WANT TO SEE INTO THE FUTURE? TO SEE WHAT THE CAR OF THE TOMORROW WILL BE LIKE? Don’t scour the classifieds for a slightly modified DeLorean, slide into a top-end luxury sedan instead.
For high-tech automotive wizardry, few cars will wow you with gadgets and features like a flagship high-end sedan - and they don’t come much more high-tech than the BMW 7 Series.
Launched in the second half of last year, BMW is aiming to take some of the shine (and steal sales) off the Mercedes-Benz S-Class - the car, until now, held as the 'Gold Standard' in luxury motoring. And in this, the new BMW 7 Series is succeeding.
The range-topping BMW 750i and 750Li that launched in Australia this week, four months after the arrival of the 730d and 740i, is a cinema, lounge room and massage parlour rolled into one.
Leather-bound and dripping with technology, it’s one of the most advanced cars on the road today. And, not only is it an impressive showcase for the best technology BMW has in its arsenal, but it absolutely gives the Mercedes S-Class a run for its money.
Vehicle Style: Large luxury sedan
Price: $289,600 (750i) to $312,700 (plus on-roads)
Engine/trans: 330kW/650Nm turbo petrol 8cyl
Fuel Economy claimed: 8.3 l/100km (750i), 8.5 l/100km (750Li) | tested: 11.02 l/100km
The 750i and its long-wheelbase stablemate, the 750Li, sit at the top of the BMW food chain. They will only be usurped by the twin-turbo V12-powered M760Li xDrive when it lands here in the first half of next year.
With pricetags that straddle the $300k mark, the two models are closely aligned on price with the Mercedes-Benz S500 and S500 LWB - their primary rivals.
But while the Benzes are formidable opponents with exceptional comfort, space and technology, the BMW has more than a few trump cards to play.
- Standard equipment: Quad-zone climate control, heated front seats/steering wheel/front armrests, ventilated front seats with massage function, keyless entry and ignition with BMW Display Key, 360-degree parking camera, 20-inch alloys, sunroof, active cruise control, lane keep assist, power bootlid, rear power-adjustable massage seats (750Li), power-retractable sunshades
- Infotainment: Harman Kardon surround sound, 12.3-inch colour touchscreen display, iDrive interface with Gesture Control and voice controls, TV tuner, AM/FM/DAB/USB/DVD audio, dual 10-inch rear entertainment screens (750Li), 7-inch tablet interface for rear passengers, satellite navigation, internet
- Cargo volume: 515 litres, ski port for longer items
The centrepiece of the 7 Series cabin is undoubtedly its 12.3-inch colour touchscreen infotainment display, which takes BMW’s iDrive control interface - already the best interface in the luxury segment - to the next level of functionality and ease of use.
There’s still the rotary dial with integrated touchpad on the centre console, but BMW now lets you interact with the screen by either touching it directly or using predefined gestures with your left hand.
There’s voice control too, and it works incredibly well. The number of commands it can recognise is massive, and it understands natural speech with ease.
In all, there’s a combined total of four different methods to interact with the system, and each of them is intuitive and easy to grasp.
The gesture controls require some getting used to, but once you get the hang of where to position your hand it becomes a lot easier. Using gesture controls to manipulate the 3D parking camera view is no gimmick either - it’s a genuinely useful feature when parking the 5.2m long, 1.9m wide 750Li in a tight spot.
Your backseaters can share in the infotainment fun via the removable Samsung tablet mounted in the generously-proportioned fold-down centre armrest.
Rear climate control settings, lighting settings, radio/media controls, the rear sunblinds and navigation information are all controllable through the tablet, with silky-smooth animated graphics and virtually zero lag between inputs.
You can even move the front passenger seat forward via the tablet interface, and in the 750Li it controls the power-adjustable rear seats and the twin high-def 10-inch colour rear screens that are standard on that model.
There’s a dizzying array of entertainment options available, from DVD to digital TV to Bluetooth audio streaming, not to mention internet browsing. Whether it’s a mobile office or a mobile cinema that you’re after, the 750Li in particular will fit the bill.
If you just want a place to relax between the office and your home, it’ll sort you out too.
Both standard and long-wheelbase 750is get a heated steering wheel, heated/ventilated front seats and heated front armrests, while the 750Li adds heated/ventilated rear seats and armrests plus those adjustable massage chairs.
And it is especially comfy in the back of the 750Li, particularly with the massage chairs gently tenderising your glutes, perfume wafting from the air-vents and the power-retractable sunshades shielding you from the sun’s rays (or paparazzi’s cameras).
Recline the seats as far as they will go and sink your head into the removable soft headrest pillows, and peaceful slumber will soon follow.
It’s a business class suite for the open road, and it’s as quiet as the pointy end of an airliner too. On smooth roads we recorded an average of 71db from the front seats, with coarse-chip raising sound levels to a still-tolerable 78db.
Shortcomings? There aren’t many if we’re honest. The standard-wheelbase 750i doesn’t come with rear screens or power adjustable rear seats as standard, but they can be had as cost options ($15,100 for the Rear Seat Indulgence Package).
