The new BMW 7 Series is a high-tech masterpiece -- and the finest 7 Series ever built

The BMW 7 Series sits atop the Bavarian luxury-car maker’s hierarchy of vehicles. It’s supposed to be the smooth, suave, powerful luxury flagship sedan you graduate to when you’re ready for the full-size semi-limo experience.

But the 7 Series — offered in three different trim levels, 740, 750, and 760 — has always been a divisive car for BMW fans and auto enthusiasts. As far as the “ultimate driving machine” goes, the 7 Series is a lot less fun to drive than its siblings, the 3 and 5 Series — unless you’re idea of fun to drive is motoring along in a straight line at high speed with Beethoven ringing in your ears. It’s big. It’s quiet. It’s remarkably well appointed. But it’s just … kind of … boring, in the way that a 20-room mansion is. Oh look … another … room …

Because it tries to retain some of the performance character of the smaller Bimmers, it doesn’t match up well with its main competition, the Mercedes S Class. And because it’s a four-door, a lot of buyers may look away and cast their gazes more lustily on BMW’s SUVs and crossovers, which are more versatile, if less plutocratic.

At Business Insider, we debate the 7 Series more than any other luxury car. Matt DeBord has always disliked it; Ben Zhang thinks it isn’t so bad. But both agree that even though you can objectively find a lot to like about the 7 Series, it has lagged behind another competitor, Audi’s A8, when it comes to the technology story. (The A8 is one of the best car-tech experiences we’ve ever enjoyed.)

But, boy, has BMW changed the terms of the debate. The new 7 Series, which debuted earlier this year, is absolutely crammed with tech. And by crammed we mean suffused. Every aspect of the sedan is technologically amplified, enhanced, enabled. Not that this is exactly new: The 7 Series has always been a tech platform for BMW, going back to the early 2000s’ introduction of the controversial iDrive system.

But the new 7 Series takes it to a whole ‘nother level. As we found when BMW let us borrow an M Sport version of the 750i xDrive, tricked out with every bell, whistle, and, we think, possible trumpet, harmonica, and bass viola that BMW had in its techno orchestra.

This big, sleek Bimmer landed in the suburban driveway of Business Insider's test headquarters. Somehow, in this shimmering mineral white metallic paint job, it looks like a killer whale, an Orca for the roadways, immense yet powerful and purposeful.

Matthew DeBord/Business Insider

The design language picks up a contemporary theme: The front end looks ferocious.

Matthew DeBord/Business Insider

The signature BMW double-kidney grille has been laterally elongated and narrowed, to avoid creating an imbalance with ...

Matthew DeBord/Business Insider

... the angry, slit-eyed vibe that the headlamps give off. Please don't hurt me!

Matthew DeBord/Business Insider

The car is a bit less petulant when viewed from the rear, and the famous 'Hofmeister kink' continues as a design cue at the back windows. It first appeared on BMWs in the early 1960s.

Matthew DeBord/Business Insider

The 750i designation dates to the mid-1980s. This car is also available in a stretched 'L' trim, providing more rear-seat room so that the car can be used as a proper limo.

Matthew DeBord/Business Insider

There are a few exterior flourishes, but, for the most part, the new 7 Series is conservative and defined by its shape.

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Out tester had sharp alloy wheels and four nice, sticky Bridgestones. BMW's xDrive system is an all-wheel-drive set-up that sends traction to the wheels that need it.

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Our test car also tipped the cost scales at about $130,000 and got the M Sport treatment. The M badging, which can be quite overt in other Bimmers, is modest in this car. Our 750 got the 'Autobahn,' 'Executive' and 'Luxury Seating' packages.

Matthew DeBord/Business Insider

The iconic BMW hood badge is the same as on any other car from the Bavarians, but the stylised propeller somehow looks more lush on the 750i, against the pearly white body paint.

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We both dug the exterior design: The 7 Series looked stunning in the autumnal Northeastern sunshine, against a background of yellow, orange, and red foliage.

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It's a car you don't want to stop looking at. BMWs aren't really supposed to be beautiful, but this model breaks with that corporate code.

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Not that the M 750i is all face and no trousers, as the saying goes. A 4.4-litre V8 powerplant takes care of that.

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It cranks outs 445 horsepower with 480 pound feet of torque, a good zero-to-60 time of 4.3 seconds, according to BMW, with a top speed of 194 mph. And that performance is twin-turbocharged!

Matthew DeBord/Business Insider

This is where the BI Transportation crew started to differ in its judgment of the machine. Matt found it tough to extract any visceral thrills from the car, piloting it around the highways and byways of his New Jersey stomping grounds. 'I know there's an engine up there someplace,' he said, gesturing toward the hood and remembering some of the 7 Series of his past.

