It’s no secret that the automotive industry lacks gender diversity and that the electrification of cars is still seen as futuristic by many. At BMW, which has been championing equal opportunity and electric vehicle development for decades, this is the norm. With the unveiling of the BMW i7 – the new all-electric version of the 7 Series and most revolutionary electric model in the company’s arsenal – the world is shown what is possible when expertise is diversified.
Combining luxury and electric performance, the i7 is, in many ways, a culmination for the marque – of its expertise, its innovation and its reputation as a leader in driver experience – and has been hailed by the team behind it as the “masterpiece of BMW”. With its illuminated Iconic Glow kidney grille and the Crystal headlights with dynamic sparkling, plus offering a cinematic experience on optional 31.3in Theatre Screen in the rear passenger compartment and an all-new Parking Assistant Pro, which steers into and out of parking spaces automatically, it’s easy to see why.
Bringing electric technology to the company’s premium luxury saloon, the i7 is this year’s answer to the equally elegant iX of 2021, offering, for the first time in the electric vehicle space, a model that delivers on splendour as much as it does on tech – something that further solidifies BMW’s place as a disruptor in the field.
To create a fully electric model that didn’t compromise on comfort was a primary driving force for Carina Gärtner, Annette Baumeister and Daniela Kern, who were all integral to the design and development of the i7. Given that the 7 Series has long been considered the marque’s flagship model – an emblem of the elegance and power it is known for – ensuring the i7 continued to deliver such high standards while also pushing the electric capabilities further than any car before, was more than a hopeful prospect. It was a necessity.
It is able to complete a trip of up to 387 miles, while still delivering the kind of power expected in a combustion engine. The strong torque allows for an acceleration that can take the car from zero to 62 miles per hour in 4.7 seconds, while the new emergency braking functionalities are also highly responsive.
“We asked ourselves, What functionalities do we need to offer the customer? How should they work and how should they interact with the driver?” says Kern, who is head of functional design and integration automated driving (which means to ensure the car is roadworthy). “For the i7, we’ve [been able to] launch some really outstanding ones.”
Her favourite of these are the remote parking and the all-new Highway Assistant, which will be available to the US market and will allow the driver to lean back and let the car drive. “You do not have to steer; you do not have to brake; you only have to observe the traffic. It just cruises you over the highway.”
Crowning jewels like these are what will draw steadfast combustion engine customers into the future and it was through a deep understanding of their 7 Series clientele that the team were able to create a menu of features that would appeal.
“These customers love the effects,” explains Gärtner, head of product management, the 7, “so at the beginning of development we integrated customer expectations in a deeper way than we did for other cars.”
The team has spent ample time ruminating on these expectations and, over time, have encapsulated them into what they term the three Vs: “visual luxury, visual technology and a visual statement”.
Incidentally, appealing visuals are not difficult to come by with the i7, which is a feast for the eyes, both inside and out. As head of colour and material, Baumeister led the way on this, bringing together geometry and colour to create both an impactful first look and an experience that lasts throughout the drive.
On the exterior, the crystal-enhanced lighting accentuates the kidney-shaped grill and Hofmeister kink, both something of a calling card for the brand, giving the car a feeling Baumeister describes as “monolithic”. The interior is also brought into a league of its own with a range of digital and physical highlights. For the driver, these include a 14.9in Curved Display and Interaction Bar that extends horizontally across the entire cockpit, while backseat passengers can enjoy a 31.3in Theatre Screen and reclining seats adorned with a leather and cashmere blend. The overall feel is that of a first-class air cabin – spacious, elegant and utterly comfortable.
“We all know it’s important to have the right touch when it comes to digital,” Baumeister remarks, on getting the experiential balance right. “It has to be light and in motion. But with materials, the analogue touch is also important. It’s all about the balance, in the end, [and] the materials which create the character.”