In the rarified air shared by the elite luxury automakers and their top products, there is little breathing room. That explains why the Mercedes-Benz S-class needed to blow away every other competitor when it debuted in its latest generation, just several years ago. Since then, the luxury sedan market has struggled to keep up, but today's introduction of the 2016 BMW 7-series might change that.
Following an early sneak peek at the G12 7-series, here's what we know about BMW's next flagship sedan, slated to debut this fall:
Longer wheelbase, shorter name
For the first time, all 7-series models in the United States will be long-wheelbase by default, and the nomenclature drops the "L" from the title. (We wonder if there isn't room for an even longer 7-series to bridge the gap between it and the Rolls-Royce Ghost.) The first models to debut will be the 740i ($81,300) and the 750i ($97,400), which are each nearly 10 percent more expensive than the models they replace. Air suspension will also be standard on U.S. models.
The shape is familiar, but the body is toned
Think of a stretched 3-series sedan when you see the 2016 7-series in the metal for the first time. It's easy to argue that the design is a conservative evolution of a theme started nearly half a decade ago, but the overall shape is pleasing and has refined edges. (We do see a little Kia K900 and Acura RLX in the rear quarters, though.) BMW claims a weight reduction of nearly 200 lbs. over the outgoing 7-series, thanks to the use of carbon-fiber reinforced plastic to lightly strengthen the body. We can't wait to see what BMW does with a 6-series Gran Coupe.
Inside, the design is BMW-progressive, with an expansive dashboard, endless permutations of trim finishes and leather combinations, and sturdy, plush seats. Extra attention was placed on the rear cabin, which now offers Mercedes-Maybach levels of luxurious and technological indulgence; individual controllers and seat-mounted screens give rear-seat occupants, who are already enveloped in a wide but cozy backseat, the same level of control as afforded to driver and front passenger.
Finally, an easy way to navigate iDrive
Another major first for the 7-series, and the BMW brand as a whole, is an iDrive interface that can be touched, swiped, or controlled by a knob. That's right: You can now touch the 7-series' large infotainment system screen to make selections, pinch and zoom the map, or swipe through menu pages, making the knob and its ancillary controls nearly obsolete—just as they were growing on us.
The most innovative interior creature comfort is what BMW calls "Gesture Control:" a number of motions, monitored by interior sensors, that allow the front occupants to make commands with their hands. Move your hand to the right as if adjusting a non-existent volume knob, and the volume increases. Move it the other way to lower the volume. There are similar controls for answering phone calls and performing other functions. We tried them, and the gimmicky but futuristic system works. Drivers who have a tendency to gesticulate toward others on the road should probably turn the system off.
The powertrain choices stay the same
...for now. The 7-series will debut as the aforementioned 740i and 750i with a 3.0-liter inline six-cylinder engine and 4.4-liter turbocharged V-8 engine, respectively. Horsepower is up on the 740i (by 5 hp) but remains the same (445 hp) on the V-8, and an 8-speed automatic transmission will again be standard. Later in the 7-series' life, a 740e plug-in hybrid will debut with a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine and the ability to run for 23 miles as an EV.
We expect to learn more about the 2016 7-series, and take a deeper dive into the nuts and bolts of its extensive features list—which includes everything from digital keyless entry to an S-class-like air ionizer—closer to the end of the summer.