- Driving chops
- Ability to sooth
- Turbocharged V-8
- Rear legroom
- Rear-wheel steering option
- Gesture control of infotainment system
- Head-up display
- Night vision
- Tablet for most functions
- Navigation/transmission connection
There are two versions of the '16 BMW 7 Series. One is a remarkably agile driver's machine sporting effortless speed and precision dynamics, especially when fitted with the optional rear-wheel steering system. The other is a serene, cosseting luxury conveyance packed to the gills with sybaritic features such as reclining/massaging seats and fragranced ionized air. The funny thing is, they both appear to exist in the same space and time.
From the rear seats, particularly the one behind the front passenger, virtually every road-trip requirement is met by the executive seating package. It starts by plunking one's butt onto fine leather upholstery; pressing a button to send the front seat as far forward as possible (including that seatback's subservient bow); adjusting headrest height, recline angle, and footrest position; then deciding on whether to activate the ambient lighting system or the powered sunshades.
To work, fold out the aircraft-style metal table housed in the center console. To be entertained, select anything from AM radio to Blu-ray video, or get on the web. Held in place by a couple of motorized metal clips is a tablet that provides control over most of the car's functions, while also allowing the download and use of various apps. Click the (optional) tablet back in its home and the clips automatically whirr into action.
It's possible to reel off a list of luxury features from now until next week, which is why the company offers a "second delivery" service. After some time spent with their new ride, customers can request a technician to come back over and reiterate, clarify, and/or expand on the kaleidoscope of a kit that makes up this new generation (the sixth) of BMW's flagship sedan.
After all, it has to compete with the Mercedes-Benz S-Class, one of the most impressive collections of automotive technology to ever hit the pavement. These archrivals share many things in common. Cameras, sonar, and radar sensors to help with parking, blind-spot monitoring, collision prevention, accident avoidance, lane-keeping assistance, traffic jam assist, intelligent cruise control, road sign recognition, road surface reading, and adaptive suspensions. Then there's the high-quality materials, attention to detail, luxurious touches, and audiophile-grade sound system. The one in the BMW is by Bowers & Wilkins.
Sliding out from the back and buckling into the driver seat is how to discover the "other" 7 Series. Electric motors enable the perfect seat and steering wheel positions. The chair itself is not the typically Teutonic firm but supportive type. It's comfortable and supportive instead. And it still does the massage thing. The buttons in the dash are covered in metal, contributing to the air of a futuristic craft. Forward visibility is superb, thanks to BMW bucking the common trend of wide A-pillars and making thin ones. It can do this because of carbon fiber and an ingenious shell (see sidebar).
Turn off the radio, maybe even slide the window down, and that subdued-yet-thrilling sound is 445 hp and 480 lb-ft of torque being developed by an all-aluminum twin-turbo 4.8L V-8. Initial acceleration probably isn't a major buying factor in a luxury sedan, but pushing 4,600 pounds of curb weight from zero to 60 mph only takes 4.3 seconds. This is in the all-wheel-drive 750i xDrive; the rear-drive 740i uses a 3.0 turbo straight-six and still doesn't ask the driver to be that much more patient.
Notice there's no L in those model designations. The new 7 Series will be sold in the United States as a long-wheelbase version only, but won't be labeled as such. Maybe that was the badge department's way of keeping weight down. All-wheel drive, called xDrive in BMW-speak, is also available for both engines.
Driving in comfort mode provides a ride that isn't compromised in the slightest by run-flat tires. The Bridgestones here do a pretty grand job of gripping as well. The new 7 employs air suspension at both ends, but the steering is too light and feels too detached from the action in this mode. There has to be electric steering these days to enable the semi-autonomous safety features, of which there are many available (and facilitate eventual full autonomy). With important clients on board, this should be fine.
On solo trips, press the Sport button by the shift lever and things improve noticeably. The steering weights up and the body flattens its cornering aspect even more. Get into the new generation of iDrive, which is now especially easy to use, and there's the option of storing a custom setting, like keeping the suspension at maximum pleasantness while adding some attitude to the steering.
Why not go for the Autobahn Package as well? This bundle of options includes Active Road Review (cameras and sensors that "read" the road then adapt the suspension to suit) and rear-wheel steering—which BMW calls Integrated Active Steering. It's this latter feature that really helps to make the 7 feel comparatively nimble. With this setup, the car doesn't defy the laws of physics so much as juggle with them, having first set them on fire. Yet it appears to be doing nothing out of the ordinary at all. Never once does it seem stressed or stretched. Integrated Active Steering is also a stand-alone option and works with rear- or all-wheel drive.
