2013 is a big model year for the 7 Series, with lots of changes to the model line. The most significant changes are improvements in horsepower and efficiency to the two main engines, the inline-6 and V8; and there's a new 8-speed automatic transmission. These things alone upgrade the character of the car.
The BMW 7 Series comes with two wheelbases, four engines, and rear-wheel drive or all-wheel drive. You can pay about $74,000 or nearly twice that, base price from the bottom to the top of the line. Although it seems weird to call an expensive high-performance luxury car the bottom of anything.
In addition to the inline-6 and V8 engines, there's a V12 and a hybrid powertrain, all of them turbocharged. The six-cylinder and the V8 come with rear-wheel drive or all-wheel drive. Last year, the hybrid was mated to the V8, but this year it's the inline-6, a more compatible choice. The hybrid and V12 only come in long wheelbase versions.
The BMW 740i is our choice because its 3.0-liter turbocharged inline-6 is so sweet, and it delivers quick acceleration with 315 horsepower and 330 foot-pounds of torque from 1400 to 4500 rpm. The 2013 BMW 740i gains 15 horsepower over the 2012 version thanks to direct injection and Valvetronic, BMW's throttle-less intake system.
The 2013 BMW 750i gains 45 horsepower from its 4.4-liter turbocharged V8 over the 2012 model, now at 445 hp, thanks again to the addition of Valvetronic.
The V12 makes 535 horsepower and the BMW 750Li drives around in a sensational silky rocket world of its own; if you've got the money and if spectacular matters more to you than economy, buy it.
The 2013 BMW ActiveHybrid 7L uses a lithium-ion battery in the trunk powering a 55-hp electric motor, and it makes more horsepower than the base 740i. The 2013 ActiveHybrid 7L is rated 22/30 mpg, which is not great fuel economy.
All 2013 BMW 7 Series models get a new 8-speed automatic transmission to replace the previous 6-speed. That's great news, it fixes a weakness in the line. After a few hundred miles in a 750Li, we concluded the 8-speed transmission is quick, smooth and smart. It offers a manual-shifting feature.
As for the 7 Series ride, you're not going to find flaws there, either. You can tune it yourself, using the Dynamic Driving knob with four settings: Normal, Comfort, Sport and Sport Plus. They control the damper stiffness, throttle response, steering response, transmission response, and stability control.
There's also an Eco Pro mode, which we used for our casual driving, 80 percent of the time. We were never inconvenienced by the dialed-back power, and were astounded by the fuel mileage: 19.4 miles per gallon in this 445-horsepower V8 that weighs 4660 pounds, while driven over mountain roads around Lake Tahoe as well as around the town.
The only bad part about driving the 7 Series was the bewildering electronics and hysterical safety warnings. And it was pretty bad. We'd say they drove us crazy, except we're already half-crazy from the others. It's not just BMW, Volvo and Mercedes do the same thing, and recently a Hyundai Equus wouldn't even let us drive smoothly on the freeway, protecting us from crashing into the car in front, something we've never done in millions of miles of driving.
From a dynamic standpoint, the 7 Series model is a satisfying machine to operate: superbly comfortable and quiet, and quick and agile for a sedan of its size and weight. Naturally, the V12 is quicker than the inline-6, but the six-cylinder is quick enough.
From a non-dynamic standpoint however, the driving can be frustrating, because the engineers and designers have attempted to re-invent and BMW-ize so many things. They have made some things, such as the gimmicky gear selector and rearview camera, problematic when they're in fact simple.
The 7 Series has a visual presence, that's for sure. The sheet metal contours, the blending concave and convex surfaces, have lost the gratuitous scoops and scallops of a couple years ago. The fenders are chiseled nicely. The 7 Series has the maturity and sophistication appropriate to a car of its stature.
The face has been tweaked for 2013, with more chrome around the grille, sleeker and more exotic headlamps with LED rings, and a reshaped full-width front airdam, having unfortunate chrome slats at the corners. The headlamps make it prettier, the chrome doesn't. At least they've put back in the grille slats they took out last year.
The BMW 7 Series interior offers the best that contemporary automobile craftsmanship and technology have to offer. The 7 Series models deliver the luxurious feeling cars in this class are supposed to create. Comfort is superb in the front seat or rear seat, especially with the Li model with its longer wheelbase and 4.2 more inches of rear legroom. The 740i and 750i models with the standard wheelbase still have good legroom of 38.9 inches, enough for adults up to six feet tall without cramping them.
The seats are broad. The standard Nappa leather is soft and rich, while the available Alcantara is softer and richer. Polished wood is available in several choices, as is a beautiful stitched leather dashboard, standard with the V12 760i. The leather-wrapped steering wheel is right on.
