Imposing sedan. Sedans have lost market dominance to SUVs and crossovers - just a trip to the market makes that clear enough. But old money is always last to jump on the latest bandwagon. Perhaps that's why old-school, full-size luxury sedans from the poshest of the popular luxury marques still have a loyal following: pull up anywhere in a flagship sedan like the 2021 BMW 7-Series and you'll be shown serious respect.
It's more than just the sheer size that impresses onlookers, though the 7-Series does measure an imperious 207 inches long on a 126-inch wheelbase - that's about as long as a Chevrolet Tahoe, for reference. The big 7 connotes financial and social success. It oozes tradition and sophistication, from its formal silhouette to its understated detailing.
The only stylistic aspect that might arouse contention is the big grille, which has increased in size to rather inelegant proportions. We're sure we'll warm to it, but it isn't as classy as that of the Audi A8 or Mercedes S-Class.
Coddling interior. Yes, it's a trope to call a car of this sort coddling. But we'd be lying if we said otherwise. The interior of the 7-Series is worthy of every cliché in the book: isolation chamber, cocoon, private jet, etc. The 7-Series is truly that grand and sumptuous. It forgets nothing in its quest for comfort and luxury and indulgence.
Just consider the base model, which is "base" only by technicality. It comes standard with heated front seats, a heated steering wheel, and a heated armrest. It gets a 10.3-inch touchscreen with navigation and Apple CarPlay compatibility - but, strangely enough, no Android Auto. Dakota leather upholstery and power seats are also included.
Of course, everything is built to a standard that exceeds anything else manufactured at volume. Everything is knitted together with satisfying precision, and the materials employed do justice to the steep asking prices of the various 7-Series trims. Actuating a switch or twisting the iDrive rotary dial is a tactile delight.
With such impressive dimensions, the 7-Series allows ample room for passengers and cargo. In the rear, a full 44.4 inches of legroom is available - that's about 2 inches more than the S-Class and a minuscule 0.1 inches more than the A8. It also trumps pretty much any other passenger vehicle currently on the market.
In the trunk, there's 18 cubic feet of cargo space, another class-leading figure. Most other sedans cap out at 16 cubic feet.
Extensive option packages. As it stands, the 7-Series is exceedingly nice. But the real joy of this sedan is found in its upper registers, where BMW offers luxuries that border on excessive. Unlike, say, the S-Class, however, the 7-Series is less heavy on the gimmicks and more focused on appreciable luxuries.
Case in point: the Luxury Rear Seating Package. It costs nearly $4,000, but that money buys power-adjustable heated rear seats and a full complement of rear climate and audio controls. It's designed for those who prefer to be chauffeured.
We'd complement that with the available, $3,400 16-speaker Bowers and Wilkens surround-sound stereo. With 1,400 watts behind it, the system is bound to satisfy even the most discerning audiophile. For the rest of us, we'll be awed by the deep bass notes and crisp, precise treble. Unlike inferior stereos, the highs and lows both come in with startling clarity, even with the volume cranked up. It doesn't matter whether the speakers are sounding Bach or Bruno Mars: the experience is equally stunning.
As expected, there are a few more questionable upgrades on the options sheet as well. For instance, BMW asking $3,000 for a head-up display and power rear sunshades. Nice features to have, sure, but not at that price point. We'd be more inclined to pay half that. Ditto for the $1,800 Interior Design package, which comes with wood-trimmed door pulls, luxury rear floor mats, a rear center console, and an Alcantara headliner. We're just not seeing the value there.
Lusty powertrains. The best part of the 7-Series experience is driving it. Unlike other big sedans, the 7-Series features numerous powertrain options, ranging from the base inline-six to a creamy V-12, the latter a segment-exclusive if you don't count the big, rarified Rolls-Royces. Spoiler alert: every engine is superlative.
Yes, that applies to even the base turbocharged 3.0-liter inline-six in the 740i. With 335 horsepower, it might sound a bit weak-chested for a flagship sedan, but the mighty six has no issue motivating the big sedan up to speed. It helps that the turbo delivers all 330 lb-ft of torque before 2,000 rpm.
Our favorite is the 4.4-liter twin-turbo V-8. With 523 horsepower being delivered to all four wheels, the 750i does 0-60 mph in about four seconds flat. There's nothing bad to say about this engine: it is unflappable, unperturbed, and breathlessly fast. In other words, the perfect complement to a sedan of this caliber.
If a twin-turbo V-8 sounds far too pedestrian for your tastes, you're in luck: BMW still offers the 7-Series with a 6.6-liter V-12. The numbers - 616 horsepower, 3.6 seconds to 60 mph - don't do this engine justice. It needs to be experienced in all its smoothness. It is the very definition of intangible luxury, the sort of experience that is remembered long after the price and specifics are forgotten. Maybe that's why BMW can get away with charging $160,000 for one.
There's also a B7 Alpina model, but we wonder why it's offered to begin with. A car of this sort is all about untrammeled elegance. Speed is not so important as refinement and exclusivity. Power is critical, but so is its delivery. This is not a car for juveniles. Odds are, buyers have a fun sports car in the stable anyhow. For all that, the point of the hot-rod B7 is lost on us. We think money is better spent on any of the other aforementioned powertrains.
Final thoughts. The 7-Series is an excellent car in a segment where excellence is the bare minimum. High points for us include the powertrains - oh, how that V-12 calls to us - and the lavish, roomy cabin. We only wish the big grille wasn't so obnoxious.
Overall, the 7-Series brings some stiff competition to the Mercedes S-Class and Audi A8. Not to say the BMW isn't on defense, what with a new S-Class due out for 2022. The Mercedes has long been the standard-bearer for the segment, and we're sure BMW is busy behind the scenes readying their defense. For now, the 2021 7-Series remains a compelling alternative to the glitzy Benz and stoic Audi.
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