When BMW launched its 1600 coupe in North America, back in 1967-1968, one of its most appealing characteristics was its simplicity. Lively, nimble and seemingly indestructible, it went on to spawn the 2002, which has evolved into something of a cult classic and basically established BMW on this side of the pond.
Most 2002 aficionados will tell you that the reason this car was so popular was because it combined seat-of-the-pants performance, practicality and dependability in one package. It was actually over-built in many ways, and you could run the hell out of it on the weekends, yet it made a fine family hauler and was – usually – dead reliable. Ask any aficionado and they'll tell you that the 2002 had a kind of animal magnetism about it that was hard to resist.
Now, some 45 years later, BMW is manufacturing some of the most complex and over-designed cars on the planet. That elegant rawness of the original 2002 is long gone and today's Bimmers are complicated – especially the company's flagship 7-Series, which, for 2013, is offered in five variations, with a special, limited-production, performance version as well. BMW is one of the few companies that offers its models with three distinct powertrain choices: inline-six, V-8 and V-12. Not to mention turbocharging, all-wheel-drive and a hybrid option.
From the top, the 740 Li is powered by a twin-turbocharged, 3.0-litre, inline-six-cylinder that develops 315 horsepower, with an eight-speed transmission and BMW's xDrive AWD feature. There is also a hybrid version of the 740 that utilizes this engine, in tandem with an electric motor, a lithium-ion battery pack and the company's redesigned "Active Hybrid" system. This drivetrain is very similar to the one currently used in BMW's 5-Series hybrid model. Apparently, in the 7-Series, it'll develop around 350 horsepower but won't be available until later in the new year – probably sometime in the fall.
In the meantime, the 750, with its 4.4-litre V-8, churns out 445 horsepower, again, with an eight-speed transmission, and all-wheel-drive, in two wheelbase sizes. Like all the new 7-Series, this one has self-levelling rear air suspension and an automatic stop-start system that shuts the car off at stoplights and re-starts it when you take your foot off the brake. This last feature is in keeping with today's trend toward greenness, but is one of the least refined versions on the market. It tends to stop the engine abruptly and bangs back into life with a jolt when the brake pedal is released. That said, it will apparently enhance the car's fuel economy by 6 per cent.
The V-12 760Li, meanwhile, has a massive 535 horsepower on tap, thanks in large measure to BMW's Twin Turbo technology, and is probably the fastest model in the lineup. Despite its heft and presence (3,210-millimetre wheelbase and 2,275-kilogram curb weight), the 760 is a very lively automobile, with surprisingly good handling and agility. It has an almost limitless supply of reserve power and is a long-distance highway cruiser with few equals. The 760 does not come with AWD, however.
Which brings us to the Alpina B7. With a twin-turbocharged, 4.4-litre V-8 engine tweaked by BMW's other skunk works – Alpina – it brings some 540 horsepower to the party, not to mention rear- or all-wheel-drive, redone suspension, upgraded brakes and a purported top speed in excess of 310 km/h. It will also accelerate from 0 to 100 km/h in just over four seconds. Big car, big performance.
Some other highlights of the new 7-series:
- An uprated iDrive system, with faster calculation times and a redesigned display.
- Upgraded navi system that uses information from several sources when it provides traffic info. The old system apparently just used FM radio stations; now it’ll get the info from other sources and will display alternate routes that require less fuel and will detail the type of terrain you’ll be driving through.
- Reworked front grille and bumpers with a redesigned back end.
- Active Protection standard in all models. This system automatically tightens the seatbelts in the event of an imminent crash, as well as automatically closing the sunroof and windows, repositioning the driver’s seat into a “harm-reducing position” and automatically applying the brakes to mitigate a secondary crash.
- A drivetrain management system known as Eco Pro. This arrangement monitors engine/transmission performance and manages the heat/ventilation system, heated seats, and heated mirrors for maximum efficiency. It also features a brake energy regeneration system that recharges the battery while braking, and a highway coasting mode that allows the engine to “freewheel” at various speeds between 50 and 160 km/h.
- Five performance settings for the powertrain and other components. Driver’s can choose from the aforementioned Eco Pro mode right up to a Sport-plus setting that alters suspension settings for peak cornering performance.
The 2013 7-series should be arriving at dealerships shortly; BMW has not released a pricing structure, but the current 2012 models range from about $110,000 to $186,000.