an engineer who gratuitously displayed the car in 3D form on the touchscreen, helped paint a clearer picture of the i7's final look.
If you thought BMW's oversized grilles were polarizing, wait until you see this new split headlight treatment, which horizontally cuts the light fixture in two and creates two slim housings on the fascia, similar to what we’ve seen on X7 renderings and spy photos. The signature lighting fixture debuts on the 7 Series first before making its way officially to the X7 SUV, and the unusual look definitely won’t be beloved by all.
Thankfully, that's really my only point of contention with the design. The rest of the i7 is handsome and high-end – again, from what I could see via 3D renderings. Slim LED taillights make for an exceptionally pretty rear end, and a dramatic C-pillar design forgoes the ultra-streamlined styling of the EQS and Lucid Air for a more traditional four-door appearance.
The view from behind the wheel, blissfully, is much prettier than that sure-to-be-polarizing front fascia, with the latest iDrive 8 infotainment system sitting pretty atop the dash, as it does in the iX. That setup consists of two large screens hidden behind a single continuous piece of glass, with the digital instrument cluster measuring 12.3 inches and the central touchscreen at 14.9 inches. The rest of the cabin, unfortunately, was covered up.
At this point, you're probably wondering, what kind of batteries and motors the i7 uses exactly. That's a good question. Specifics like power, capacity, and range remain mysteries until the i7 debuts, but engineers did tell me that the i7 has about as much power as the BMW iX 50. As you might remember, the electric SUV uses a 111.5-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack (with a usable capacity of 105.2 kWh), 516 horsepower, and 564 pound-feet.
And the i7 did feel as quick as its crossover counterpart in my brief stint behind the wheel, probably a touch quicker. Acceleration was strong off the line, and there was still plenty of power available at higher speeds. The i7 pushed past 100 miles per hour easily on the Autobahn but still stuck to its core missions of comfort and poise, with promising early signs relating to noise, vibration, and harshness, but the early signs are promising. This was still a prototype, after all.
BMW's pre-determined highway route, unfortunately, did prevent me from taking the i7 onto Bavaria's beautiful twisty back roads. But a few brief onramps and roundabouts previewed a well-balanced chassis and a responsive steering feel. And don't be fooled by the i7's daunting size either as the advanced adaptive air suspension and rear-wheel steering made this car drive much smaller than it actually is. In fact, the air suspension is ripped directly from the new Rolls-Royce Ghost, although tuned a bit tighter here for sportier driving.
But in many ways, the i7 is less about driving and more about being driven – and I mean by the car itself. BMW’s new “Level 2 Plus” hands-free driving system makes its world debut on the i7 and 7 Series, and wow, was it impressive in this initial test.
Level 2 Plus is basically Bavaria’s answer to Cadillac SuperCruise and Ford BlueCruise, complete with eye-monitoring cameras, an eight-megapixel camera in the windshield, and at least five radar sensors dotting the exterior. That gives the i7 lane-change functionality, and more. But here, BMW offers additional level 2 equipment out of the box. The same hands-on stuff already available – and already very good – on vehicles like the iX. So that includes lane-keep assist, lane-centering, and adaptive cruise control.
Activating the Driving Assistant Plus takes those elements and turns them into a fully hands-off experience. With my hands on my lap and my eyes still firmly on the road, the i7 semi-autonomously drove for nearly an hour on the Autobahn. The only thing I had to do was flick the indicator stalk periodically to move from one lane to the other.
But it goes even deeper than simple lane changes, which Super Cruise can also do. For example, if you’re using the baked-in navigation and the hands-off system notices you need to get off at an exit soon, a single flick of the indicator stalk in the right direction will move you into the lane closest to your next exit. In my test, the i7 moved over three lanes, left to right, without me doing anything other than flicking the indicator stalk once. And because everything needs to be branded, BMW calls that Active Lane Guiding.
The system works at speeds up to 85 miles per hour (or 137 kilometers per hour in our test) and will only be available in the US and Canada at launch. And BMW says, without specifics, that Level 2 Plus does have access to more roads than Super Cruise and BlueCruise thanks to BMW’s advanced mapping and navigation data. BMW will be able to provide specific numbers in the future to support that.
I can lob a few minor complaints at the system, but nothing overly annoying. Activation of the hands-off system does take a few tries, but it shouldn’t be a problem for owners who drive the same car every day. And when switching between hands-on and hands-off, there aren’t any obvious warnings to alert you as to which mode you’re in. BMW engineers tell me the lack of bings and bongs common in some other systems was a conscious decision to not make the driver feel overly penalized.
Gallery: 2023 BMW i7 Prototype: First Drive
…And Hands-Free Parking
Without diving too deep into the BMW Parking Assistant, which has been around for a few years already, the i7 builds upon that with more features. Remote Smartphone Parking completes the job of pulling into or backing out of space from outside of the vehicle if you’re feeling so inclined. And the addition of Reverse Assist allows the i7 to steer itself out of a tricky situation. Tick the Reverse Assist option on the screen, or use the steering wheel-mounted controls to activate, and manage the braking pressure; the i7 reverses its way out of tight spots, avoiding obstacles with automatic steering inputs.
A Great First Taste
The new BMW i7 is so technologically impressive that my hour with it simply wasn’t enough time to garner a full impression. But, this initial test did leave me extremely excited about what this car could be when it reaches production: a serious competitor to the current crop.
The hands-free driving system is incredibly advanced, the powertrain is smooth, the chassis is balanced, and even though there wasn’t much to see inside – what with the camouflage and all – the inclusion of iDrive 8 tells me most of what I need to know. When the BMW i7 eventually reaches production, sometime later this year, this big BEV should be an immediate hit.
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