BMW's latest 7 Series never wanted to be a luxury car. It was faking it. Sure it comes draped in luxury leather, is packed with gadgets and enough space for a board meeting in the back, but it was always, first and foremost, a driver's car.
Ride quality, fit and finish, and even the most basic asset of a luxury motor, comfort, were sacrificed in the name of driving enjoyment. The 7 Series wants to be a sports car, and as we power through hairpin bends with a whiff of wheelspin and opposite lock in the ACS7 it becomes obvious that it didn't take too much help from AC Schnitzer to make that dream a reality.
Of course the truly big guns are with the 750i and six-liter V12-powered 760i. But even this, the relatively lowly 740i, powered by a twin-turbo 3.0-liter inline six that won't make it to American shores, shows just what the big Bimmer is made of. The tweaked ECU and a new exhaust system are all it takes to liberate 360 hp and it feels every bit as potent as the bigger 750i.
There's no hint of turbos at work, just blistering acceleration that now starts with the faintest tire chirp in the middle distance as the luxury limo forgets its place and turns into a hooligan for a fleeting second. It's the kind of broadly grinning moment that has us provoking the car on anything approaching a bend. That has to be a good sign in a machine at the luxury end of the scale, and though Schnitzer claims no performance advantage and prints the same figures as the base BMW, which must be politics at work. Of course, this 4,625-pound barge hitting 60 mph in 5.2 seconds was amazing work to begin with, and a few horses won't shave too much off the time, but this car is faster.
And on the straights the big Seven skips seamlessly through its six-speed gearbox. There's no lag, no hesitation, it just surges forth like it has a much bigger naturally aspirated engine, which is of course the goal in these environmentally aware times. Schnitzer hasn't finalized work on the 750i or 760i, but we can expect something in the region of 400 and 500 hp, respectively. BMW has no plans to produce an M7, but with the likes of Schnitzer working off the back of three decades of motorsport experience and catering to the hardcore crowd that wouldn't justify the investment from the works team, they just don't have to.
That power hike is just the start, too, because Schnitzer's crowning glory comes with the ride and handling.
BMW's devotion to runflat tires has decimated its cars in recent years. And seriously, when was the last time you had a blowout? Like lightning strikes and shark attacks they're fearsome tales, but handicapping your entire range thanks to an occurrence that happens about as often has rankled the tuners for many years.
Runflats simply aren't good enough to replace performance rubber just yet, and the stiff sidewalls, combined with BMW's M-Sport suspension, means that driving the hardcore 7 Series on anything other than a race track, in Sport Plus mode at least, feels like riding a Penny Farthing down the stairs.
Schnitzer threw the runflats in the bin and went for Continental ContiSportContact 2s wrapped around massive 22-inch five-spoke alloys. Those are big wheels, yet with the more pliant tires Schnitzer could still drop the suspension 25mm with lowering springs and provide a comfortable ride that soaks up ruts and bumps in the road. It's a marvel compared to the M kit, and one that keeps on going at the apex.
But until that point, the ACS7 hangs on like a much smaller car through the bends. That's mostly down to BMW's rear steering, new double wishbone suspension, active anti-roll bars, and multimode dampers, but the thicker boots, stronger springs and hours at the Nordschleife spent perfecting the setup haven't hurt either.
The new F01 7 Series is a welcome return to form as designer Karim Habib softened the looks of outgoing design chief Chris Bangle's most controversial creation, the E65. It might have been the best-selling 7 Series ever, but it certainly wasn't the prettiest, and while even this one is no match for the elegant earlier generations, it's much better. The awkward profile is now gone, replaced by a long, sleek weapon with a shark-like, powerful front end inspired by the CS Concept, low-slung roofline and squat rear. There's room for 17 sets of golf clubs in there, of course, but the new 7 Series had a real sporting purpose before Schnitzer got hold of it.
So they couldn't go too far, as chief designer Michele Viandante says: "The result must be a harmonious ensemble, and not a combination of trainers and tuxedo."
He pulled it off with considerable aplomb, lengthening the front end with a new splitter and dragging the car deeper to the deck with the side skirts that flip at the rear to add to the sense of forward motion. A fatter rear is achieved with a lip and roof spoiler as well as the de rigeur diffuser that is just subtle enough to avoid looking ridiculous on a car like this.
Then there are those trapezoidal exhausts, bigger versions of BMW's own angular efforts, that erupt with a gentle nudge of the starter button and send a burbling, menacing exhaust note into the outside world. You still can't hear it from the inside-that's not the 7 Series way-but they'll hear it as you fly past, that much is certain.
Interior touches are kept to a minimum, with aluminum pedals that look the part and a wheel-motif iDrive cover that really, really doesn't belong here. If it's a good seller then good luck to ACS, but it just looks wrong in the otherwise well-appointed 7 Series cabin.
In truth, they could have enriched iDrive by blanking it off altogether. The new version is much improved and heading toward intuitive, but BMW's system is still an Amstrad next to the iMac on offer at Mercedes.
But although the Seven comes packed with gadgets, including its own night vision system, this is not the battleground BMW has chosen. And it's ignored the obvious warzones of comfort and refinement, too. With the new 7 Series, Munich has created a luxury driver's car, the kind of limo that could get the chauffeur fired. It's a driver's car in the true BMW tradition, and all it took was a little help from AC Schnitzer to release the sports scar within. And as the 740i is this good, we can't wait for the big-power versions.
AC Schnitzer ACS7
Longitudinal front engine, rear-wheel drive
3.0-liter I6, dohc, 24-valve, turbocharged and intercooled. ACS sport exhaust, remapped ECU
25mm lowering springs
Wheels and Tires
ACS Type VII, 9.5x22 (f), 10x22 (r)
Continental ContiSportContact 2 265/30 (f), 295/25 (r)
Peak Power: 360 hp @ 5400 rpm
Peak Torque: 350 lb-ft @ 1500 rpm
0-62 mph: 5.2 sec.
Top Speed: 155 mph