When it attended the Geneva Motor Show in March, BMW brought out a heavily revised version of the 7 Series. Under the skin, the 7 is essentially unchanged, but the nose, hood, front fenders, bumpers, lights, and interior have all been updated to keep up with the increasing demands of the luxury market. The changes are all based on feedback that BMW got from its customers (most of whom live in China and the US) and all are designed to help them show off their ability to own a 7 Series.
It’s Got a Big New Face
The biggest changes to the 2019 7 Series are visible to anyone you drive by. With a grille that’s 40-percent bigger than the one it replaces, BMW had no choice but to make some pretty extensive changes to the rest of the new 7 Series’ front end.
These changes, like the grille, are mandated by a marketplace that demands it be allowed to show off (so says BMW.) The 7 Series ownership is proud of its possession and refuses to demure. So, a big grille demands a taller front fascia, which demands a more horizontal hood, which demands a bigger BMW badge (borrowed from the X7), which by extension means that the angle between the hood and the windshield is more acute.
BMW has leaned into this upright front end with a hockey stick-like side fender accent line featuring an angled vertical portion that now goes straight up and down. I suspect that the biggest issue anyone takes up with the new car is the grille as it borders on the ridiculous. But what it lacks in subtlety, it makes up for in boldness.
Around back, meanwhile, BMW has added a light strip all the way across the trunk and it all looks, well it all looks like a revision. While I appreciate BMW’s efforts to make the front end taller, the new grille is hard to come to grips with. BMW is certain, though, that the new grille is what the customers want. And I believe them. It has all the esoteric hallmarks of something that only a certain group of people get. Like a Rothko, it appeals enormously to a certain group of people but has the effect of alienating the rest. So maybe that’s a good thing?
The Interior is Updated, Too
The interior follows the same trend as the exterior, albeit to a lesser extent. The interior comes in a variety of colors and trims, and the leather seats have tighter quilting. The windows have also been made a few millimeters thicker and more insulation has been added to make the cabin even quieter.
The result is a 2 dB difference and an interior that looks a little better. But maybe not better enough. The quilting on the leather is all well and good, but the trim is only available in a glossy wood that inspires few words more clearly than “veneer.” It lags behind the rest of the industry that offers metals and open-pore woods. It’s not like it ruins the experience, but when you’re paying this much for a car, you can’t help but wonder why only a few options are available.
The 7 Series is Now a Better Listener
Furnished with BMW’s latest infotainment system, the bigger screen comes with a set of new options. These include multi-panel screens on which navigational, musical, and internal information can all be seen at once. The new system, which is already available on the X5 and the X7, as well as the 8 Series, includes a 10.25-inch screen in the middle with a 12.3-inch screen in the gauge binnacle for all your informational needs. It also introduces “natural speech” commands. Although, just how natural these commands are is questionable. Although I had success with a simple command such as “play Band X,” other commands like “I’m hot” were greeted with imprecise reactions from the 7 Series, while others still, such as “activate wellness mode” required a knowledge of the system that many, I predict, will never gain.
Fortunately, the list of gadgets continues. Not only do the front seats massage you, but the back seats do, too. And in the long wheelbase version, the front passenger seat can be turned into an ottoman. And there are 10-inch screens for rear passengers that also make use of BMW Operating System 7.0. And there are still gesture controls, and fragrance dispensers, and you get Microsoft Office 365, in case you can’t download the Outlook app to your phone for some reason.
The best feature of the new infotainment system may be BMW’s ability to update it over the air. Updates to the infotainment system will no longer have to wait until the next generation of vehicle. You’ll just be able to get it as soon as it’s available. We just hope that won’t also mean sitting through system updates.
There’s a New Plug-In Hybrid
The second biggest change to the 7 Series comes to the plug-in hybrid 745Le xDrive (starting at $122,300 CAD/$96,545 USD). It now comes with a straight-six, rather than an I4. Its two electric motors, meanwhile, benefit from upgrades batteries that offers up to 58 km (36 miles on the European test cycle) of pure electric range and electric 113 hp, bumping overall system output to nearly 400 hp. This is accomplished without adding any weight because the batteries are exactly the same size as they used to be, just better—although the six-cylinder will add a few pounds.
And although the other engines also offer a little more power (80 more hp in the 750i which starts at $119,800 CAD/$103,645 USD, but the V12 760Li’s power stays the same and starts at $173,100 CAD/$158,695 USD), the plug-in is the one to go for.
Drives Like a Smaller Car Than it is, But it’s Best When it’s Driving Like a Big Car
Despite its size, the 7 Series manages to feel surprisingly small. Thanks to its four-wheel steering system and its power, the car is quicker than you’d think and can handle itself through tight mountain roads just as well as it does on the highway. It’s genuinely impressive how well the V8 handles. Driving up a tight Portuguese b-road, the 7 Series was, with some effort, able to hang with the 8 Series Convertible. But the hybrid is still the way to go.
Thanks to its electric motor, the 745Le is even quieter than the regular 7 Series. And with the instant torque of the improved motor, the car’s pace is even more surprising. The low-end torque makes it feel somehow more muscular. And the extra weight of the batteries adds a little imperious confidence to the ride. Either one if alright, but if I were picking a 7 Series, I’d pick the hybrid.
The electric propulsion is a more impressive gadget than any of the ones you find in the infotainment system. It’s also remarkably well-balanced. Although it makes the car feel a little speedier off the line, it also makes it quieter and smoother at low speeds, lending itself also to the sense of luxury you get from the back seat. It has exactly the calm composure that I imagine powertrain designers were striving for.
Discuss this story at our BMW Forums