Sev­enth heaven

BMW has ramped up the com­fort fac­tor and added world-first gad­getry with­out com­pro­mis­ing the drive

Herald Sun - Motoring - - PRESTIGE - CRAIG DUFF craig.duff@news.com.au

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.

VER­DICT

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.

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