Luxury and agility meet in the BMW 7-Series, a magic-carpet cruiser that also manages to be an extraordinarily capable performance car. Quibbles with the 7-series are few: achieving a smooth takeoff from a stop can be difficult owing to the 7’s electronic throttle mapping and the boost characteristics of its turbocharged engines; and operating the car’s many controls can be daunting, despite (or because of) all the operations bundled into the iDrive controller. What’s more daunting, however, is choosing from the fifteen iterations of BMW’s grandest sedan. There are five engines: a six, two V-8s, a V-8 hybrid, and a V-12. All but two of the engines can be had with all-wheel drive in addition to rear-wheel drive. There’s also the choice between the slightly more maneuverable standard-wheelbase car and the L version, whose 5.5-inch stretch is converted directly into additional rear-seat legroom. To make it a bit easier, we’ll call out two of our favorites. The 740i (a relative bargain at $71,875) has a turbocharged six that gets the best gas mileage of the 7s yet can still whisk this car to 60 mph in as little as 5.8 seconds. There’s no M version of the 7-series, but the Alpina B7 is the sportiest model. It has a lower ride height, a firmer suspension (but, like all 7s, with three selectable settings), and twenty-one-inch wheels. Conversely, our least favorite is the ActiveHybrid 7, which combines a 4.4-liter V-8 with an electric motor. It can’t match the EPA ratings of the 740i, and yet the hybrid costs some $9000 more than the regular V-8 7-series.

Drive: Rear-wheel, 4-wheel
Trim levels: 740i, 740Li, 750i, 750Li, ActiveHybrid 750i, ActiveHybrid 750Li, Alpina B7 (SWB), Alpina B7 (LWB), 760Li
Body style: Sedan, 5-passenger
Engines: 3.0L turbo I-6, 315 hp, 330 lb-ft
4.4L twin-turbo V-8, 400 hp, 450 lb-ft
4.4L twin-turbo V-8/electric hybrid, 455 hp
4.4L twin-turbo V-8, 500 hp, 516 lb-ft
6.0L turbo V-12, 535 hp, 550 lb-ft
Transmissions: 6- or 8-speed automatic
Passenger volume: (SWB/LWB) 106.0/115.0 cu ft
Cargo space: (ActiveHybrid/others) 13.0/14.0 cu ft

For most of the sprawling 7-series line, the 2012 model year started in the spring of 2011. All 2012 models now come standard with an iPod/USB adapter, a sport steering wheel, and a rearview camera. On the debit side, the hybrid 7-series was stripped of some of its standard equipment, including the head-up display, the leather dashboard, and the active and ventilated front seats.

Front, side, and side curtain air bags; traction and stability control; ABS with panic brake assist; a backup camera; adaptive xenon headlamps; and adaptive brake lights are standard. Lane-departure warning, blind-spot assist, and night vision are available. BMW Assist, with automated crash response, is standard.

All: 13-17 mpg city/19-25 mpg highway

  • An agile luxury sedan
  • A sybaritic experience
  • Wide variety of powertrains
  • Complexity of controls
  • Throttle tip-in not linear
  • Hybrid makes little sense

An agile luxo-cruiser in the heavyweight class.

  • Audi A8
  • Jaguar XJ
  • Lexus LS
  • Mercedes-Benz S-class

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