The heaviest passenger vehicles the world will ever see are on sale now, according to BMW
The weight is over. Passenger cars and SUVs have become so heavy that they’re toying with the limits of drivers’ licenses around the world, but BMW believes we’ve finally reached a turning point.
Excess weight has hurt the car industry’s ability to lower its CO2 emissions and fuel consumption, with luxury demands, safety legislation, consumer preference for SUVs and crossovers and, now, EVs blamed for automotive obesity.
But the project manager of the new BMW 7 Series limousine, Christoph Fagschlunger, insists the automotive weight pile-on has reached its zenith and will now begin a diet.
While Aussies generally need a heavy vehicle licence to drive vehicles with a GVM of 4500kg, the European Class B licence has a vehicle weight limit of 3.5 tonnes and BMW’s heaviest current production car, the facelifted 2022 BMW X7, maxes out at 2480kg before anybody sits in it.
But BMW believes there is a natural ceiling for excessive automotive weight, and we’ve just hit it with machines like the latest X7 and i7 electric limousine.
“For us, the weight limits for licenses are still sufficient for the i7,” Fagschlunger insisted.
“I don’t think cars will get more heavy than they are now, and there are many reasons for that.
“For us, as a company who offers passenger vehicles, it is still possible to cover all the requirements within the existing weight restrictions.”
The BMW 7 Series began life in 1977 at 1470kg, though the top-spec cars could reach 1629kg. The lightest version of the outgoing G11 7 Series, launched in 2015, weighed 1955kg, even with BMW’s ‘Carbon Core’ passenger cell.
The heaviest of the standard G11s was 2274kg, or 40 per cent more than the 1977 flagship.
BMW insists the weight surge over the last decade has been caused by an imperfect confluence of a mass-market move from passenger cars to crossovers and SUVs, plus safety, hybridisation and now EVs.
While safety is the go-to automotive excuse for jaw-dropping weight gains, the real answer is simple: luxury.
A modern driver’s seat, Fagschlunger admitted, is at least 40kg heavier than it was 20 years ago, and some luxury car seats weigh up to 100kg each.
It’s not unusual for luxury car seats to carry more than 15 pneumatic air bladders for massaging and bolstering functions, plus hardware for cooling, heating and electric adjustment.
One upcoming luxury car even plans to have a heated foot massager in the rear-seat footwell.
Fagschlunger points out that there is a 500kg difference between the entry-level six-cylinder 740i and the twin-motor electric i7 in its next-generation 7 Series limo.
Even that won’t be the heaviest BMW, because the plug-in hybrid XM from M will be even heavier, he admitted.
“Let’s see what the future brings, because energy will be reduced to a lower volume and more energy in the same weight or less weight. That’s the way battery development goes.
“Size of cars will have a natural ending someday, when you can’t fit in the garage or turn around on the street corner. That day is getting closer.
“More comfort now will not gain more weight. Technologies to get comfort are getting smarter. You can kill road noise with masses all around the car, or you can have active road noise cancellation.”
But while BMW made its reputation with light, well-balanced, fine-handling cars, it no longer attacks weight with the enthusiasm it did in the 1980s and 1990s, and there are real fears that weight could become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
“There is not one single person holding the line on weight at BMW, but there are many people,” said Fagschlunger.
“But as weight gains and gains, it’s getting harder to bring the safety we want, and to bring the safety we want we have to get heavier again, so it’s a vicious circle.
“Cars were getting heavier even without electrification, with safety regulations and then NCAP and then luxury.”
From under 1500kg, the original 7 Series rose to a minimum of 1720kg for the second generation in 1986, then flat-lined for two generations, with the third-generation E38 and the F10 of 2009 dieting slightly to 1710kg.
The top end, though, rose from the 1930kg of the V12 versions of the 1986 E32 to 2085kg for 1994’s E38 and 2040kg for the 2009 F10.
But the weight of BMW’s limousine has been uncomfortably eclipsed by luxury its own SUVs.
The volume-selling BMW X5 now weighs between 2060kg and 2286kg – before options are added – while the 2022 BMW X7 weighs between 2480kg and an eye-watering 2560kg for the upcoming PHEV version.