By: Jesse Adams
Cape Town - Rarely has a lyrical earworm been more appropriate. The song Asleep at the Wheel by the Bloodhound Gang is on permanent repeat, looping round and round in my head.
I’m in the driver’s seat of BMW’s new 7 Series, with all of its semi-autonomous driving aids switched on, cruising up the N1 from Cape Town to Paarl... and my eyes are closed.
I’m not actually asleep, of course. That would be irresponsible. Maybe illegal too, although I’m not sure a specific law has yet been made against the act of dreaming and driving. Still, Beemer’s latest luxury flagship is able and willing to take all control from me, steering, braking, accelerating and keeping a safe following distance from the car in front, all by itself as long as long at least one of my fingers remains on the wheel.
I’m extremely impressed with the new technologies available right now in BMW showrooms, but I’m also a tad concerned with how easy it could have been to doze off for real during my scientific experiment. Scary.
These so-called driver assistance systems, make up just a very small portion of an astounding suite of features designed to make driving, or riding, in the sixth-generation 7 Series a more pleasurable experience. Yes, all the usual creature comforts are here: heated, cooled and massaging seats, four-wheel air suspension, window shades, and 16-speaker stereo systems.
But then it goes a few steps further, with features such as remote-control parking, laser headlights, wireless phone charging (not for Apple devices), smart keys with full-colour touchscreens, and the ability to raise and lower volume by simply twirling a finger in the air, taking it into a new league of lavishness.
Immediately Merc’s S-Class, a car which claimed to be the best in the world when it was launched two years ago, comes to mind. And yes, some of the S’s hoity-toity gimmicks have migrated east from Stuttgart to Munich.
But where the Benz can fill its cabin with a soothing perfume, the 7 can do the same with two fragrances - either separately or at the same time. Where the S-Class has colour changing interior mood lighting, the BMW gets a multiple colour setup with far more room for customisation.
Where the Merc boasts two optional back seat entertainment screens, the Beemer gets these plus a removable tablet which can, in case you were wondering, be loaded with Angry Birds (or other games).
Without getting too far involved in an S versus 7 comparison (we’ll hopefully do that in a later issue), the point is that we have another contender for the most tech-laden, fancy-pants, party trick-packed car in the world.
And, it’s the party tricks which a group of uninvited rubberneckers at the 7 Series’ launch in Cape Town last week, were most interested in. In particular the key and its cute little colour display.
It’s a fairly bulky device as far as most car keys go, but it’s definitely an attention-getter. Here it’s possible to remotely check fuel range, turn lights on, and set times to activate the cabin’s fan to get air circulating before boarding among other things - all on top of normal key functions, obviously. If the car is fitted with optional remote parking (available for order from March), this key also serves as a transmitter for forward and reverse controls.
Because the new 7 Series comes with a host of exterior cameras and sensors as standard equipment, the remote parking option is surprisingly affordable at only R7200.
Another talking point among onlookers was BMW’s new gesture control system for activation of certain functions by hand movement only. As mentioned, a finger twirl can adjust volume, but side to side mid-air swipes can also accept or reject incoming phone calls. A two-fingered jab toward the central touchscreen can be programmed for a number of specific functions including music track skips or as a sort of hotkey for ‘take-me-home’ in the navigation menu.
The dash-mounted touchscreen is also a first for any BMW model, but most inputs can still be performed with a familiar iDrive control knob in the console.
Four new models are available from launch, including a turbodiesel 730d with 195kW/620Nm, a three-litre turbopetrol 740i with 240kW/450Nm, and a twin-turbo 4.4 V8 with 330kW/650Nm, available in both 750i and long-wheelbase 750Li guises.
A plug-in hybrid variant and a range-topping 760Li should also become available later in 2015. All versions come with eight-speed auto gearboxes.
I got a chance to drive the 730d and 740i at the South African launch, and I admit to being a little surprised that this car, which can drive itself, also faithfully abides by BMW’s ‘Sheer Driving Pleasure’ tagline when all of its ultra-modern assistance systems are turned off. Both engines unfurl immense amounts of silky smooth torque right across their rev ranges, and over the notoriously bendy Franschoek Pass, the larney land yachts did well to hide their bulk while carving from one corner to the next.
Big, luxury sedans such as this aren’t usually fun to hustle up and down a mountain pass, but this one certainly is with its sportiest suspension, steering and transmission settings dialled in.
But then, tune these settings over to their comfiest positions, and the 7 can also hover its way from one destination to the next in supreme solace – with either you, or it, at the helm.
730d - R1 366 629
740i - R1 342 488
750i - R1 761 566
750Li R1 900 374
These are for base models only, with higher spec Pure Excellence and M Sport packages available at extra cost. - Star Motoring
Follow Jesse Adams on Twitter @PoorBoyLtd