And though rear legroom is obviously in shorter supply than the 750Li, you’re not in much risk of deep vein thrombosis either. There’s plenty of seat pitch for your legs to enjoy.
ON THE ROAD
- Engine: 330kW/650Nm twin turbo intercooled petrol V8
- Transmission: 8-speed automatic, rear-wheel drive
- Suspension: Double-wishbone front, multi-link rear with air suspension and Executive Drive Pro self-adjusting damper technology
- Brakes: Fixed-piston, ventilated rotors
- Steering: Electromechanical power steering
As slick as the interior is, it’s the engine and suspension that gives the 750i and 750Li their biggest advantage over lesser 7 Series models.
Step on the accelerator and a grand total of 330kW and 650Nm of twin-turbo V8 power surges to the rear axle, sending the big 7 Series to 100km/h in a swift 4.7 seconds.
Activate sport mode and the throttle becomes more responsive and the exhaust adopts an aggressive - but still subdued - growl, while the gearbox switches its calibration to favour lower gears.
But no matter what mode you’re in - even the tree-hugger Eco Pro mode - this bi-turbo bent-eight never fails to deliver creamy, seamless thrust right up to its 7000rpm redline. It’s truly a gem of an engine.
It’s quick for something that’s pushing two tonnes with a single occupant aboard, and that’s largely thanks to a lightweight carbon-fibre and steel chassis that’s 130kg lighter than an all-steel frame.
The 750i is a relative lightweight at 1820kg empty, so while the rival S500 has more power (335kW) and more torque (700Nm), its 1995kg kerb weight makes it slower and gives it a poorer power-to-weight ratio than the BMW.
Its weight advantage also gives the 7 Series more dynamic cred, and, thanks to its 'Executive Drive Pro' reactive air-suspension, it delivers an impeccable ride as well as superb handling.
A set of cameras behind the windshield constantly scan the road surface and send signals to the dampers to soften or firm them up at just the right time to minimise their impact on the car - and it works.
It took some pretty severe bumps to induce any kind of ride harshness, and the car recovered from those hits with a minimum of fuss.
No porpoising for tens of metres after hitting a big lump, just near-instant recovery. The 750i may roll on 20-inch alloys with slim sidewalls, but you’d barely know it.
Rival Mercedes has a similar system dubbed Magic Body Control, but it’s a cost option on the S500 and S500L. Advantage, BMW.
The steering is accurate and generally quite well-weighted, but there’s a slight inconsistency just either side of dead-centre where the steering weight suddenly drops away. It’s far from a deal-breaker and only really noticeable on long straight sections of road, but it’s there.
On night drives you’ll appreciate the 750i’s standard-fit Laserlight headlamps, which don’t actually use lasers but employ high-intensity LEDs and clever lenses to generate one of the strongest, brightest light beams around.
They’re also capable of selectively shutting off sections of the beam to avoid blinding oncoming or leading traffic, while keeping the rest of the road illuminated in high beam.
Another feature that’s only standard on the 750i and 750Li is BMW’s latest night-vision system, which displays a live infrared-spectrum image on the central screen that shows everything that emits heat ahead of the car. If you’ve ever watched footage of a Predator drone strike, you’ll be familiar with what that looks like.
And when it detects a warm-bodied creature in the path of the car or close to it, whether human or otherwise, the system will lock on and use the Laserlight headlamps to flash a narrow beam directly at it, alerting you of its presence and hopefully shooing it away from the road.
The light-show it generates is quite fascinating to watch in action, nevermind the fact that it’ll help keep you safe from wandering roos at night.
Finally, there’s the fuel economy question - just how economical can a twin-turbo petrol V8 in a 1800kg limo be? BMW claims an optimistic 8.1 l/100km average for the 750i and 8.5 l/100km for the 750Li, but our 11.02 l/100km real-world average - which included plenty of heavy-throttle driving - was still impressively low for such a car.
Put it on a gentler drive route and make more use of the car’s huge low-end torque, and fuel economy should get appreciably close to BMW’s claim.
ANCAP rating: The G11 and G12 7 Series has yet to be assessed by ANCAP
Safety features: Stability control, traction control, ABS, EBD, brake assist and six airbags are standard, with the 750i and 750Li also gaining a pedestrian-detecting night vision system and advanced LED headlamps for safer night driving.
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
January of this year marked a turning point for the 7 Series' fortunes in this country, with the BMW comprehensively outselling its three-pointed rival the S-Class by a margin significant enough for it to snare 43 percent of the large luxury sedan segment.
The BMW obviously has an advantage in being the fresher product, but the S-Class has traditionally dominated sales in this segment. Can the BMW sustain its newfound momentum, and can it stave off competition from the new A8 when it lands within the next couple of years?
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
But the 750i goes beyond being merely an overstuffed rolling armchair. Its turbo V8 powertrain is a delight, it never feels dull or mushy and the athlete’s DNA that’s a key part of BMW’s identity still manages to shine through when the 750i is steered toward a challenging road.
It offers equal amounts of pleasure to the person behind the wheel and the people in the back seat. If you’re looking for the most well-rounded large luxury sedan around, well, you’ve just found it.