Luxury is a great intangible. There’s no formal test to detect it or means of measuring it. It’s nothing but an impression and, as such, can lack real substance. But BMW’s new 2016 7-series has plenty of substance, starting with the very substances from which it’s constructed.
In one of the more startling cross-pollinations in the car business, BMW is applying lessons learned from the i3 and the i8 to its new luxury flagship. The 2016 7-series boasts what is probably the closest thing yet to mainstream application of structural carbon fiber. (It’s debatable just how mainstream $90,000 luxury sedans are.) Cast carbon-fiber panels are bonded over steel in the B- and C-pillars, as well as the center tunnel, adding stiffness and strength. The parcel shelf behind the rear seats is a cast carbon panel. Sturdy woven tubes stiffen the sills and form the longitudinal roof rails reaching from the A-pillars back to the Cs. The roof bows are also carbon fiber. Forming so much of the upper structure from the lightweight material helps drop the center of gravity compared with the outgoing car. (You can read more about the new structure in our 7-series prototype drive story.)
Carbon fiber isn’t the lone lightweight material in the 7. The doors—both the inner and outer panels, as well as the crash structure inside—and the trunklid are made from aluminum, as are the front and rear shock towers. The dash support is a magnesium casting spanning the width of the firewall. BMW says it trimmed 88 pounds from just the body in white, while dropping 190 from the car as a whole.
Customers of a non-technical bent will find plenty to appreciate, as well. We in the United States will no longer have the option of buying a short-wheelbase 7-series, as the company will be following Mercedes-Benz’s lead and importing only the stretched version of its flagship sedan. (Since they’ll all be long, they’ll no longer have Ls in their badges; they’re just 740i, 750i, and so on.) That long-wheelbase car is more than an inch longer than before, and it offers more rear-seat legroom than anything else in its class. Beyond the available dual seatback mounted entertainment screens, two packages amp up the rear-seat luxury. The Luxury Rear Seating pack adds heated and ventilated seats in the back, as well as heated armrests, an eight-program massage function with three intensity levels, and a removable 7.0-inch Samsung tablet offering rear-seat passengers full control over the iDrive infotainment functions. If that’s not enough, the Rear Executive Lounge package allows the right-rear passenger to fold the front passenger seat nice and tight against the dash, fold out a power-operated footrest from its back, and recline his or her own seat up to 43 degrees. An airplane-style foldout table completes the vibe.
Other standard and optional luxury goods include a trunk that opens when you wave your foot under the rear bumper, wireless phone charging, a Mercedes-style scent diffuser that can be loaded with two perfumes at a time, a key with a smartphone-esque Gorilla Glass screen that can tell you if you locked the car and closed the windows (even though the car will sense rain and shut the windows and sunroof automatically) or how long it is until your next oil change. In other markets, the key also will control the car’s automatic parallel and perpendicular parking function from outside the car, but since our lawyers can out-litigate their lawyers, American drivers will have to remain in their seats for that show. Neither will we get the laser headlights that are available elsewhere. U.S. parkers will be able to enjoy the new Surround View parking aid, which goes above the recent spate of bird’s-eye systems and generates a fabulously detailed third-person view of the car and its surroundings, which should greatly ease parking for avid video gamers.
Any button that looks metallic is real metal, which head designer Karim Habib points out means that they’ll be cool on cold days, warm on warmer days, and will burn off your fingerprints on scorching-hot days to aid your latent career in safe-breaking—okay, we made up that last bit. Unlock the doors, and LEDs shine on the ground a pattern that BMW calls LED Light Carpet. Habib says it’s meant to evoke a red carpet, because entering a 7-series is cause for celebration. (If that’s the case, they’re missing the champagne fridge.) And the car is now a mobile Wi-Fi hotspot. Connect your phone, and you can use it to stream video to the entertainment screens. We have seen the future, and it is frivolous.