SMART TO THE CORE
WITH A BMW AS TECHNOLOGICALLY ADVANCED AS THE 7 SERIES, APPLE CAN EAT ITS HEART OUT.
If Apple really is preparing its own truly mobile device, with wheels, then you can bet the designers whammed their heads against the drawing boards, or their iPad Pros at least, after reading the specs for the new technical knockout that is the BMW 7 Series.
Its Display Key is uncannily like an iPhone, for a start, with swipey screens that allow you to check your range, set the car’s temperature before you get to it, or even, in less paranoid markets than our own, allow you to park the big Beemer remotely. This is handy if your garage isn’t big enough for the barn doors to open on this hefty, 5.2m-long and 1.5m-wide limo. Most importantly, the Display Key looks and feels lushly lovely, and makes all car keys that came before it look hopelessly redundant and passé.
Then there’s the gesture-control technology, which is so geek-tastic it would seem more at home in an Apple Car. Motion sensors on the dash allow you to accept or reject calls with a wave of your hand, adjust the stereo volume by wiggling your finger in the air, or pinch and spin the freakish 3D camera view you can summon up while parking the car.
If you prefer to sit in the back you’ll be too far from the dash to use the Jazz Hands function, as it will surely come to be known. For you, there’s the car world’s first integrated tablet, which pops out of the arm rest and allows you to do just about everything but drive: change the relaxing scents being pumped into the cabin, adjust the mood lighting, annoy the front-seat passenger by moving them back and forth, all at the touch of a screen. (It’s a Samsung, not an iPad).
If that’s not enough, you can also spec the 7 Series with “laser lights”, taking your effective high-beam distance from 300m to 600m, or Executive Drive Pro, which scans the road ahead for bumps and potholes and pre-tensions your suspension appropriately, to provide the kind of magic-carpet ride previously only associated with Rolls-Royce (a company BMW just happens to own). All this, and more, come close to justifying the company’s claims that the 7 Series is the most technologically advanced vehicle on the road today (though the Mercedes-Benz S Class and Tesla people might want to argue the toss).
And being technologically advanced in today’s world means a car that can drive itself, or damn close to it. Sure enough, BMW offers a “Steering and Lane Control” function, which it refers to as “semiautonomous driving”. This ingenious technology uses cameras, radar, GPS, road markings, satnav data and servo motors to do the steering for you. You can take your hands off and watch this magic in action, but after 10 seconds the car will beep and encourage you to lightly rest your hands back on the wheel. Put the automatic cruise control on at the same time, and you genuinely don’t have to drive, you just sit with one hand on the wheel and make it look like you are.
As clever as it is, Steering and Lane Control is not yet infallible, and may occasionally follow lines it shouldn’t. It’s also not the smoothest of steerers, taking a few bites at some bends and bringing to mind some of the more ADHD cab drivers I’ve endured.
All this can distract you from the fact that the 7 Series can still be driven by the owner, if he or she so desires. Fortunately, it’s very good at this as well, partly because of yet another technological first in a car of this size: a carbon-fibre core. This super-lightweight, strong and super-expensive construction was previously only seen in supercars — including the tech de force BMW i8 — and it saves up to 130kg in some models.
That’s part of the reason the car feels so light on its feet, with invigorating performance from the new 3.0L turbo diesel in the 730d (0 to 100 in 6.1 seconds) and the also new twin-turbo straight six in the petrol 740i (just 5.5 seconds). Sound deadening, which includes carpets sourced from Rolls-Royce, helps negate the thrum of these engines, unless you’re whipping them to the point of non-existence, and the ride, which offers two Comfort settings, is fabulous.
Most miraculously, despite being a big unit, the 7 Series can get up and dance if you ask it to. The steering is extremely sporty for a car of this type and the super-stiff chassis means it sits flat and behaves well through corners. Better, in fact, than it really needs to.
Sportiness is what the Australian market desires, as 85per cent of buyers of the last model opted for the M Sport package, at $10,000 a pop. Such demand has led BMW Australia to make that add-on pack of sporty bits and badges a no-cost option on the new 7 range, which starts at $217,500 for the 730d, rises to $224,200 for the 740i and hits $289,600 for the range-topping 750i.
The Apple Car, if and when it comes, will no doubt be cheaper and smaller, but it’s going to have to get its geek on pretty hard to match this über-BMW.
The BMW 7 Series is a big unit with a wealth of tech whizzery that is also smooth and sporty to drive.