Review: The all new BMW 7 Series
I’m always amused when I hear people complain about the latest European luxury car being too complicated. Too many features, too many buttons, they say; who needs all of this? To them I’ve always said that if you want simple, get a Corolla – the whole intention of a big new D-segment sedan is to introduce new technology to the market, features that you’ve never seen before and that, in time, will trickle down to the rest of the car market. It’s far easier, after all, to bury the expense of a new piece of tech in a luxury sedan costing north of $100,000 than it is in a mainstream $20,000 hatchback.
To be critical, therefore, of the new 7 Series because it’s complicated is to miss the point. The newest executive-class cruiser from Germany, it does, of course, lead its segment in terms of the sheer number of new systems it brings to market; the standard equipment list stretches as long as your arm, and the list of options stretches further still. From its raft of driver-assistance technologies (active cruise control to keep you a safe distance from the car in front and that can actually accelerate and brake the car in stop and go traffic; lane keeping assist that actually keeps you from drifting out of your lane) to interior features designed to sooth and relax (multiple massage programs for the seats; a choice of scents for the cabin), there’s nothing currently on the market as advanced as this car.
It’s impressive technology, but you should expect that of BMW – or indeed, of any other luxury manufacturer. What’s far more impressive is how well all of this technology is actually integrated into the car. BMW was one of the pioneers in developing integrated command-and-control systems (the E65 7 Series of 2001 ushered in iDrive, the first of such systems), and it shows. While there are some redundant switches for some of the most commonly-used items, everything else is operated through a logical series of menus and commands that can be operated either with the rotary controller on the console, through voice commands, or now through gestures in thin air – you can swipe and twirl your way through iDrive simply by waving your hand in front of the screen (Many of the controls use capacitive touch instead of actual switches, too.) Spend a little bit of time learning its logic and it’s actually quite intuitive – and better than anything else on the market right now.
Rear-seat riders get to join in the fun as well. Not only can they – should you order the rear-seat entertainment package – get individual screens with a similar interface to entertain themselves with movies, maps or the internet – but they get their own console-mounted tablet to operate all their own systems, including a crazy-good massage function. The 7’s passenger compartment is designed to be an oasis of calm and taste no matter what’s going on outside the car. At any speed, wind and road noise is barely perceptible, the Bowers & Wilkins sound system is crystal-clear, and you’re superbly cocooned in the most comfortable chairs you can imagine, surrounded by materials of impeccable taste and quality, all assembled with millimetric precision. The window and lock switches are metal, for instance, not plastic, and the cabin’s LED lighting is adjustable through a range of different shades to create just the right mood.
With all this luxury, and with the ability, thanks to active cruise that talks to the GPS that talks to the transmission (so it’s in the right gear before you even know which one you want) and the ability to self-steer to a small extent, you might think that the way the 7 Series drives is almost beside the point. But you’d be wrong. Because the way it drives is actually the reason it’s so exciting, and the reason to buy it instead of something like a Mercedes S-Class or Lexus LS, or any number of other large luxury sedans. Switch the assistants off (you’ll see a row of unlit green lights), brush the mode switch beside the gear selector past Eco Pro and Comfort and into Sport and Sport Plus, and the new 7 comes alive in your hands. It has terrific steering, powerful brakes, and with its new adaptive air suspension, it really handles, cornering flat at speeds way beyond what you’d give it credit for, while still maintaining a limousine-like ride.
This is down to BMW being BMW, of course – they’ve always been the best at making a sedan behave like something much smaller and nimbler than it is. But it’s also down to a shockingly innovative new architecture that sits just below the conservatively-styled skin. Incorporating lessons learned from the BMW i models as well as from the company’s previous sedans, the new 7 is significantly lighter than its predecessor despite all of the new technology and equipment that it’s weighed down by. For not only does its structure feature the expected mix of high-strength steel and aluminum, it is the first large sedan to feature large quantities of carbon-fibre in key areas. The new 7’s carbon core gives the suspension and drivetrain an incredibly light, stiff platform from which to work and delivers not only a fantastic driving experience, but improved fuel economy as well.
The way the 7 drives is what makes it a big, luxury-class sedan that is far greater than the sum of its individually-impressive parts. By itself, the private-jet interior with its touch screens, seat massagers, gesture control and leading-edge infotainment would have made it a class leader. By themselves, the car’s quiet and refinement would make it a standout. And the laundry list of technology, by itself, makes the 7 simply one of the most advanced cars you can buy today. Together, though, packed into that carbon-intensive architecture and wrapped in signature subtle style, they make for an incredibly appealing package, something you just want to get into and drive and drive and drive.