Friday 9 December 2016

Reviewed: Seven things you should know about BMW’s new 7-series

Published 28/08/2015 | 00:01

BMW’s new 7-series.
BMW’s new 7-series.

Eddie Cunningham has just been driving BMW’s new luxury flagship on the roads and around the hills near Porto in Portugal. Here’s his First-Look, First-Drive report.

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1. What and when

*The sixth generation BMW flagship arrives in Ireland on October 24 and will cost from €96,880 on-the-road. It has equipment that ranges from the super-technical to the sinfully luxurious (more of that anon  – See 5 and 6).

*It is 130kg lighter because they use materials such as carbon-fibre reinforced plastic (CFRP), ultra-high-tensile steel and aluminium. The carbon-core body, as they call, it is stronger but lighter. Aluminium is used in parts of the body, chassis, doors, bootlid and suspension.

*There are standard and long wheelbase versions. The wheelbase of the extended version is 14cm longer (now 5,238mm – you can nearly stretch out). The standard car is 5,098mm. 

*It is the largest series-produced car the brand has built. Ever. 

Interior of BMW’s new 7-series
Interior of BMW’s new 7-series

*The trim strips and instrument panel’s chrome surrounds are made individually for each car; dimensions are matched to the nearest millimetre. 

*There’s a lot of chrome on the outside too. I mean a lot. I think it helps the car look fresher. There are those who wouldn’t agree.

*M Sport models have a special aerodynamic package with front/rear aprons, side skirts, 19ins alloys, illuminated door sills.

2. The technical low down 

*It has an xDrive four-wheel-drive option for the first time. I had it on the sumptuous 750Li this morning in grimy, wet, foggy conditions. Gripped really well. 

*Wheel sizes range from 18ins to 21ins.

*The new-generation 6cyl in-line diesel 3-litre (standard 730d) and long wheelbase 730Ld are up 7hp to 265hp.  

*Lots of pulling power in the diesel. That’s the one most people in Ireland are going to buy. Peak torque is now an impressive 620Nm. Fuel consumption and emissions are much lower. The 3-litre petrol in the 740Li is also up 7hp to 326hp,

BMW’s new 7-series
BMW’s new 7-series

*There are two new plug-in hybrids: the 740e, and 740Le: They use a 2-litre petrol engine and an electric drive integrated into the 8spd Steptronic transmission. That gives a total system output of 326hp and a range of 600km. We’ll see it next year.

Fuel consumption is a claimed 134.5mpg; emissions are just 49g/km.  A lithium-ion battery pack under the rear seat provides the power for the electric motor. It can be recharged by connecting to a domestic socket or a BMW Wallbox or at public charging stations. 

You can adjust modes from a central button: AUTO eDrive boosts the engine when accelerating; MAX eDrive runs on electric power only (up to 120kmh for 40km and Battery Control mode which keeps the state of charge as you desire.

*The boot has a capacity 515 litres. In the plug-in hybrids it is lower (420 litres) because the 46-litre fuel tank intrudes. You do notice the difference in space. 

*There is a new transmission control system for slicker shifting. You can order an 8spd Steptronic Sport transmission with shift paddles on the steering wheel as an option.

3. Handling, ride and that sort of thing

*The double-joint front and five-link rear axle suspension includes a self-levelling air suspension system as standard.

*You can also set ride height to your preference or as road conditions dictate.

*Variable Damper Control is also standard and improves ride while sharpening the handling.

*There is an option active chassis control system which reduces roll when taking bends at speed. And the car has electric power steering.

*Active Steering is also an option with all-wheel drive for the first time. This lets the rear wheels turn in either direction and gives great manoeuvrability at low speeds as well as letting you place it really well at high speed cornering.

*Active Cruise Control with Stop & Go lets you automatically drive within the detected speed limit. No excuses any more.

*There is a coasting function which decouples the powertrain while travelling between 50kmh and 161kmh.  

4. In the cabin

*The iDrive operating system’s monitor is now manifested as a touch display as well.

*There is a hands-free phone system and Bluetooth audio. 

*There is a special universal slot to charge your phone.

*A 12.3ins multifunctional instrument display is standard.

*As well as the usual, you can control seat heating etc.

*The 4-zone automatic air-con has separate controls in the rear. That’s standard.

*Loved the excellent electronic lumbar support. 

5. Sinful stuff – why bother driving?

*You can pick the seat- massage function that suits you best from a menu of eight. 

