The partially decommissioned Fürstenfeldbruck Air Base is just a short drive west of Munich. It served as the home of the training school for the German Air Force during World War II and is a fitting place for BMW, which started out as an aeronautical engineering firm, to set up a driving academy.
We're here to sample the next generation of the BMW 7-series. Against the backdrop of retired airplane hangars and air strips, the company's most advanced and luxurious sedan appears conjured from science fiction. The new 7-series will hit the market before the end of the year as a 2023 model, and the lineup will include a new all-electric variant called i7. We drove heavily camouflaged prototypes of both gas and EV models on some of Bavaria's most idyllic rural roads, as well as several miles of unrestricted autobahn.
In addition to the new electric variant, the 7-series will continue to offer the turbocharged 3.0-inline-six and twin-turbo 4.4-liter V-8 engines, both utilizing a 48-volt hybrid system. There will also be a plug-in-hybrid powertrain. Of the internal-combustion models, we only drove the V-8, and it proved to be both smooth and powerful, with just enough muted engine burble seeping through to the cabin to remind you that you're not in an EV. BMW hasn't released horsepower figures, but, judging by the seat of our pants, it's at least as much as what's in the current 523-hp 750i model.
The electric powertrain in the i7 offers similar quickness. BMW has yet to share specific power ratings or battery capacity, but we're told to expect something near to the iX xDrive50 SUV's 516 horsepower and 105.2-kWh battery pack. Range figures are unknown, too, although the iX offers up to 324 miles of driving per charge, according to the EPA.
Neither car's tuning is quite finished, so we'll reserve judgment until we can sample a production version of each, but we're hoping the hiccups we noticed—occasional harsh upshifts from the V-8 car's eight-speed automatic transmission and a brake pedal that exhibited a too-soft initial travel on the i7—will be worked out before the cars' launch.
All models will come standard with air springs, and the new car rides on a wider front and rear track than its predecessor. Those hoping for the return of sports-sedan handling, however, will find themselves disappointed that the new 7-series again concentrates on luxury, ride comfort, and cabin isolation. But thanks to a new rear-wheel-steering system and adaptive dampers, this next-generation car feels more agile than the outgoing model. The Sport driving mode tightens things up further and dials in more body control than what you get with the default setup, which curiously is called Personal mode despite the lack of personalization options.
Hustling the big sedan on twisty sections of two-lane country roads that connect the area's tile-roofed villages proved that the 7-series can hold its own, but peaceful cruising is where the 7-series shines the brightest. The i7, in particular, is whisper quiet at highway speeds with little wind or road noise penetrating the cabin.
When equipped with the optional Highway Assistant, the new 7-series is even better set up to tackle long-distance slogs. This hands-free tech allows the driver to let the 7-series pilot itself during highway stints. The system works similarly to GM's Super Cruise in that it uses a driver-facing camera to ensure whoever is behind the wheel is paying attention to the road while it handles all the steering, braking, and accelerating automatically. It is not limited to pre-mapped roads, however.
Highway Assistant works well and allows for easy transitions between automated and traditional driving. For example, if the driver taps the brakes to take control temporarily, the system doesn't need to be reactivated. Instead, touching a steering-wheel-mounted button reverts the system to the previous setting and returns it to the task of driving. Highway Assistant works at speeds up to 85 mph, and it initially will be exclusive to North America.
BMW has also revamped the car's automated parking feature, called Parking Assistant Professional. The My BMW smartphone app controls the feature, and it now allows the driver to remotely park the car from outside the vehicle. The system can also reverse the car out of tight spaces, and if you can't be bothered to park it yourself, it can even be programmed to navigate its way up your driveway and into your garage. This is no robot valet, however, as the driver is required to remain near the vehicle and control it via the app during these maneuvers.
Through the interior's heavy camouflage, we saw peeks of what looked like textured glass trim, and heavily piled carpet floor mats with quilted stitching seem to indicate BMW has taken a cue from Rolls-Royce and is stepping up the 7-series's plushness. For those who prefer to be chauffeured, the rear seat is as spacious as you'd expect and will offer an optional entertainment system that BMW is calling Theatre Screen. It deploys from the ceiling and measures a massive 31.0 inches across. The 8K high-definition screen utilizes Amazon's Fire TV interface so you can stream movies, as well as access internet browsing via a 5G data connection, all controlled by touchscreens integrated into the rear door panels.
The 2023 7-series and i7 will both be revealed later this month, when we'll get to see more of what the interior has in store. BMW expects the new 7-series to enter production this summer with deliveries starting in November. Regardless of its styling and interior design, the next-generation 7-series is shaping up to be impressive based on its technology features alone, which would have easily blown the minds of Fürstenfeldbruck's historical occupants.
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