Pros: Excellent engines; choice of two wheelbase lengths; sumptuous interior with tons of features; capable handling; available Hybrid model
Cons: Bland styling; mediocre fuel economy (Hybrid included)
What's New: Changes abound for the 2013 BMW 7 Series. The base inline-6 swaps its twin-turbo design for a newer single-turbo layout with available all-wheel drive. The twin-turbo V8 gets bigger muscles wherever it appears. The ActiveHybrid 7 gets smaller muscles (and prices), switching from a V8 to an inline-6, and all models receive a new 8-speed automatic transmission. Furthermore, updated iDrive and rear-entertainment systems debut, minor styling tweaks surface (like sleeker LED headlights) and a Bang & Olufsen stereo joins the options list. Finally, the 740 and 750 ranges feature a new ECO PRO drive setting that minimizes fuel consumption.
If you'd asked us a year ago to name some cars that needed a thorough update, the 2013 BMW 7 Series wouldn't have been our first choice. Despite having debuted back in 2009, the 7 Series was still an all-star last year, delivering top-flight technology, power, handling, you name it.
But history shows that time waits for no luxury sedan, so BMW called in a preemptive strike for 2013. Most notably, the old 6-speed automatic is gone, replaced across the lineup by a superior 8-speed, and the 750i's sublime twin-turbo V8 receives a major steroid injection, adding 45 horses for a dizzying total of 445. While your neighbors likely won't notice the subtle styling revisions, the 2013 7 Series will be remembered years from now for its material improvements on the mechanical side.
This is the part where we're supposed to mention our criticisms, but the 7 Series makes that task exceedingly difficult. Our only real complaint is completely subjective: If you ask us, BMW's big cruiser hasn't looked quite right since the E38 generation from a decade ago. Otherwise, pretty much everything about this car is first-rate. Sure, we'd like to see more than 30 mpg from the ActiveHybrid, but the rival LS 600h from Lexus is considerably thirstier, so even there the BMW still manages to secure some bragging rights.
Overall, the 2013 7 Series's numerous revisions only enhance the appeal of what was already a nearly faultless car. BMW easily could have stood pat, but instead they've put the 7 Series right back in the conversation about the best sedan in the world.
Comfort & Utility
The 2013 BMW 7 Series sedan is offered in four basic trim levels, distinguished mainly by engine type: 6-cylinder 740i, 6-cylinder ActiveHybrid 7, 8-cylinder 750i and 12-cylinder 760Li. The 740i and 750i are short-wheelbase by default but offer an optional long wheelbase (740Li and 750Li). The 760Li and (starting in 2013) the ActiveHybrid 7 are long-wheelbase-only. Note that the long-wheelbase models ride on a self-leveling air suspension.
The 740i comes standard with 18-inch alloy wheels, adaptive xenon headlamps, fog lights, electronically adjustable suspension and performance settings, front and rear parking sensors, a sunroof, leather upholstery, power front seats with lumbar support and memory functions, a power tilt/telescopic steering wheel, quadruple-zone automatic climate control, iPod/USB and Bluetooth connectivity, a 10-speaker audio system with dual subwoofers and the hard-drive-based iDrive infotainment system with navigation, digital music storage and a 10.2-in wide-screen display with a rearview camera.
The ActiveHybrid 7 tacks an electric propulsion system onto the 740i's inline-6, and includes hybrid-specific information displays, among other eco-themed tweaks.
The 750i adds a twin-turbocharged V8, 19-in wheels and such niceties as power automatic soft-closing doors, a power trunk lid, 20-way Multicontour heated front seats and Nappa leather upholstery.
The 760Li goes to town with a twin-turbo V12, rear bucket seats with power adjustments, a leather-trimmed instrument panel, a head-up display and side- and top-view cameras.
Many of the higher trims' standard features are available as options on lesser models. Among the choice extras are an M Sport appearance package, a Bang & Olufsen audio system and a radar-based self-parking system. The Rear Entertainment package formerly had to muddle through with twin 8-in screens housed within the front headrests, but 2013 brings twin 9.2-in screens that "appear to be 'floating' on" the front headrests, according to BMW.
There's also a high-performance Alpina B7 model offered in both wheelbase lengths that boasts a stronger version of the 750i's twin-turbo V8, 21-in wheels, sport-tuned suspension and various Alpina-specific styling cues.
In our interior evaluation, we realized that even the bone-stock 740i has a mind-blowing roster of luxuries. You could drive one for the rest of your life and never want for more. Well, we take that back. You'll absolutely want the sublimely supportive Multicontour front seats, which are a bargain at whatever BMW's charging (and come standard on 750i and above).
The gauges use BMW's classic white-on-black theme, changing to orange-on-black at night, but they're complemented by an electronic display that seamlessly integrates with the bottom of the gauges when the car is on, and goes black when the car is off. The quality of the interior materials is outstanding, and the tastefully understated dashboard design incorporates a subtly driverward-canted center stack in a nod to BMW tradition. The iDrive system (see "Technology," below, for more) includes a beautiful 10.2-in wide-screen display.
