Monday, June 17, 2024

2023 BMW i7 vs. 7 Series: Lucky numbers


PALM SPRINGS, Calif. – BMW’s flagship 7 Series luxury sedan just received a complete redesign, and in an unusual move, the all-electric i7 was released at the same time. For shoppers who have either embraced or rejected the all-electric future, the decision between the two should be easy. But what if you’re on the fence? Here’s your primer on the good, the bad and, yes, the ugly when picking which 7 is right for you.

Crunching the numbers is the most objective difference between the two. The 2023 BMW i7 has a starting price of $120,295 (including $995 destination). It has a 107.7-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack that should return 310 miles. The BMW 760i xDrive starts at $114,595 and has a 4.4-liter turbocharged V8 that should return an estimated 26 miles per gallon in combined city and highway miles.

If you calculate 15,000 miles driven annually with premium unleaded set at $4.00 per gallon and an electricity rate of $0.16 per kWh, it will take you 3.9 years to recoup the i7’s $5,700 premium over the 760i. If those metrics remain consistent, you can count on savings of $1,476.89 every year after. That means if you plan on keeping your vehicle for more than four years, it makes more financial sense to go electric with the i7.

That all changes if you opt for the six-cylinder 740i base model that starts at $94,295 and has an estimated 31 mpg in combined driving. In this case, it will take you 23.6 years to recoup the i7 premium and save $1,101.68 in fuel costs annually. For most drivers, this base model 7 Series will more than satisfy and is the sensible choice. Then again, at this level of luxury, sensibility often takes a back seat to prestige.

But what about performance? BMW estimates the i7 will accelerate to 60 mph in 4.5 seconds, which is close enough to the 760i’s 4.1-second sprint that we’ll call it a draw. It’s not like the typical 7 Series driver is going to battle it out at their local quarter-mile drags, right? Both leave the line with immediacy and sound decent doing it. In Sport mode, the i7 emits a pleasing high-tech hum engineered by film composer Hans Zimmer. The 760i has a more authentic V8 burble, but it’s also enhanced with some sounds pumped in through the speakers.

It’s when the road begins to bend that the difference between the two becomes apparent. The 760i weighs 5,095 pounds while the i7 tips the scales at 5,917 pounds. To the i7’s credit, much of that added mass is concentrated in the floor-mounted batteries, giving it a low center of gravity. Earthbound physics won’t let those 822 pounds go unnoticed, though.

On the same twisting ribbon of pavement above Palm Springs, the 760i feels light and lively compared to the i7. The i7 acquits itself well in the curves and feels well-planted, but it doesn’t encourage you to push as hard as you would in the 760i. Is this really a big deal for a large luxury sedan? Probably not for most people, but this is a BMW after all, and performance is always a corporate talking point.

In everyday driving conditions, both 7s are enjoyable behind the wheel and easy to maneuver thanks to four-wheel-steering. The i7 can be driven in one-pedal mode, though, and that’s preferred by most who have experience with EVs. You simply modulate the pressure on the accelerator rather than dance between it and the brake pedal. With very little practice, you can bring the vehicle to a stop right where you intended. Over time, one-pedal driving can alleviate some driver fatigue, but for most, it’s simply one of those neat things you can do with an EV.

From a practical standpoint, the 760i can hold up to 13.7 cubic-feet of cargo in its trunk. The i7 is limited to 11.4 cubic-feet. On paper, that’s not a big difference and in practice it’s negligible. Both trunks are huge and will easily accommodate several large suitcases or golf bags. In terms of luxury, refinement and technology, the i7 and 7 Series are identical, for better or worse.

The latest evolution of BMW’s iDrive infotainment system seems like a step backward, as it is overloaded with features in an unintuitive maze of menus and settings. It’s the same in either 7 sedan, and unfortunately inescapable, which leads us to common items you may want to avoid. We caution shoppers against selecting the high-gloss wood and carbon fiber dashboard trims as they tend to reflect some very harsh glare from the midday sun. Go with the open pore wood choices instead, as they don’t suffer from those reflections and add some visual warmth to the cabin.

We’re also not thrilled with the striking 31.3-inch Theater Screen for the rear passengers. Its central positioning could cause some neck fatigue compared to more traditional seatback displays, and the lack of rearward visibility is alarming. Unfortunately, if you want the reclining Rear Executive Lounge Seating option, you’ll also have to take the Theater Screen.

Thankfully, you’re not obligated to add one of the most frustrating options: the power-operated doors. In theory, this feature can be a useful novelty, but its execution can be downright maddening. You have to stand well to the rear of the door to open them, and even then, they don’t work consistently. More often than not, the door will open slightly and you’ll have to pull it the rest of the way against some noticeable resistance.

Then there’s the elephant in the room: the new 7 Series front-end styling. The exaggerated grille seems out of scale, the new split headlights look disjointed, and the recessed chin spoiler reminds us of a cartoonish overbite. Sure, style is subjective, but when we recommend spending some time in the configurator with darker paint choices, that’s the automotive equivalent of saying someone has a great personality when asked what they look like. Your results may vary, but we doubt it.

So where does that leave the decision between the electric i7 and gasoline-powered 7 Series? If you value sharper handling, go with the 760i xDrive. For everyone else, it makes more sense to step up to the i7. As far as range anxiety goes, we contend that after 300-plus miles on the road, we could all use a break that is longer than the typical refueling at the pump. As added incentive, i7 owners enjoy three years of free unlimited charging on the Electrify America network.

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