“If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants”
– Isaac Newton
How Isaac Newton’s wise words so aptly apply to the luxury car class of today, with each new model pushing the boundaries of luxury, performance and technology even further than their already outstandingly impressive predecessors.
How difficult it must now be to truly innovate in this competitive class with so much already achieved. With the Mercedes-Benz S-Class generally leading the way with technology and features that inevitably filter down to lower echelons of cars over time, rivals such as the BMW 7-series, Audi A8 and Jaguar XJ certainly have their work cut out for them in coming up with innovative new ideas for their flagship models.
This is now the sixth generation of BMW’s 7-series, a thorn in the side of the S-Class since 1977. With the exception of the slightly questionable looking Chris Bangle-designed fourth generation, BMW have generally played it safe with the styling of the 7-series, and the latest model is a continuation of this trend.
To the untrained eye and from a distance, the new 7 looks like an enlarged 3-series. However, up close, if it’s sheer scale isn’t enough to distinguish it from its lesser sibling, its styling details certainly will. The polished window surround incorporating the rear ‘hoffmeister kink’ for example is now a single piece of machined aluminium for the first time. The car’s headlights are LED as standard with laser lights available as an optional extra, while LEDs mounted in the side skirts bathe the ground in ‘Welcome Light Carpet’ graphics at night.
The new 7-series’ technological prowess is evident before one even enters the car as its smart key featuring a touch-screen display hints at the level of technology available on board. Using the ‘BMW Display Key,’ the driver can set the car’s climate control and lighting settings externally, check the remaining fuel range, and in a world first for a production car, even park the car without having to sit inside it.
Both short and long-wheelbase versions of the 7-series are available, the latter adding 140mm to the car’s length. Inside, the new 7 is as luxurious as one would expect, with quilted leather, finely polished aluminium trim and beautifully finished curved wooden inlays aplenty.
BMW’s iDrive system which is used to set the car’s driving, comfort and infotainment settings can now be controlled in two new ways – by using the touch-sensitive dash mounted monitor or via ‘gesture control’ where hand gestures such as rotating one’s finger can be used to adjust the volume of the optional 1,400W Bowers & Wilkins sound system. Slightly gimmicky, but a novel feature nonetheless.
Given that many owners are more likely to spend time in the rear than up front, BMW have focused more on rear space and luxury with this model than in any previous generation. The ‘Touch Command’ system can be used to control ventilation and numerous other settings, while the optional ‘Executive Lounge Seating’ allows the rear seat to be tilted by up to 42.5 degrees and the front passenger seat to be folded to offer the best view from the rear.
Long-wheelbase models are fitted with a panoramic glass roof as standard, while the ‘Sky Lounge’ option adds LED lighting to create the illusion of a starlit sky, akin albeit not quite as special as the infinitely customisable starlit headlining of its Rolls-Royce relatives.
However, for all of the car’s luxurious features, the interior retains the slightly clinical feel of its predecessors’ cockpits rather than the uber-plush ambience of the Mercedes-Benz S-Class. It’s difficult to pinpoint why, but the more extravagant architecture of the S-class’ dash and the fact that the new 7 has swiped certain features from its arch-rival such as the sumptuous rear headrest cushions and scented ventilation system are reminders that the 7 isn’t quite the daddy just yet.
That said, the 7-series’ more driver-focused cabin points to the fact that arguably more 7-Series than S-Class owners are likely to car themselves. To drive, the new 7 is extremely refined while the ‘entry-level’ 258 bhp 730d diesel model tested (starting at €97k) provides effortless torque if not the powerful punch of its more expensive siblings.
There is also a 313 bhp diesel 740d, 320 bhp petrol 740i and a 449 bhp V8 petrol 750i on offer, together with an “Active Hybrid” model which combines the petrol engine of the 740i with an electric motor to produce a combined power output of 354 bhp. Long-wheelbase and four-wheel drive variants are also available, while a silky smooth 8-speed automatic transmission transmits power to the road across the range.
The new 7-series offers a vast array of assistance systems such as “Drive Performance Control” enabling the driver to alter throttle and steering response, together with the car’s “Dynamic Stability Control” settings. “BMW Night Vision” enables the car to identify pedestrians in the dark while the car can even read road signs!
One could say that the BMW 7-Series’ only downside is that the Mercedes-Benz S-Class exists, however the ubiquity of the S-Class often plays in BMW’s favour. Those who like to drive rather than to be driven may also prefer the 7-Series’ sportier characteristics.