The ultimate bulletproof BMW: escaping an attack in the armoured i7

3 weeks, 6 days ago - 25 March 2024, autocar
The ultimate bulletproof BMW: escaping an attack in the armoured i7
Hardcore security measures add nearly two tonnes to BMW's electric limo. Can it get us through a riot?

The Dragunov OTs-03 SVU isn't just a firearm; it's an instrument of lethal precision. With a range of up to 1200 meters, its ammunition can penetrate a regular steel car body like a hot knife through butter, with dramatic consequences for those inside.

The new electric BMW i7 xDrive60 Protection and its petrol-powered 760i xDrive Protection sibling are, however, among a select few armoured limousines to provide certified defence against one of the world’s most feared handheld weapons.

 Conceived to the highest of ballistic standards within the automotive industry, the limos have been expressly designed to repel repeated rounds from the 7.62x54mm calibre Russian-produced sniper rifle and many varied explosive devices, including grenade-carrying drones, bombs consisting of up to 15kg of TNT and much more.  

Their secret is the so-called Protective Core – a unique self-supporting structure made from the latest generation of armored steel and other exotic materials. Encapsulating their luxuriously equipped cabin, it supplements the modified body shell of the standard 7 Series.

Together with a heavily armoured underbody, roof and pillars, as well as a windscreen, rear screen and doors featuring specially developed multi-layer glass, they provide the latest in a long line of BMW Protection models with a coveted VPAM VR10 rating, bolstering their appeal with the most discerning of security-minded buyers.

'VR' stands for Vehicle Resistance and the number 10 denotes the highest certified grade for ballistics and blast protection granted to armoured vehicles by global authorities. It’s a grade shared with only a handful of other limos available directly from the factory of an established car maker, rather than being retrofitted by third-party company.

To achieve this, each individual door weighs up to 200kg. They’re so heavily fortified that they require specially developed hinges and sturdy electrohydraulic mechanisms to open and close. There are even pyrotechnic elements to blast them free of the body in the aftermath of an accident or attack.

The new 7 Series models also feature special door sealing, as well as armoured firewalls at the front and rear - designed to protect occupants from poisonous gas attacks. When triggered, a tank in the boot supplies the interior with enough oxygen to create a pressured environment for more than five minutes in what BMW describes as its 'survival cell'. There are also two fire extinguishers with both automatic and manual discharge.

The armoured i7 is the first EV to be granted VR10 status. Integrated into the i7 development process from the very beginning, the Protection isn't simply an adaption of the standard model but part of a complete range, albeit with an added 1750kg in kerb weight and, as a consequence, a claimed range that's 152 miles shorter than that of the  i7 xDrive60, at 236 miles.  

"It has been developed predominately for urban use cases, offering outstanding refinement and ride quality, but that’s not to say it compromised in any way. It provides all the protection and performance of the 760i xDrive,” says Axel Stanner, BMW Protection product manager.

In lesser-rated armoured vehicles, bullets fired from a Dragunov will penetrate the cabin before exiting the other side. Not so here. Tests at the Munich Ballistics Agency in Germany reveal the toughened 7s provide standard-setting passive defence from repeated and deliberately positioned firing at shutlines, windows and other areas of their exteriors.

And the protection measures don’t stop at the body structure and the doors. The 536bhp dual-motor i7 xDrive60 receives added underbody protection reinforcement for its 101.7kWh battery, while the 523bhp V8-engined 760i xDrive Protection gets a self-healing fuel tank that can mend damage and prevent leaks when penetrated via a chemical reaction that takes place within its outer lining.

The idea around the armouring of the limos is to make them as similar as possible to the standard models. There is some tell-tale visual differentiation required to satisfy European regulations, including subtle wheel-arch cladding, but they mirror their siblings closely. 

Weapon protection measures alone aren’t the only focus. Performance and dynamic qualities are also high among the development aims.

"Protection is nothing without agility. They go hand in hand. When you’re under attack, the primary concern is to exit the danger zone as fast and as safely as possible. Every second counts,” says Stanner.

We’re at Templin, a former Soviet airfield in Germany, to test BMW’s most heavily armoured models under the tutelage of its driver training team. The day started with some simple swerving at not much more than walking speed, progressed through reverse driving exercises and ended well into the dark of night with lane-change manoeuvres at up to 80mph without the aid of headlamps.

It’s a programme that many customers of BMW Protection models put their drivers and bodyguards through in a bid to prepare them for every possible eventuality and outcome. At one point, petrol bombs were denotated and flames licked over the i7 we were in as part of a surprise attack simulation.

It might look a lot like the standard model on the outside, but with added ride height and doors that open and close like that of a bank vault, it's immediately clear that this isn't your ordinary BMW. There is familiarity inside, though, with the same plush interior as the standard i7 xDrive60.  

There is solid acceleration off the line, owing to the strong torque of the electric motors. There’s also quite a bit of pitch at the front end as you deploy the reserves.

Above typical urban speeds, though, you also become well aware of the substantial weight brought by the various protection measures. It gathers speed majestically rather than urgently, using lots of energy in the process.

The i7 xDrive60 Protection is arguably at its best at motorway cruising speeds. Here, BMW’s first-ever armoured EV is eerily quiet. Such is the insulation delivered by the armoured Protection Core and thick glass that you’re barely aware of any prevailing wind noise. The inherent rigidity of the body structure also helps to dampen out much of the road noise.     

The added weight is always perceptible, though. Very much so during directional changes, no less. It's not the sort of car you guide nonchalantly with one hand. It takes both hands and deliberate action at the steering wheel to get the best out of it dynamically. There is an added physical element to the driving – and some major physics at play with the handling, too.   

Even so, the combination of precise front steering and BMW’s Active Rear Steering system endows it with outstanding agility for something so heavy. They also make placing the big limo on narrow roads surprising easy. This was displayed on repeated obstacle manoeuvres that form part of the BMW Protection driver training.  

With an upgraded brake system and specially calibrated driver-assistance systems, it also pulls up remarkably well. As with that pitch under acceleration, there is substantial dive when you get hard on the stoppers, though.

The i7 xDrive60 Protection comes as standard with 255-740 R5 10 Michelin Primacy PAX run-flat tyres. They incorporate special elements mounted inside of the wheels aimed at ensuring the limo is capable of retaining some sort of mobility during or after an attack.

Production of the armoured car takes place alongside the 760i xDrive at BMW’s Dingolfing plant in Germany, with much of the manufacturing taking place by hand.  

Governments, businesses and private individuals the world over come to BMW Protection for personal protection needs. Each customer is put through a rigorous screening process before a purchase is confirmed.

We don’t just sell to anybody. There is a commercial side to our business operations, but we have controls to ensure our cars don’t fall into the hands of terrorists,” says Stanner.

The majority of models, including the VR6-grade X5 SUV that we also got to drive over some tricky off-road obstacles, are often leased and returned to BMW.

They say you can never be too safe – and when someone points the world’s most feared firearm in your direction, you will be glad you chose to ride in an i7 xDrive60 Protection.

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