The dash is low, thin and lovely, and the beautiful silver-rimmed analog speedometer, tach, temp and fuel gauges are perfect. There's an excellent display with a large 10.2-inch high-definition screen using trans-reflective technology that makes it easy to read in sunlight. The audio and navigation systems, phone, infotainment and other functions are controlled by BMW's iDrive, now in its fourth generation. This latest version is better than before but still can be bewildering, and at those times it consumes large amounts of concentration while you're trying to focus on the road in front of you. However, many BMW owners have made their peace with iDrive and like it.
The BMW 740i ($73,300) comes with the turbocharged 315-horsepower 3.0-liter inline six-cylinder engine mated to an 8-speed automatic transmission. It comes standard with leather upholstery; power tilt/telescoping leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio controls; cruise control; four-zone automatic climate control; interior air filter; hard-drive-based navigation system with voice recognition, real-time traffic information and space for music storage; BMW Assist telematics service; power front seats with memory for the driver's seat, mirrors and steering wheel; power windows and locks; power retractable auto-dimming side mirrors with tilt-down backup aid; remote keyless entry; sunroof; rearview camera; 10-speaker AM/FM/CD/HD stereo; auxiliary input jack; Bluetooth cell phone link; auto-dimming rearview mirror; universal garage door opener; rain-sensing wipers; automatic adaptive xenon headlights; fog lights; theft-deterrent system; iPod/USB adapter; and P245/50R18 run-flat tires on alloy wheels.
The 740Li ($77,300) stretches the wheelbase by 5.5 inches, translating to an increase of more than four inches in rear-seat legroom. It adds heated front seats, illuminated rear visor mirrors, and a load-leveling suspension
The 740Li xDrive ($80,300) adds all-wheel drive. The BMW 750i ($86,300), 750i xDrive ($89,300), 750Li ($90,000), and 750Li xDrive ($93,000) are powered by a 445-horsepower, 4.4-liter twin-turbocharged V8 with the 8-speed automatic transmission. The xDrive models come with BMW's all-wheel drive. The 750 models are upgraded with heated 20-way power adjustable front bucket seats; keyless starting; power closing doors and trunk lid; 245/45R19 tires; and a 600-watt, 16-speaker stereo with 9-channel amplifier.
The BMW 760Li ($140,200) gets V12 power and the 8-speed automatic with manual shift capability; Blind Spot Alert; Lane Departure Warning; heated steering wheel; rearview camera including side and top views; massaging and ventilated front seats; power adjustable heated and ventilated rear seats; 6CD changer; Sirius Satellite Radio; Head-Up Display; self-dimming headlights; Active Roll Stabilization suspension; Integral Active Steering; load-leveling rear air suspension; and P245/45R19 front and P275/40R19 rear tires.
The Alpina B7 is offered in another four versions: short wheelbase ($128,495), long wheelbase ($132,295), short-wheelbase xDrive ($131,495), and long-wheelbase xDrive ($135, 395). Prepared by German tuner Alpina, the B7 is essentially a high-performance M version of the 750. It uses a 500-horsepower version of the 4.4-liter turbocharged V8, Active Roll Stabilization, and P245/35R21 front and P285/30R21 rear tires. It also gets luxury amenities, including a massaging driver's seat, ventilated front seats, ski sack, heated rear seats, heated steering wheel, Sirius Satellite Radio, and the Head-Up Display. The long-wheelbase version also gets a power rear sunshade, manual side sunshades, illuminated rear visor mirrors, and the load-leveling suspension.
Options are many. Among them: M Sport Package for six-cylinder ($4,600) or V8 ($3,200) models includes lift-reducing aerodynamic kit, Shadowline exterior trim, performance run-flat tires sized 245/45R19 front and 275/40R19 rear, Anthracite headliner, M Sports leather steering wheel with paddle shifters. Twenty-inch wheels ($1,300) are available with 245/40R20 front and 275/35R20 tires. A Luxury Rear Seating Package for long-wheelbase models ($3,700) adds ventilated, massaging rear comfort seats. A Driver Assistance Package ($1,900) adds Lane Departure Warning, Active Blind Spot Detection, top- and side-view cameras. A dual-screen rear DVD entertainment system with a 6-disc DVD changer is available. Also available: Active Roll Stabilization ($2,500); infrared Night Vision with Pedestrian Detection ($2,600).
BMW's Advanced Safety System comes on all 7 Series models, including multi-stage front airbags with occupant sensors, front knee airbags, front passenger side-impact airbags and front and rear side curtain head-protection airbags. Active safety features include Dynamic Stability Control and Dynamic Brake Control, featuring Brake Fade Compensation, Start-off Assistant, Brake Drying, Brake Stand-by, Brake Assist, and Active Brake Lights. Also standard are front and rear park assist, a tire-pressure monitor, and active front head restraints. Optional all-wheel drive can improve handling balance in slippery conditions.