By: Denis Droppa
Porto, Portugal - Nowhere is automotive one-upmanship more prevalent than in the BMW 7 Series corner of the market.
This is the big boys’ playground, where luxury German limousines like the 7 Series, Mercedes-Benz S-Class and Audi A8 compete feverishly to be at the apex of luxury and technical innovation, in an all-out war to entice mega-money clients into their plush double-glazed cabins.
In a market segment where excellence is a starting point, rising above the herd takes more than a few trinkets and gadgets. Semi-autonomous driving features are becoming the norm in this segment, and like its great rival, the Mercedes S-Class, the new 7 Series is able to partially drive itself by keeping a safe following distance in traffic and using a self-steering aid to stay in its lane.
It also has active air suspension with stiffness modes that alternatively transform it from a plush-riding limo to a sports sedan.
But the sixth-generation Seven has added some clever new tech to the convenience menu, starting with a self-parking feature that lets the driver stand outside the car and lets it drive itself into a narrow bay using the remote-control keyring.
Laser lights, which made their world premiere in the BMW i8 and with a range of 600 metres are double that of LED headlamps, are available as an option.
ADVANCED GADGETS, LAZYBOY SEATING
Also new in the 7 Series is a gesture control system that allows certain infotainment functions to be controlled without touching a button. With the aid of a ceiling-mounted sensor that tracks hand movements, twirling your finger clockwise in the air raises the audio volume and counter-clockwise reduces it; and swiping your hand left or right answers or rejects an incoming phone call.
Along with a central screen which is now touch-operated, the new Seven has an enhanced user interface which offers several ways to access the various infotainment functions including voice activation and the traditional iDrive knob. Also as a new feature, a smartphone holder in the centre console allows a mobile phone to be charged wirelessly for the first time in a BMW.
The rear seats, where many chauffeur-driven execs will spend most of their time, also lay on the luxury and high-tech. In the long-wheelbase 7 Series with the Executive Lounge option pack fitted, rear passengers can fully stretch their legs and perch them on a footrest built into the front passenger seat, getting the full lazyboy experience.
With the Executive Lounge pack the ventilated rear seats have adjustable backrests and offer several massage programmes, and it’s all controlled by a tablet device mounted in a smart-looking brushed-metal console between the two rear seats. The tablet, which is detachable, also controls the window shades, sunroof, and entertainment system.
Perceived quality in the cabin of BMW’s new flagship sedan has moved a couple of steps up the luxury ladder, with new metal-finish buttons and speaker covers that a add a dash of class to the Seven’s sober opulence.
For a touch of ethereal glamour, long-wheelbase versions are offered with a Sky Lounge Panorama glass roof which at night projects a starry sky onto the glass surface. The light show continues with a ‘Welcome Light Carpet’ that illuminates a path to the car doors.
LARGER YET LIGHTER
Underpinning all this glitz is a car that, for all its chauffeuring aspirations, delivers on BMW’s philosophy of producing cars that are satisfying to drive.
Built of steel, aluminium, and (for the first time) carbonfibre-reinforced plastic (CFRP), the new Seven is up to 130kg lighter than its predecessor despite growing slightly in size – a weight saving that improves cornering agility.
Together with the aforementioned active air suspension, which is standard across the range, it’s a car that felt calmly self-assured in a variety of road conditions when I drove it in Portugal at the international media launch last week. Whether presented with a smooth, straight highway or a twisty mountain pass with ripples in the surface, BMW’s flagship whisked over it with finesse.
The effect of sitting in a padded cocoon is enhanced by its tranquil progress over all kinds of surfaces, and the double-glazed glass supresses exterior noise to library-like levels. The air suspension can be set to ultra-waft comfort mode or a tauter sport setting, and can also be manually raised 20mm to clear steep parking ramps.
The new 7 Series will be available in four engine derivatives when it goes on sale in South Africa next year. In January the 730d, 740i, and 750i versions arrive, to be followed in the third quarter of the year by the 740e plug-in hybrid.
The two I drove in Portugal were the 730d and the 750iL.
With 195kW and 620Nm, the diesel-engined 730d is an easy-cruising dreamliner with a sudued thirst. On our test drive it averaged 8 litres per 100km although BMW claims 4.7 litres is possible. With a claimed 6.1 second 0-100km/h sprint and governed 250km/h top speed, this refined oil burner is not short of lusty peformance.
But it’s the petrol-engined 750iL flagship that delivers the best combination of silent sizzle, with its 4.4-litre twin-turbo V8 flexing 330kW and 650Nm muscles for a claimed 0-100 in just 4.5 seconds. The 8.3-litre fuel consumption claim is, once again, highly optimistic, but sub-ten figures are possibly attainable with ultra-conservative driving.
In Europe and other markets the new 7 Series will also be available with all-wheel drive, but South Africa will only have rear-wheel driven versions.
The following derivatives will be available when the new 7 Series goes on sale here in January 2016:
BMW 730d: R1 346 628
BMW 740i: R1 322 988
BMW 750i: R1 735 566
BMW 750Li: R1 869 374
(These prices are subject to change)
The remote-control parking option will only be made available on the 730d from November production and then on the rest of the models from March 2016 production. Part of the Executive Lounge (folding front passenger seat) will only be made available in South Africa with cars ordered from July 2016 production.