Matthew DeBord/Business Insider

But Ben found the car to be impressive, for its size and lavishness. 'In the fast lane on the highway, the 7's Autobahn ancestry becomes evident,' he said. 'This BMW is capable of covering an extraordinary amount of real estate in a short time.'

Matthew DeBord/Business Insider

Matt warmed up to the car the more time he spent with it. You still feel like a driver behind the wheel, something that BMWs deliver as part of their DNA. But Ben was a big fan. 'On winding roads, the 7 changes directions with incredible ease,' he said. 'The supple suspension allows the 4,610-pound sedan to tackle corners with minimal effort.' Matt, meanwhile, was having flashbacks to a summertime run on the Long Island Expressway in a far more memorable M4. 'The 7 series is a world-class sports sedan,' Ben said. Matt agreed, but wondered if that was a world he really wanted to live in.

Matthew DeBord/Business Insider

Oh, and by the way, the 7 Series is equipped with a suite of semiautonomous driving features similar to Tesla's Autopilot system. Think of it as a much more intelligent cruise control.

Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

There's no question that the 7 has come a long way since its arrival in the 1970s.

BMW

It embodies the ability of BMW to scale up its serious, conservative design vocabulary.

BMW

Only infrequently does BMW takes chances with the 7. This is designer Chris Bangle's controversial rework of the car, with the now infamous 'Bangle butt' raised trunkline.

BMW

The 7 always had its work cut out for it. The sedan has to go up against the Mercedes S Class, probably the finest full-size four-door ever built by human hands.

Daimler AG

But Merc is far from the only tough competition that BMW has to stare down. While the Bimmer could offer better performance mojo than Mercedes -- by reputation, if not always in execution -- Audi has been coming on strong. Its A8 is a stupendous ride.

Audi

And the other Germans aren't BMW's only problem. The Lexus LS is a real heavyweight in the segment, providing luxury, quality, and reliability in one package.

Lexus

And while the main challengers to BMW in the 'Tier 1' luxury segment are German and Japanese, the Americans have really gotten their game together. The Cadillac CTS-V was purpose-built to steal performance thunder from BMW and ...

Cadillac

... the new CT6 is taking the battle to the full-size segment of the sedan market.

Cadillac

Even Lincoln is trying to crash the party, with its revived Continental.

Ford

And don't forget that for the same price as a fully loaded M version of the 7 Series, you can get the Tesla Model S P90D, which serves up supercar performance in an all-electric four-door package.

So how do you stand out in a segment this competitive? Simple: You massively up the ante on technology. Yep, that's right: Although the BMW 7 Series has always been technologically advanced, it's now a real TECH car. So tech'd out that we were hard-pressed to test everything in a mere three days.

Matthew DeBord/Business Insider

Let's get the headline stuff out of the way up front. The new 7 Series introduces gesture control of some aspects of the infotainment system. For example, you control the sound-system volume by pointing and twirling your finger at the screen. And you can swipe your hand to the right to answer a phone.

Dave Smith/Business Insider

A two-finger peace sign aimed at the screen will tell the nav system to take you home.

Dave Smith/Business Insider

Ben had better success with the system than Matt did. Matt didn't think it was quite ready for prime time, but it did work. He wasn't sure why he needed three ways to turn up the volume when Steely Dan came on SiriusXM. Ben was more the gestural master. Click the image below to watch him in action!

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On to other technified elements of the car. It all starts in the palm of your hand, with the BMW smart fob.

Matthew DeBord/Business Insider

You can set it to turn the car on and adjust the climate controls on a schedule.

Matthew DeBord/Business Insider

The built-in LCD can show the 7's remaining range, security status and service requirements.

Matthew DeBord/Business Insider

Yes, this all requires power, but this small inductive charging nook ensures that your smart fob won't conk out.

Matthew DeBord/Business Insider

On to the infotainment interface. We won't hold back here: This thing is like diving into a deep, deep well. Depending on how you think about abundant infotainment options, you either feel very good about diving halfway down -- knowing you have even farther to go -- or you start to get the info-bends. Matt figured that on a daily basis he'd use about 20% of what iDrive has to offer in the 7 Series.

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Ben drove around a couple of high-tech-savvy friends, however, and they couldn't get enough of all the possibilities, which range from weather updates ...

Matthew DeBord/Business Insider

... to news ...

Matthew DeBord/Business Insider

... and of course navigation.

Matthew DeBord/Business Insider

These features can be operated via the iDrive knob and buttons. But as Ben pointed out, new touch-screen features have been added. You can now pinch and twist to zoom in and out on the nav screen and manipulate the display.

Matthew DeBord/Business Insider

The climate controls are standard-looking enough (note the ionic-filtering feature) ...

