How BMW have shifted the focus on new 7-series flagship
BMW have shifted the focus, spread the load, broadened the horizon - call it what you will - with their new 7-series flagship.
It was always a car to drive. And I liked it for that. Now it is just as much a car to be driven in.
Here's what I discovered after a couple of days driving, and being driven in it, around the Duore valley in northern Portugal.
First off, and to be blunt, it doesn't look an awful lot different to the current one. They have used a lot of chrome at the front, back and sides to lighten it up. With moderate success, I'd say.
M Sport models do get an aerodynamic package with front/rear aprons, side skirts, 19ins alloys, illuminated door sills etc.
The cabin is a different story altogether. This is now more of a match for the Mercedes S-Class, Jaguar XJ and Audi A8 with Nappa leather standard; excellent, strong, comfortable seats, lots of tasty inlays and a great sweep to the dash.
This is the sixth-generation 7-series and it arrives in Ireland on October 24. It will cost from €96,880 on-the-road. That's €4,500 more than the current one but there is, as BMW would strongly argue, a lot more to it. Not least the new-generation 3-litre diesel.
I also drove the all-wheel-drive (xDrive) version and I'd go for it, as it gave the car an intense sense of grip and hold. It will cost you €5,030 more.
They've used a lot of carbon-fibre reinforced plastic (CFRP), ultra-high-tensile steel, aluminium etc to make it lighter. Aluminium is used in parts of the body, chassis, doors, bootlid and suspension too.
Yet almost the first thing I noticed about it was the amount of rear-seat room in the 730d. Later I sat into a long-wheelbase (5,238mm, or 140mm extra) version, pushed a few buttons and found myself nicely stretched out with the feet up (on a footrest that comes out from the back of the front seat).
I had my own tablet, as well as two 10ins screens to watch whatever I wanted or control the temperature or audio - nearly everything to be frank. This Executive Lounge Seating system will be an option from next July.
So why would I be bothered driving with all that to enjoy in the back of the largest series-produced car they have built?
Well, there was that 730d 6cyl in-line diesel purring out there (up 7hp to 265hp, 620Nm) and, in the case of the long wheelbase 750iL, that 4.4-litre V8.
So I got back to the driving behind that big steering wheel. On the road, it was agile and quick with excellent feedback. The double-joint front and five-link rear axle suspension includes a self-levelling air system as standard as well as Variable Damper Control.
The 8spd Steptronic slipped through the gears while the diesel was full of pulling power. The petrol was sharp with a great spread of pull too. Both are meaner and cleaner, as you'd expect.
The electric power steering gave me plenty of feel; interesting Active Steering option with all-wheel drive - it lets the rear wheels turn in either direction so you get extra manoeuvrability.
There will be two plug-in hybrids next year: the 740e, and 740Le. They'll have a 2-litre petrol and an electric drive integrated into the transmission to give a total output of 326hp (600km range).
They claim 134.5mpg and 49g/km (€170 road tax). Power comes from a lithium-ion battery pack under the rear seat. They reckon on 40km with electric power only.
Boot capacity (515 litres) falls to 420litres in the plug-in because of the re-located 46-litre fuel tank.
I remember when the first iDrive appeared in the 7-series. There was consternation. Now? Well now it's everywhere - and it works in tandem with a touch display (12.3ins multifunctional is standard).
The next 'big thing' could be Gesture Control: Your hand movements are interpreted by 3D sensors. So, by making certain gestures with your fingers near - but not touching the controls - you instruct it to lower the volume, control the 3D view display and take or reject phone calls etc. By the way there is a special universal slot to charge your phone. It worked, mostly.
And there is a huge spread of active and passive safety elements (front, side, head/curtain airbags for the front and rear seats etc) and all sorts of alert and avoidance systems.
But let's switch to the back again for a moment. That 7ins tablet I mentioned remember? You can take it with you to any seat - or even when you leave. Not alone can you control seat adjustment, air con (automatic 4-zone), infotainment, navigation and communications, you can surf the net with it too thanks to a WiFi hotspot built into the vehicle.
Back to the front one last time.
Driving on big long bendy roads, we soaked up the miles at a brisk cruise and when we got to the twisty mountain stretches, the chassis thrived.
It still is a driver's car; most definitely. Yet the overriding impression is now two-fold. It is a car you'd want to drive but what a way to be driven as well.