In case you missed it, the all-new 2023 BMW 7 Series and its electric i7 variant were officially unveiled late last month and it triggered quite a bit of debate on Car Internet over whether it is good or bad. While those discussions primarily focused around the cars’ looks, there’s seemingly another double-edged sword with the 7 Series living in its rear seat: there’s no way for the driver to see behind the gigantic Theatre Screen. As first blush, that seems like a safety concern.
To get everybody up to speed on what exactly I’m talking about, the new 7 Series can be optioned with an ultra-wide 31.3-inch 8K Theatre Screen in the back that folds out from the roof. It runs Amazon Fire TV, audio can be pumped out of up to 36 Bowers & Wilkins speakers or your own Bluetooth headphones, and the car even has a dedicated Theatre Mode, which automatically lowers the screen, closes the sunshades, and adjusts the rear seats’ positions and interior lighting for ideal movie-watching. It’s essentially the same idea behind those pop-out DVD players your mom’s minivan may have had growing up but, you know, way better.
This setup is admittedly pretty dope if you’re planning on experiencing this car mostly from the back and letting a chauffeur do the driving, but it sparked a question: How is the driver supposed to see what’s behind them when the Theatre Screen is being used? The perplexingly disappointing answer: they can’t.
“The view directly out the back is limited if the Theatre Screen is in use, but, of course, the side view mirrors are unaffected,” a BMW spokesperson explained.
When I first heard about the Theatre Screen, I kind of assumed that cars equipped with it would also get a digital rearview mirror. That’s when the rearview mirror can be switched into a screen that shows a live feed from a rear-facing camera, particularly useful in a van or SUV carrying lots of cargo or a bunch of tall passengers... or in a luxury sedan where there’s a massive cabin-spanning screen hanging down from the roof. But according to BMW, neither the 7 Series nor the i7 will come with a digital rear mirror, not even as an option.
This is particularly surprising considering the digital mirror isn’t even a particularly luxurious feature anymore. For example, it’s standard on the Limited-trim Toyota RAV4, so the fact it’s not even being offered on the BMW sedan that’s a technology showcase for the brand, especially given the presence of that rear seat screen, is odd, to say the least. Perhaps the screen is only meant to be used when the car is stationary, then, I thought. Per BMW: Nope, “the screen can be used on the move.”
To be fair to the 7 Series, it’s not like it will be the only vehicle on the road that can be driven around with a completely obstructed rearview. Just ask anyone who regularly drives a semi-truck, windowless panel van, or a particularly impractical supercar. But to get a clearer idea why this sort of thing is allowed, I reached out to the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) for its take.
According to NHTSA, its Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards actually allow the rearview mirror to be obstructed as long as there are side mirrors on both sides of the car that comply with the relevant safety standards, which the 7 Series clearly does.
When asked for comment on all of this, BMW reiterated that just like other vehicles with obstructed rear views such as work vans or filled-up minivans, “there are always the side mirrors available to the driver.”
The company also points out that the new 7 Series has an “extensive number of sensors and surround view/backup cameras” as well as “one of the most extensive offerings of passive and active safety features in the automotive industry.” And when push comes to shove, “the use of the rear entertainment screen remains under the control of the driver. If the driver ever finds themselves in a situation where they deem the rearview mirror would be advantageous or needed, they have control over the entertainment screen and can close it at the push of a button.”
Is letting your passengers stream a movie in 8K worth blocking your entire rear view? That probably depends on exactly who those passengers happen to be, but either way, it’s definitely odd that this car is not available with a digital rearview mirror. Perhaps BMW is saving that for the mid-cycle refresh.
In any case, the BMW rep went on to say that I should probably wait to experience this car and its Theatre Screen in person for the full story. As someone who does most of his motoring solo, hopefully the people driving behind me enjoy Yellowstone.