Matthew DeBord/Business Insider

... but even that aspect of being inside the 7 is piped into the infotainment system. Matt said he'd never driven a car that kept him so obsessively updated on its systems.

Matthew DeBord/Business Insider

It isn't all high-tech. The cupholders are old-school, and there's a decent amount of space to stash stuff.

Matthew DeBord/Business Insider

There's even this throwback touch: a working cigarette lighter!

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And an ashtray! (But also a USB port.)

Matthew DeBord/Business Insider

Don't worry, though. The ionic-filtration system can scrub clean the 7's atmosphere.

Matthew DeBord/Business Insider

You have a choice of interior aromatherapies. The fragrance cartridges are loaded into slots in the glove compartment, two at a time.

Matthew DeBord/Business Insider

Backups and other scenting options are stored in the trunk -- which is pretty ample, by the way.

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Rounding out the cocoon-like interior experience is an optional 16-speaker, 1,400-watt Bowers & Wilkins sound system. Ben and Matt wholeheartedly agreed on this front: This is the best sound system they have spent time with all year.

Matthew DeBord/Business Insider

The speakers light up with cool swirls at night. Seriously.

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The brushed-aluminium finishing is of a piece with the rest of the 7 Series' exquisite detailing, which starts with the supple leather of the massively adjustable, heated-and-cooled seats and extends to the plush carpeting and even the ...

Matthew DeBord/Business Insider

... gloriously large sunroof.

Matthew DeBord/Business Insider

Before we leave the driving part of the ultimate driving machine, we have to talk about the cameras, which facilitate a highly visual type of parking-lot negotiation. When it's time to put the 7 Series into reverse, the car not only provides a 360-degree view of the car's surroundings but it generates a 3D representation of itself that you can move and adjust to how far you away from obstacles. The BMW is also equipped with night vision that's capable of detecting pedestrians and stray deer on a dark road. Or, if you're a celebrity customer, paparazzi hiding in roadside bushes.

Matthew DeBord/Business Insider

On to the back seat, which is nicer than most studio apartments!

Matthew DeBord/Business Insider

What's not to love?

Matthew DeBord/Business Insider

Pretty much nothing. There are separate climate controls for passengers -- remember, the 7 Series was designed to do double-duty as an executive limo. If you so desire, you can raise privacy screens and bock out the prying eyes of the outside world -- or just excessive sunlight.

Matthew DeBord/Business Insider

A pair of tablets are mounted to the seat backs and replace old-fashioned flip-down screens.

Matthew DeBord/Business Insider

They can keep passengers posted on all the same infotainment flows that those folks in the front seats are enjoying.

Matthew DeBord/Business Insider

And if that's not enough for you, a Samsung tablet is nestled in its own dock in the fold-down center arm rest (it will immediately distract you from that quilted Cognac Nappa leather on the reclining seats).

Matthew DeBord/Business Insider

The tablet pops out and allows passengers to control certain vehicle and infotainment features.

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But it also works as a tablet, providing web browsing, app downloads, game playing ...

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... and selfie-taking!

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This is dizzying and amazing. Matt hates the 'Spinal Tap' reference, but BMW has truly take the tech in the 7 Series to 11. However, one still wants to drive this car. And to that end, while you can't tweak the dynamics quite as much as you can on, say, an M5, you do have three customisable options. Comfort keeps everything nice and mellow with the power, steering, and suspension.

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It sets up a straightforward instrument display. In this mode, you should get around 20 mpg combined city/highway, according to EPA estimates.

Matthew DeBord/Business Insider

Eco-Pro mode optimises fuel economy.

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And tweaks the look of the gauges accordingly. For what it's worth, a gas-electric plug-in hybrid version of the 740 trim level will be available in the future.

Matthew DeBord/Business Insider

But it's in Sport mode that the magic happens. Well, sort of ...

Matthew DeBord/Business Insider

While the gauges now look more purposeful and the paddle shifters act like they're actually shifting the 8-speed transmission, Matt didn't think the 750i became all that much sportier in Sport. But Ben said he could feel the more aggressive shifts, the firmer steering, and hear the rumble of the V8. Matt, not so much.

Matthew DeBord/Business Insider

So in the end you might think that Matt hated the 7 Series and Ben loved it. But the truth is that we were extremely impressed by the car. A sedan this big isn't supposed to be a sports car, so Matt was just channeling his lifelong disappointment with the model. Ben rightly noted that you CAN drive the 7 a bit more boldly that Jeeves the chauffeur might. And c'mon -- the tech story is nearly boundless. This is easily the finest 7 Series that BMW has ever built. Bravo!

Matthew DeBord/Business Insider

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