2016 BMW 7 Series: Technology Preview Photo:
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Tony O'Kane | Aug, 19 2015 | 3 Comments

BMW has high hopes that its all-new tech-laden 7 Series will be able to steal market share away from the dominant Mercedes-Benz S-Class when it arrives here on October 1, and a glance at its long spec sheet suggests the company may be right.

But on-paper impressions only count for so much, and in the rarefied realm of ultra-luxurious limousines some attributes simply can't be conveyed via spec sheet alone - they must be experienced first hand.

Accordingly, BMW Australia has air-freighted two pre-production examples of the new 7 Series into the country - one long-wheelbase, one short-wheelbase. Unfortunately, no cameras were allowed.

We've sat in them, plonked our lower-caste derrieres into their sumptuous leather seats and smudged their touchscreens with our grubby fingers. The verdict is thus: the new 7 Series is very, very impressive. Mercedes-Benz, take note.

So what will we get?

When it launces in October the new 7 Series will be available in three variants: the short-wheelbase 730d and 740i, and the long-wheelbase 740Li. The V8-powered 750i and 750i will join the range in late December or early January.

The standard equipment level for all models is supremely generous, and BMW says Australian-delivered models will have the highest specification out of any BMW market in the world thanks to strong customer demand for high-tech features.

And those customers won't be disappointed either.

While full specifications and pricing have yet to be finalised, all models will receive LED headlamps, heated seats front and rear upholstered in Nappa leather plus a removable 7-inch tablet between the rear seats that can control everything from climate settings, seat position, lighting and entertainment systems.

Gesture controls will also be standard across the 7 Series range, allowing button-free operation of the on-board infotainment system.

We had a go at using it, and though it occasionally stumbled (BMW says it was due to the flourescent lighting in the showroom interfering with the system's optics), it was surprisingly intuitive and responsive.

Gesture controls won't replace more traditional interfaces, however, and BMW's familiar iDrive controller and speech controls give you an alternative method of input.

BMW's nifty Display Key will also be standard equipment, though limited to just one key per car. Via a 2.2-inch colour touchscreen, the Display key allows remote control of windows, locking, lights and other functions, and can also display info on remaining fuel.

From next year the Display Key will also allow you to remotely park the car, liberating you from the tedium of slotting your ride into - and out of - its parking spot.

Strong demand for the $10,000 M Sport package in the current generation now sees it become a no-cost option too, giving buyers greater value for money.

One demo car was decked out in the darker, moodier trim of the M Sport package, but it was the long-wheelbase "Design Experience" spec car that was most impressive.

There's leather everywhere. Fine-grain Nappa hide covers the upper and lower dashboard, the door cards, centre console and, of course, the seats, and there's no shortage of woodgrain to complement it.

Interestingly, none of the buttons are finished in bare plastic. Though the structure may be polymer, each button in the 7 Series cabin is coated in a thin metallic film to give them a more upmarket feel.

It's a small detail, but vital in a car like this. It works too - nothing looks or feels cheap as a result. Every touch point - whether it's the leather under your elbow or the metal-coated button under your fingertip - feels premium.

The use of lighting is also quite spectacular - especially if you're willing to delve into the options list.

Ambient light is piped around the dash and door cards via fibre optics with the hue customisable (it's just one of the many things controllable via the aforementioned rear seat tablet), while the long-wheelbase cars get a B-pillar lamp for extra mood lighting.

Comfort is exceptional. Powered rear seats are adjustable either through the centre armrest or the tablet, the optional rear seat entertainment screens are large and crisp in their resolution, and you can even opt for a removable fridge - perfect for picnics.

And beneath all of this luxe lies a sophisticated steel, aluminium, magnesium and carbon-fibre architecture that's stronger than before but weighs up to 200kg less depending on variant.

Engine-wise, there’s the 330kW and 650Nm 4.4 litre biturbo V8 of the 750i and 750Li, while the 740i receives a 240kW/450Nm 3.0 litre turbo inline-six.

BMW says the big V8 will propel the 750i to 100km/h in 4.4 seconds, bringing it close to the hero M5 sedan. Fuel consumption is listed at a relatively slim 8.1 l/100km.

In the 740i, the turbo six promises a 0-100km/h time of 5.5 seconds, with fuel use dropping to 6.6 l/100km.

At the bottom of the range will be the 195kW/620Nm 3.0 litre 730d, with fuel consumption listed at 4.5 l/100km on the combined cycle.

The plug-in hybrid 740e is currently under consideration for the Australian market, but won't arrive any earlier than 2016 if greenlit.

Those are driven by a petrol-electric combo that pairs a 190kW/400Nm 2.0 litre four-cylinder engine with a 70kW/250Nm electric motor, with combined-cycle fuel economy listed at a startling 2.1 l/100km.

Though it may be hard to loosen the Benz S-Class' grip on the upper-large luxury sedan segment, our first taste of the 7 Series shows that it's got plenty of things working in its favour.

Its technology lead is undeniable, and space and comfort are, at the very least, on par with the big Benz. We've yet to drive it on road, however, so the critical ride comfort criteria will have to be assessed at launch.

But at this point there's one thing clear: BMW is gunning for Benz in a big way, and the upcoming battle between the two German flagships will be an interesting one to watch.

Will BMW's technological nous and feature-rich specification win out, or will the brand pull of the vaunted "S-Class" badge continue to reel in customers regardless? We'll find out later this year.

MORE: BMW | 7 Series | Luxury

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