BMW 7 Series

Behind the bells and whistles lurks a deeply impressive car

STEPHEN CORBY

FIRST AUSSIE DRIVE

JUST about every car company claims to have a ‘smart’ key of some kind, but they’re all going to look like fob slobs next to the iPhone-esque Display Key the iPhone-esque Display Key offered with the new 7 Series.

Fitted with a lushly graphical touchscreen, this next-gen gadget can tell you remotely how much range you have left, ‘precondition’ your vehicle before you get to it on a hot day, remote start and, once BMW gets around some tricky local regulations, will even be used to park your cruiser-sized car remotely in tight spaces.

And, most importantly of all, it will be quite simply the coolest car key to drop on a bar, or a conference table – no contest.

This is merely the smallest of the leaps forward the new Seven makes, alongside gesture control, a carbonfibre core lifted from the sexy i8 supercar (saving up to 130kg), semi-autonomous steering, an integrated tablet for rear-seat passengers, and laser headlights that double your effective high-beam distance from 300m to 600m.

BMW says the profile of its 7 Series buyers has changed in recent years, and that while they are still captains of industry, they’re much more tech-savvy and innovation friendly than they were when the contentious iDrive controller was launched in 2001.

Perhaps the car’s most instantly striking achievement, though, is an old-fashioned one; its design. This sixth-generation of the biggest BMW has grown just 19mm in length but remains whale-like in proportion.

Designers have struggled to make the 7 Series look good in the past, but this one is definitely more Charlize Theron than Venus Williams, with a striking rear end and a bold kidney grille.

The overall effect is one of prestige and power, and the stylistic deftness carries over to the cabin, which feels more luxurious and more advanced (see sidebar).

BMW likes to claim that its limo is the most driver-focused and involving in the segment, and the new twin-turbo V8, straight six and diesel engines, aided by less mass to shift, certainly deliver. The quiet 730d is a particular highlight, delivering 195kW and 620Nm from its 3.0-litre six and an almost unfeasible fuel economy figure of 4.9L/100km.

The steering is suitably regal and yet typically BMW in its muscular feedback, which makes it far more fun to drive than a Rolls-Royce Ghost, for example.

What must be an interesting discussion for the two conjoined companies is how well a 7 Series is allowed to ride. The engineers have the technology to give their luxury model the famous waftiness, but choose a slightly sportier set-up, with two-axle air suspension with automatic self-levelling. The result is a controlled balance and an ability to filter out big bumps and small imperfections with equal ease.

Standard on the 750i and fitted as a $5000 option on cars we drove is Executive Drive Pro, which is a form of active electromechanical roll stabilisation. It uses cameras to scan the road ahead for potholes and pre-adjusts the suspension in milliseconds to prepare.

This, like so much of the new 7 Series, is the kind of next-level technology that makes your inner geek smile.

BMW Australia has thus seen fit to raise prices, with the 730d up $11,300 to $217,500; the 740i up $11,925 to $224,200 and the 750i just $6070 more at $289,600.

However, in this league, price is often an afterthought and the lasting impression is of a car that has truly raised the bar.

PLUS & MINUS

Semi-autonomous steering; ‘gesture technology’ questionable Powerful, economical engines; driving dynamics; ride; overall poshness Model Engine Max power Max torque Transmission Weight 0-100km/h Economy Price On sale elerenthyee BMW 750i 4395cc V8 (90°), dohc, 32v, twin-turbo 330kW @ 5500-6000rpm 650Nm @ 1800-4500rpm 8-speed automatic 1820kg 4.7sec (claimed) 8.1L/100km $289,600 Now

01 FOR THE LONG HAUL

High-pile carpets are borrowed from sister company Rolls-Royce (they don’t feel quite that plush), while the excellent seats feature pillow-like headrests and an optional massage function ($2K) that’s really quite pleasant.

02 SIGN LANGUAGE

Turning a knob is considered hard work these days, so Gesture Control allows you to increase the volume by simply twiddling your finger in the air, and answer or reject a call with a flick of your hand.

03 SPORTS APPEAL

The M Sport package (above right), which was previously ticked by 85 percent of buyers (the highest take-up in the world), despite costing $10,000, is now a no-cost option.

Bum steer

BMW’s “semiautonomous” steering is one of those things you’ll use a few times, to impress your friends, and then quite likely disregard forever. Yes, in theory, it can keep you in your lane by reading road markings and adjusting the wheel (as long as your hand is resting lightly upon it), but the way it takes repeated bites at a bend is disconcerting to say the least, as was the one occasion it tried to steer us off the road. For now, at least, do the driving yourself.

OR TRY THESE...

Mercedes-Benz S500 $286,600

Long praised for its pioneering tech, the S-Class is the Beemer’s match with its myriad gadgets and super-luxe factor. The big Benz combines agility and comfort with superb refinement and quality. It’s also just as expensive as a 7 Series.

Audi S8 quattro $280,610

Despite being much longer in the tooth, the big Audi’s sumptuous cabin continues to shine. Ingolstadt also offers its full-noise 382kW S8 quattro for the same ask as its rival’s entry-level V8s, meaning 0-100km/h in a searing 4.1sec.