The new 7 Series is a tech titan that marries unseen levels of luxury from BMW with the brand’s signature driving prowess. But can it claim the luxury crown from the Mercedes S-Class?
UPDATE — We’ve driven it locally. Check out our latest 7 Series coverage
FARO, PORTUGAL — IT DOESN’T TAKE a crystal ball to see that the new BMW 750Li will be launched in Singapore in 2016 at the earliest, but remarkably, this is a car that can see into the future, too.
Barrel along and it knows the topography of the road ahead, thanks to the data in its GPS system. If it’s in the Adaptive driving mode — and you’re headed for a corner at a pretty hot pace — the car prepares itself for the turn, dropping its air springs by 10mm for a lower centre of gravity, stiffening its dampers for greater stability.
All that’s left for you to do is take aim with the quick-acting steering, sail through at an unfeasible pace, and then power away in a twin-turbo rush of torque, in search of the next corner to attack.
It’s a marvelously fun, exhilarating car to drive — the acceleration to 100km/h is quicker than that of the last BMW M3. The paradox is that, with the new 7, BMW has made an unprecedented effort at pairing its signature driving pleasure with the ability to pamper occupants.
But do customers of the flagship BMW actually demand a car with sharp handling to begin with?
“Actually, yes,” says Nicholas Brown, a product planner for BMW. “The feedback from customers was that they wanted us to stay true to our core.”
To figure out what the new 7 Series should be like, BMW sent designers and engineers on fact-finding missions to seven cities around the world — including Singapore. Apart from having it epitomise BMW’s claim of building the ultimate driving machine, says Brown, they found that customers wanted the German luxury carmaker to improve on the car’s ability to spoil its occupants.
“They were looking for even higher levels of comfort, well-being and refinement,” he says. As for Singaporeans? “They wanted us to focus on well-being, and finer details like lighting.”
That explains a lot about the new 7 Series. To take care of the boss’ well-being, for example, the optional Executive Lounge seating in the rear has a suite of massage programmes, and can gently knead away the stresses of the day, working on the pelvic to shoulder regions.
It offers an amazing amount of room, too.
Press a button, and the front passenger seat slides forward by 90mm. Its headrest dips out of the way, and a footrest folds down to transform the rear seating area in a space that’s best described as First Class in a car.
Sensors in the chair also facilitate a Vitality Programme — via the entertainment screens in front of him, the occupant is guided through an in-seat workout that works the shoulder and back muscles.
There’s even an ioniser system to clean the cabin air, along with a fragrance delivery system designed to either invigorate or relax occupants. All this to ensure that you arrive for that board meeting in top form.
Even without these, it’s clear that BMW has taken great care in making the new 7 Series exude luxury from every seam.
The seats are opulently upholstered in soft leather, and polished wood has been used more extensively in the cabin alongside brushed aluminium, a new material for the 7. It looks modern and, perhaps more important than that, feels expensive.
Yet, in some ways the new 7 Series risks becoming over-complicated. The key, for instance, has a small touchscreen on it that can tell you things about the car, like its remaining range. You can also use it to pre-set the climate control’s fan and cool cabin before your next trip, or operate an optional self-parking feature from outside the car. It has to be charged periodically, but that is done by a wireless tray in the cabin.
To complement a redesigned iDrive system that has more layers embedded within its menu items than before, the main display is now a touchscreen system. It can also respond to gesture controls. Hover a finger in the air and twirl it clockwise, for example, and it cranks up the music volume. Why you wouldn’t just keep your hand on the steering and press the relevant button on the wheel instead is beyond me.
The cabin lights come in six colours and variable brightness, to ensure that your 750Li’s cabin is lit just-so.
It takes a huge amount of time to discover what’s new about the 7 Series, let alone get familiar with it all, and to help navigate the bewildering array of entertainment, seating and lighting functions, back seat occupants have a 7-inch tablet device. It keeps button clutter down to a minimum, but does give you something new to learn.
That said, perhaps what makes the new 7 Series special is something that can’t even be seen. BMW says it is now the lightest car in its class, thanks to widespread use of high strength steel as well as aluminium (the doors and the car’s entire front end are made of the lightweight metal), but also thanks to carbon fibre, the expensive stuff that Formula One racing cars and the USAF’s F-22 Raptor stealth fighter jet is made of.
Hidden within the bodyshell are 16 pieces of carbon fibre, fashioned with various techniques, that add strength to the car while removing weight. Alone, they account for 40kg of weight loss in a car that is up to 130kg lighter than its predecessor.
The Carbon Core of the new 7 Series, as BMW calls it, required an investment of nearly half a billion Euros in new manufacturing facilities, but is a major part of what gives the car is agility.
Although it works its tyres fairly hard, the 750Li can be hurled into bends with enough vim to widen the eyes of everyone on board. It steers faithfully, and thanks to a four-wheel steering system, has the fast reflexes of a sports sedan with none of the high-speed nervousness.
BMW gave us the 750Li xDrive version to drive — it’s the top model for now, and is expected to be popular in America, the company’s second-largest market — but we also drove the 730d, which will be Singapore’s entry-level model when it arrives next year.
Its diesel engine lacks the top-end punch of the 750Li’s 4.4-litre petrol V8 (above), but if anything, the short-wheelbase 730d flows even better through corners, and has enough mid-rev urge to waft the BMW along effortlessly.
All the new 7 Series have air suspension, and the ride quality has taken a huge jump forward as a result, especially when specified with Executive Drive Pro, a system that uses cameras to detect bumps in the road ahead and prime the car’s adaptive suspension in advance of them.
All told, the 750Li glides over poor road surfaces like a cloud, and thanks to new techniques like dampening sound at the source — the engine and gearbox are blanketed in noise-absorbing material — the car is as quiet at 180km/h as a Toyota Camry at 80kmh/, at least to my ears.
It all adds up to a car that delivers on BMW’s promise to make a car that is simultaneously a blast to drive, and yet opulently comfortable.
For all that, it’s clear that the new 7 Series does have one overarching mission, which is to emerge tops in the battle between luxury flagships. Its spare-no-effort approach has been executed down to the last detail.
“We have 40mm more legroom in the back than our competitor, a brand with a star,” says one engineer in a coy reference to the Mercedes S-Class, a car that has only ever been outsold by the 7 Series for three years in a rivalry that stretches back to 1977. “Plus we have a bigger boot.”
What remains to be seen, at least to us, is how good the new 7 Series would be without the entire suite of options that our test cars came with. Stripped of four-wheel steering or Executive Drive Pro, would it still be as impressive to drive and sit in? And will the fact that the base model is now a diesel-powered 730d have any impact on its prospects in Singapore, a market that is still fixated with petrol power?
As magnificent as the new 7 Series is, even the makers of a car that can look into the future will have to wait and see for the answer.
NEED TO KNOW BMW 750Li xDrive
Engine 4,395cc, 32V, V8, twin-turbo
Power 450hp at 5,500rpm
Torque 650Nm at 1,800rpm
Gearbox 8-speed automatic
Top Speed 250km/h (limited)
0-100km/h 4.5 seconds
Fuel efficiency 8.3L/100km (combined)
Mercedes-Benz S 500L, Maserati Quattroporte GTS