*By next July there will be Executive Lounge Seating. This lets you recline the rear seats to a 42.5 degrees angle, the front passenger seat can slide forward an extra 90mm, its backrest can be tilted all the way forward and the head restraint folded down. I’m 6ft 2ins and I could nearly stretch full-length with this. Who’d be bothered driving?  Take the wheel Thomas.

*That’s not all: It also automatically extracts a fold-out footrest from the back of the front passenger seat.  

*And the system adjusted the rear-seat entertainment system screen to suit me as I reclined.

*There is a rear-seat entertainment ‘Experience’ system with two 10ins screens.

*If the standard electric glass roof isn’t big enough for you in the long-wheelbase versions you can order a two-section Panoramic roof.  Or the Sky Lounge Panoramic glass roof which uses LED modules to create the effect of a starlit sky.

*You can choose one of six colours for the standard Nappa leather upholstery.

6. More sinful stuff

*There is a fold-out table, two cupholders and a storage compartment for back-seat occupants too. Did I mention there is a lot of room back there?

*Also ‘back there’ is the new 7ins Touch Command tablet which you can take with you to any seat - or even when you leave. 

*With it you can control seat adjustment, air con (automatic 4-zone), infotainment, navigation and communications as well as playing external audio and video files, games or surfing the internet. As I said, who’d be bothered driving?

*The latter is possible thanks to a WiFi hotspot built into the vehicle. Which by the way means that even when I was driving along motorways or up the hills near Porto in northern Portugal, my passenger could, if so desired, send and receive emails etc. When I pulled in for a view I caught up on my emails. 

*The optional the Bowers & Wilkins Diamond surround-sound system has a 10-channel amplifier (1,400 watts) and 16 partially illuminated speakers. It was like being in a concert hall.

*If you think it is all coming up smelling of roses so far, think again. There is the option of an Ambient Air package which ionises the air and wafts selected fragrances around the cabin. It is controlled from the air con control console or the iDrive menu. I think rose petals today, Thomas.

*You can give the car the ‘two fingers’ and it will respond. It is called Gesture control. I had a bit of fun with this. Basically your hand movements are interpreted by 3D sensors. So, by making certain movements with your fingers near – but not touching the controls – you can instruct it to skip to the next song, lower the volume, control the 3D view display and accept or reject phone calls and so on. It took me a while to get used to but it worked – mostly, not always. I’m getting better at it now. Especially the gesture to lower the volume. I can’t tell you what it is. This is a family website.

7. Reality check

*Worried about parking in a really tight spot or your narrow garage where you won’t have room to open the door to get out? Then this new parking system might suit. They are claiming a world first because the car can be manoeuvred into and out of such spaces without you being in it. From outside you use your key to start the process and the car more or less takes over. It will be optional from November. I saw this working. Ideal for someone with a big car and a small garage.

*The new colour Head-Up Display area is 75pc larger – it is especially helpful with directions. I only got lost twice. Okay four times. A record low for me.

*Worried about traffic? They have a function that supports interactive traffic sign updating – a world-first they claim.

*I tried the lane-keeper device with varied success. It tracks the road markings to keep you right in the centre of the lane in which you are travelling. Worked really well at lower speeds. Technically speaking the car drove itself. I had one hand barely touching the steering wheel. 

*The Night Vision system shows people and larger animals on your display.

*The optional laser headlights (we know them from the i8) doubles the range of illumination to 600 metres.  

*There’s a huge array of airbags (front, side, head/curtain for the front and rear seats) and ISOFIX child seat mountings in the rear.

AND after all that . . .  

It wasn’t a bad car to drive either. The 7-series has always been a driver’s luxury motor. This was remarkably agile for such a large saloon and with xDrive all-wheel drive it was as good as I’ve driven in the wet.  

We swept along great winding motorways and up and around some narrow, twisty mountain roads flanked by terraced verdant vineyards. 

It is a car you want to drive – well I do anyway – and the emphasis has always been on that. 

But there is no doubt that, with this, there is a real emphasis on those occupying the rear seats. They are festooned with luxury tech.  

That’s partly because buyers in China and the US will be driven rather than drive (business people who are far too busy working to take the wheel).

BMW executives told me the proportion of long wheelbase versions can outweigh standard lengths on an 80:20 basis in some of these markets. Which helps explain the volume of back-seat room and luxury.

In Ireland most people prefer to drive cars of this size. And despite the levels of luxury and technology in the cabin, it is, I’m glad to say, still a great drive with the diesel engine impressing with its pulling power.

It will be interesting to see how it fares against its big rivals such as the Mercedes S-Class and Audi A8 in the early months of the new 161-registration period. 

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