BMW has ramped up the comfort factor and added world-first gadgetry without compromising the drive
FIRST impressions count and BMW’s flagship 7 Series impresses immediately from the front or back seats. Beyond the imposing profile, leather trimmed interior and techladen cockpit is a chassis that is true to the Bavarian brand’s ethos of building drivers’ cars.
That’s a big ask in a car this size but BMW achieves it by using the carbon fibre reinforced plastics first seen in the electric i3 and i8, combined with self-levelling air suspension and the expected driving modes that sharpen the car’s reactions to inputs from the steering wheel and pedals.
It’s no 3 Series to slingshot through the turns … but no 3 Series can accommodate four adults (there’s room for five but that would intrude on the back seat ambience and halt deployment of the centre folddown table/infotainment screen) in this level of elegance.
The interior is more conservative than the Mercedes S-Class but what it lacks in visual wow factor it atones for in materials and the way the functions are managed.
The iDrive controller is now complemented by a touchscreen to give drivers the option of using voice commands, the screen itself or the rotary dial to regulate interior operations.
BMW has also fitted a range of “world first” features to the 7 Series. The key has an in-built screen to show the car’s status, pre-set the airconditioning and remotely start the car, while the audio and Bluetooth phone can be operated by gesture control, in what is either a glimpse of the future or a token gesture (sorry) depending on whether you are technophobe or technophile.
The system works within a fairly narrow range and Carsguide found it quicker — and less distracting — to adjust the volume using the steering wheel-mounted buttons rather than making a circular motion in the middle of the dash. Swiping left or right to accept or reject incoming calls is easier … but there’s a button on the wheel that achieves the same result without needing to lift a hand from the tiller.
The safety suite includes autonomous emergency braking, adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go, lane keeping assist and blind spot warnings. For now drivers have to keep their hands on the wheel when the BMW is self-steering but it’s fairly obvious that’s a concession to the regulations rather than the 7 Series’ ability to read the road.
Sometimes it is the little touches that truly appeal and the 7’s switchgear is now crafted from alloy to improve the look and feel under the fingers.
Likewise the heating system extends to the front seats, steering wheel, door armrests and centre console. It may sound over the top but it will be appreciated on chilly mornings or when returning from a weekend of skiing.
ON THE ROAD
Agile is not a word normally associated with 5.1-metre long sedans yet it applies here. The big Beemer is genuinely entertaining on back roads with the mode selector set to sport or adaptive. There’s some body roll as it leans into corners — the V8-powered 750i due next year uses electromechanical roll bars and leverages the stereo cameras to read lumps in the road ahead and pre-set the dampers to compensate — but at legal speeds most passengers won’t be perturbed.
The eight-speed auto plays a big part in keeping the internal serenity. It shifts with the smoothness of a tai chi master — if at a touch quicker pace — and is the best in the business.
The entry level 730d starts (the options list is long and expensive) at $217,500 and doesn’t drive or sound like a mainstream oilburner. Layers of insulation means the traditional clatter just can’t be heard. The six-cylinder 740i is $224,200 or $238,000 for the long wheelbase variant that presumably is used to ferry NBA basketballers of Andrew Bogut stature.
The new 7 Series proves comfort needn’t compromise chassis control. Hire car companies will love the legroom and boot space and owner drivers will brag about the bling and the drive. And so they should.