It's hard to believe an all-new vehicle with such an impressive portfolio of gadgets would be the beneficiary of trickle-down tech, but here it is. First seen in the Rolls-Royce Wraith (BMW owns Rolls-Royce, remember), the new 7 has an eight-speed automatic transmission that's connected to the satellite navigation system. The car "knows" what's coming up—inclines, curves, traffic, etc.—and selects the appropriate gear, taking into account such disparate elements as power requirements and fuel economy. That's not in the S-Class.
For better or worse, BMW design has often been a subject of discussion and strong opinions. The man overseeing the new 7 is Karim Habib, who went to the same art college in Pasadena as, oh, loads of people. And Chris Bangle. Habib has given the car what he says is the largest double kidney grille ever (well, certainly in recent times), an aluminum frame to trace around the windows and the obligatory Hofmeister kink, and even the quietest side mirror BMW has ever produced. Behind those big kidneys, incidentally, are active grille shutters for better aerodynamics on the freeway, another first for the company.
Setting new precedents is something the 7 does a lot. For example (and in line with other luxury sedans), there's the chance to personalize the car through color, material, and equipment choices. The company enables customers to "elevate luxury to levels previously unseen in a BMW."
One thing that won't cost extra for buyers in the United States is a panoramic sunroof, which might tempt them to go for the optional (but really pretty) LEDs set inside the glass. This roof also has a smart rain sensor. If a careless owner has parked their 7 and left the sunroof open, the system will automatically close it in the event of a downpour.
Other gadgetry includes a large, full-color head-up display (somewhat faint while wearing polarized sunglasses, but apparently that's unavoidable) and decent voice recognition (on the test drive, it obeyed commands straight away). The touchscreen has pinch-to-zoom functions, but it's also possible to control the phone and audio with gesture controls.
Imagine an area the size of a shoebox just below the rearview mirror. Point toward the screen option of accepting a phone call with an outstretched finger and the conversation can begin. Don't want to take the call? Use a swiping action. Turn the music up with a clockwise finger motion, turn down by going counter-clockwise. There's also a customizable gesture for a frequent command, such as telling the navigation to "take me home." In the center console is a space for wirelessly charging a smartphone, or the smart key. This key is an ingenious little device with remote control for several functions.
The Mercedes-Benz S-Class usually outsells all its rivals combined, even when the previous generation was in its last model year. Not just keen drivers, but anyone looking at the luxo-class should absolutely consider the BMW 7 Series.
- Surprising agility
- More spacious and luxurious than previous 7 models
- Cutting-edge tech above and below the skin
- Considering it achieves everything it set out to do, there really are no cons
Come Into the Shell
Beneath the new 7 Series' gleaming chrome and lustrous paintwork is the bare metal shell, what carmakers call the "body in white." Only this one isn't all metal and it's not all white. Those highly intelligent and deeply dedicated engineers at BMW have been looking at how to make the shell both stronger and lighter. In some places there's high-strength steel; in others, like the strut towers, die-cast aluminum. The cross-member behind the dash is magnesium. For the A-pillars, carbon-fiber tubes run from where the hood would be up and over to the C-pillar. Carbon fiber is also used in the roof (with positive effects on the overall center of gravity), as well as reinforcement along the transmission tunnel and rocker panels.
Carbon fiber has usually been the preserve of esoteric, low-volume sports cars. BMW is bringing it into the mainstream and deploying various construction techniques—like adhesives, rivets or bolts (sometimes adhesives and rivets or bolts, along with time-honored welding)—to meld materials with differing characteristics into one perfectly functioning entity. The 7 is the first to benefit from this radical approach. No doubt many future BMW vehicles shall also be made this way. And other manufacturers will surely follow.
On top of this structure are door panels, hood and trunk lid all fashioned from aluminum. The new shell is 88 pounds lighter than its predecessor and the whole car is 286 pounds lighter. That's like an adult and a trunk full of luggage. Every department has had to create some weight-saving measures, from seat design to the exhaust system. Unsprung weight is reduced by 15 percent. And as we all appreciate, less weight will improve dynamics as well as fuel consumption, while a rigid body allows suspension wizards to make even finer tunes.
Factor in BMW's renowned balance and driving chops, and the result is a large luxury sedan that still feels poised and agile. What manufacturer would really launch its flagship at a track? BMW did, and it was far from the frustrating exercise in ponderous weight transference one might reasonably expect for a vehicle in this segment.