When you hear of BMW’s 7 Series model, what do you think of? Pampered rear passengers? Or, perhaps the car from the James Bond film Tomorrow Never Dies? In that movie, a 7 Series was famously used to avoid the bad guys by being driven remotely via mobile phone. Fast forward to 2016 and in both cases you could well be talking about this latest version of BMW’s flagship.
It may look like a conventional luxury saloon and you can of course still drive it, but in parallel it will perfume the air you breathe, massage your derrière (as well as your ego) and respond obligingly to the merest wave of your hand. Exit the car and it will even roll out the virtual red carpet for you, or as BMW calls it: ‘Light Carpet’ in which a series of external LED lights project your very own runway in which to waltz down. Then before entering the restaurant/hotel of your choice, you can leave the valet open-mouthed by piloting this road-going liner remotely into its parking berth by simply scrolling back & forth on the key. This is Butler service, albeit on four wheels.
However, it is not just the technical gadgets on the inside that matter, the nuts and bolts underneath equally maketh the car. Thanks to advanced production techniques incorporating aluminium and carbon-fibre, this new version is 130kg lighter than the model it replaces. This translates into class-leading fuel economy of 60 miles per gallon and CO2 emissions as low as 124g/km for this Diesel version. To put that into context, those are economy/emission figures that are on a par with a Ford Mondeo. For a car of this considerable size and ability that is outstanding progress. Guilt-free luxury? Possibly.
Externally, the new 7 Series hides its revolutionary construction well, with a conservative approach to styling that leaves it looking too similar to the rest of the BMW range. In fairness to BMW, buyers of these ultra-luxury cars avoid anything too avant-garde, just ask BMW what happened with the sales of the radical 2001 BMW 7 Series and you will understand this restrained approach.
There are some welcome distinctive touches though, from the chrome along the bottom of the doors to the creases in the bodywork that add up to give this new 7 Series a surprisingly elegant shape in the flesh.
Delve inside and you find an interior that is familiar to any current BMW owner, albeit with greater levels of sophistication. The ambient lighting bathes the interior in a calming glow and the buttons shine with the lustre that only genuine metal offers. There is no doubt that this is a high quality interior, it is just a shame that it lacks some real design flair to separate it from the rest of the BMW range.
What the rest of the BMW range do not yet offer are heated armrests and buttery soft leather that is both expensive feeling to the touch and rich smelling on the nose. For the driver and front passenger, there is the central touchscreen which displays all the media, navigation, television and even internet content all in a crisp pin-sharp resolution.
The driver also has a Head-Up Display at his/her disposal which confirms current speed, prevailing speed limit as well as the relevant navigation instructions. There is also air-conditioning which not only perfumes the air you breathe but adds ionisation as well, which helps to fight fatigue by giving it a higher oxygen concentration. Think of it like the difference between what the pilots breathe in the cockpit of their airliner verses what the rest of us are forced to suck in down the back in economy.
Given that the 7 Series was built specifically for the back seat passenger, there is plenty of room in which to spread out, even in standard wheelbase form, (there is a long wheelbase version for proper one-upmanship) and the comfort factor begins with cushions integrated into headrests, seats that can be cooled/heated/massaged and a Samsung tablet integrated into the central armrest that allows you to control the car from the backseat. This 7-inch box of tricks takes back-seat driving to a whole new level, showing you your chauffeur’s current speed, giving you the option to adjust the air-conditioning and turn up the volume to 11 on the stereo. If Carlsberg did Uber rides, they could well be in the back of a 7 Series.
It may have the Ultimate Driving Machine badge upfront, but the new 7 Series is less about driver thrills and more about passenger chills. Hence, the adaptive air suspension ensures that no champagne is spilt in the making of any journey. The ride quality is superb in ‘Comfort’ driving mode and combine this with a 3.0 diesel engine that is turbine smooth and yet nicely responsive (0-60 mph in 6.1 seconds, Top speed 155 mph, CO2 emissions 124g/km). Match this with fuel economy in practice of 50 miles per gallon (officially registered at 60 miles per gallon) and this engine is so good it makes you wonder why anyone would even consider the petrol option (3.0 litre, six cylinder twin turbo).
When you do want to play the 7 Series obliges once ‘Sport’ mode is selected (more responsive throttle, firmer suspension), which does a remarkable job of keeping that big body in check as you corner harder and faster. It also extracts the best performance from that mighty fine diesel engine. This is the mode that impresses most as it enables the 7 Series to perform and react like a much smaller car. However, it can at times feel a little remote with steering that lacks feedback which robs it of any real driver engagement, something that BMW built its name on. A Jaguar XJ is a better drivers’ car, but the Jaguar cannot compete with the 7 Series on space, comfort or technology for that matter. There is always a trade-off to be had and BMW has repositioned its flagship as more ‘Ultimate Luxury Machine’.
A whole university thesis could be devoted to the technology available on the new 7 Series, but there are a few world-firsts that merit attention. One is ‘Gesture Control’ which allows the driver or front passenger to control the iDrive system with simple hand gestures. A roof mounted camera monitors your hand movements and a simple twirl of the finger can increase/decrease the volume of the stereo, a hand wave will accept/dismiss phone calls and pinching or expanding your thumb and index finger will zoom in/out on the navigation display. It is a bit of a gimmick but it is fun and offers regular entertainment by creating bemused looks on the faces of your from fellow motorists as you sit there conducting what appears to be an invisible orchestra!
The 7 Series also offers something straight out of science fiction and takes bragging rights to the next level by offering: Laser lights. These are the next generation of super-bright, blue tinged headlights that offer a 600 metre high-beam range and the ability to continuously adapt their vision intensity and shape as to not cause glare to other road users. Out in the real-world they turn night into day and short of having blue flashing lights on the roof they also seem to part any traffic obstacles up ahead.
The other big development is what BMW calls the ‘Display Key’ which offers an integrated touchscreen display to the remote key, allowing you to tell in an instant whether your 7 Series is locked and whether you have enough fuel remaining for the next journey. As mentioned earlier, it can also be used as one big remote control to park your 7 Series as well as a way to set the cabin temperature in advance of you later strapping yourself on board. What it cannot do however, is look good in your pocket as it is quite chunky, perhaps leading to some awkward ‘pleased to see me’ comments.
For those lucky enough to be in the market for an uber-luxury car, the BMW 7 Series should most certainly be tried and tested, preferably from the back seat as it takes in-car technology to the next level. It also for now gives its owners the best bragging rights down the local, not that such individuals probably frequent ‘a local’ you understand.
For the rest of us, take heart as the 7 Series showcases what most of us can come to expect from our cars of the future, whether that be in the form of technology or weight saving techniques. These are exciting times, the future’s bright, especially when we all have laser lights!
Model tested: BMW 730d (Standard wheelbase, CO2 of 124g/km, 60 mpg and 0-60 mph in 6.1 secs)
Priced from: £64,530 (Model tested £78,500. Major options fitted: Executive Drive Pro – £2,450, Glass Sunroof – £1,195, Driving Assistant Plus – £2,960, BMW Laserlights – £2,450).