A Taste of Things to Come

BMW’S new flag­ship, about to make its of­fi­cial world de­but, boasts some im­pres­sively fu­tur­is­tic fea­tures. Sean Li joined an elite group in France to size up the 7 Se­ries

Hong Kong Tatler - - Life -

Car launches are of­ten pre­ceded by an aura of mys­tery, as man­u­fac­tur­ers try to keep the new model un­der wraps for as long as pos­si­ble be­fore a grand un­veil­ing, usu­ally at a ma­jor car show. So I was in­trigued by BMW’S in­vi­ta­tion to what it called a “pre-drive” of the new 7 Se­ries, the flag­ship of its fleet. A se­lect group of jour­nal­ists would be flown to France and taken to BMW’S test fa­cil­ity at Mi­ra­mas, an hour west of Mar­seilles, for a first look at the car BMW will of­fi­cially launch at the Frank­furt Mo­tor Show in Septem­ber. How could I re­sist?

On our ar­rival, BMW staff mem­bers were quick to dis­able our smart­phone cam­eras to pre­vent in­ad­ver­tent pho­tograph­ing of cars the mar­que wasn’t even ready to talk about, which could be seen un­der­go­ing high-speed en­durance test­ing in part of the fa­cil­ity. The de­vel­op­ment cars await­ing us were well dis­guised, with a cam­ou­flage paint pat­tern on the out­side and felt cov­er­ing most of the in­te­rior and dash­board.

Af­ter get­ting com­fort­able be­hind the wheel, it was time to get a feel for what BMW has been work­ing on for the past few years. But many ques­tions about spec­i­fi­ca­tions went unan­swered; all we were told was that the cars had twin-tur­bocharged straight-six en­gines. The power out­put was not dis­closed, but it was more than suf­fi­cient to get the 7 Se­ries go­ing very swiftly.

For the first part of our pre-drive, we ne­go­ti­ated an area de­signed to sim­u­late vary­ing road con­di­tions, with a slalom through some cones thrown in for good mea­sure. A se­ries of tight S-bends is not some­thing a big lux­ury saloon, built pri­mar­ily for the com­fort of its pas­sen­gers, would nec­es­sar­ily tackle with aplomb. But BMWS have al­ways been known for their driv­ing dy­nam­ics and the new 7 Se­ries cer­tainly doesn’t dis­ap­point.

One of the key goals in de­sign­ing the new car was to build on the car­bon-fi­bre tech­nol­ogy BMW de­vel­oped for its elec­tric and hy­brid mod­els, the i3 and the i8. That tech­nol­ogy has helped de­liver a sig­nif­i­cant de­crease in weight, with the new car tip­ping the scales at 1,770 kilo­grams, 130 fewer than the cur­rent 7 Se­ries. As well as the chas­sis’ car­bon core, engi­neers worked on re­duc­ing the weight of ev­ery el­e­ment that could be light­ened with­out com­pro­mis­ing safety or qual­ity, right down to the en­gine’s in­su­la­tion. The re­sult is cer­tainly per­cep­ti­ble in the han­dling; the 7 Se­ries slith­ered through the slalom much more nim­bly than you’d ex­pect from a ve­hi­cle of its di­men­sions.

Of course, elec­tronic de­vel­op­ments are also an im­por­tant part of the 7 Se­ries’ evo­lu­tion. There’s a new In­te­gral Ac­tive Steer­ing sys­tem, and a Dy­namic Drive roll-sta­bil­i­sa­tion sys­tem, which means the rear wheels steer as well, con­tribut­ing to the car’s agility. The air-based sus­pen­sion adapts to the road con­di­tions ac­cord­ing to the mode you choose: Com­fort, Sport and Eco Pro. These are now joined by a fourth mode, Adap­tive, in which the car will sense, from your driv­ing in­puts and data about the road ahead gleaned from the GPS sys­tem, the best set­tings for the sus­pen­sion, throt­tle and steer­ing re­sponse, and even the ride height.

The elec­tronic wiz­ardry is also ap­plied to the safety sys­tems, though some fea­tures are more ap­pli­ca­ble to long-dis­tance driv­ing than to our typ­i­cal Hong Kong com­mutes. You can in­struct the 7 Se­ries to main­tain a cer­tain speed and dis­tance rel­a­tive to the car in front, and to main­tain its po­si­tion within a lane. The driver ul­ti­mately re­tains con­trol; the steer­ing wheel will gen­tly try to guide you, but the

ONE OF THE KEY GOALS IN DE­SIGN­ING THE NEW CAR WAS TO BUILD ON THE CAR­BON­FI­BRE TECH­NOL­OGY BMW DE­VEL­OPED FOR ITS ELEC­TRIC AND HY­BRID MOD­ELS, THE I3 AND I8

force ap­plied comes across as a sug­ges­tion rather than an in­struc­tion.

The in­ter­nal radar and cam­eras that guide the car also de­liver au­to­mated driver­less park­ing. Pull up in front of a nar­row park­ing space—say, one where you wouldn’t be able to open the doors once parked—step out of the cabin and the car will do the rest. There are lim­i­ta­tions, of course: the an­gle of the car to the park­ing spot must be within 10 de­grees, and the car will not move more than 1.5 times its length. Given that the av­er­age park­ing spot has not grown in pro­por­tion with the di­men­sions of mod­ern cars, this could prove a handy fea­ture.

Back in the cabin, there’s lit­tle to be ex­plained about the new Touch Dis­play of the 7 Se­ries, given the per­va­sive­ness of such in­ter­faces in our day-to-day lives. The con­trols are all very straight­for­ward and work as ex­pected. But the ges­ture con­trols are some­thing else. Sen­sors en­able the car to de­tect when you’re mov­ing your hand in a par­tic­u­lar way to is­sue a com­mand. While the ex­tent of con­trol is lim­ited at the mo­ment, it will surely de­velop fur­ther.

You can ac­cept a phone call by point­ing and mov­ing your fin­ger to­wards the screen, or re­ject it with a swipe of the hand. Ro­tat­ing your fin­ger in the air con­trols the vol­ume, and a two-fin­gered prod ac­ti­vates a pre-set in­struc­tion of your choice, for ex­am­ple, pulling up the nav­i­ga­tion sys­tem. As in­ter­face sys­tems ad­vance, it’s nat­u­ral that BMW would seek to make the se­lec­tion of var­i­ous op­tions as in­tu­itive as pos­si­ble; the com­bi­na­tion of the touch dis­play, ges­ture con­trol, voice con­trol and old-school phys­i­cal con­trol, which are not mu­tu­ally ex­clu­sive, means they are easy to learn.

The 7 Se­ries pre-drive whet­ted my ap­petite, not only for the car’s for­mal launch, but also in an­tic­i­pa­tion of the ap­pli­ca­tion of some of these tech­nolo­gies in fu­ture BMW mod­els. In the 7 Se­ries, BMW has achieved an ex­cel­lent bal­ance be­tween the com­fort of a lux­u­ri­ous saloon and the dy­namic en­gi­neer­ing elan that’s long been its rai­son d’être.

closer look The new 7 Se­ries is much lighter, weigh­ing 130 kilo­grams less than the 1,770 kilo­grams of the cur­rent model

new look Clock­wise from left: The new BMW flag­ship is swift and speedy, although an ex­act power out­put was not dis­closed; the new Adap­tive driv­ing mode senses the best sus­pen­sion set­tings; a car­bon core is at the cen­tre of the car’s de­sign; the car’s in­te­rior is state of the art, with Touch Dis­play and ges­ture con­trols

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