The standard 7 Series back seat is roomy enough for all but chauffeur-driven shoppers, who might plausibly want more legroom while they're kicking back with their iPads, and the extended-wheelbase Li models certainly satisfy that desire. The regular 7 Series's trunk officially measures a modest 14 cu-ft, but the Germans clearly have a funny way of translating their trunk sizes to our measurements, because this trunk is pretty huge. The ActiveHybrid 7's trunk only loses about one cubic foot of space to the hybrid hardware, checking in at just under 13 cubes.
The 7 Series has all of the expected technology features and then some, including available side- and top-view cameras for completely stress-free parking. What's unexpected, though, is how satisfying the latest version of iDrive turns out to be, especially with a few nips and tucks for 2013.
There's that attractive 10.2-in wide-screen, yes, but it's more than just a pretty face. iDrive has improved dramatically from its controversial early years, featuring a vastly better menu structure and numerous physical buttons next to the controller knob for direct access to common pathways. Furthermore, iDrive is now hard-drive-based, which gives you higher processing speeds and the fringe benefit of digital music storage. And starting with the 2013 version, the menus and navigation maps are rendered in 3D with the aid of a speedier processor and graphics card, opening up new frontiers for the user interface.
In short, iDrive is one of the very best infotainment systems on the market. If you'd told us five years ago that we'd be saying this today, we would have told you to go eat a schnitzel.
Performance & Fuel Economy
The 740i is newly powered by the turbocharged N55 inline-6, rated at 315-hp and 330 lb-ft of torque in this application. The transmission, an 8-speed automatic, is also new. Although the previous 740i engine, the twin-turbo N54 inline-6, is generally thought to be a bit stronger than the N55, the 8-speed gearbox more than makes up for it. Acceleration is swift and seamless enough to satisfy most tastes.
Still, we wouldn't be able to resist the siren call of the 750i's twin-turbocharged 4.4-liter V8, which now pumps out 445 hp and 480 lb-ft of torque through an 8-speed automatic. This V8 was already one of our favorite engines, doling out force and refinement in equally awesome doses, and now it's even more formidable thanks to the extra power and gears. This is a wickedly fast sedan.
Should you require even more speed, the V8 is also offered with the new transmission in exclusive Alpina B7 trim (540 hp, 538 lb-ft of torque), while the 740i's turbo six does double duty as the ActiveHybrid 7's gas engine (total system horsepower is 349, including the 55-hp AC motor). The V8-based propulsion system featured in last year's Hybrid has been discontinued.
As for the 760Li's twin-turbocharged 6.0-liter V12, it crushes most comers with 535 hp and 550 lb-ft of torque.
On the fuel economy front, the ActiveHybrid 7 leads the way at 22-mpg city/30-mpg highway, which isn't that impressive given that the regular 740i gets 19/28 mpg--a big improvement from last year. The 750i holds steady at 17/25 mpg despite the power injection, while the Alpina B7 gets 16/24 mpg, and the 760Li brings up the rear at 13/20 mpg.
Rear-wheel drive is the default layout for the 7 Series, but all-wheel drive is available throughout the 740, 750 and Alpina B7 ranges. Expect fuel economy to drop by a few percent with the front wheels in play.
The 7 Series comes with 4-wheel anti-lock disc brakes, active head restraints and eight airbags (front, front-knee, front-side and full-length side-curtain).
A standout among the numerous available safety technologies is Attention Assistant, a Mercedes-inspired program that monitors your driving habits and notifies you with a cup-of-coffee icon when your attention wanders.
Neither the government nor the independent Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has crash tested the 7 Series.
No matter which model you choose, in the 2013 7 Series you'll be getting one of the world's supreme fast-lane cruisers. BMW basically engineers this car to do 155 mph on the German autobahn with maximal composure. We can't go that fast in this country, of course, but suffice it to say the 7 Series has few peers at high speed. We do prefer the invincible Mercedes-Benz S-Class on rough roads, but the BMW's underpinnings are nonetheless highly skilled at soaking up bumps.
On winding roads, the 7 Series's BMW DNA remains detectable. Turn-in is crisp, and body roll well-disciplined through corners; however, the Audi A8 and Jaguar XJ will now give the 7 Series a run for its money.
Other Cars to Consider
Audi A8/S8: The executive-class Audi may have cookie-cutter styling, but it's very rewarding to drive, and its interior is one of the best on the planet. Try the twin-turbocharged S8 for acceleration that rivals the best from BMW.
Mercedes-Benz S-Class: The current S-Class has been around for years now, but it's still the car to beat in this class, which should tell you something about how good it is.
Jaguar XJ: The XJ doesn't have the consistent excellence of the German models across the board, but it compensates with loads of British driving character and easily the most expressive styling of the lot.
We'd try to make the truly special Alpina B7 fit our budget, but, failing that, the newly fortified 750i is an immensely satisfying car at a price that's pretty reasonable for this segment.