► New BMW 7-series driven
► We test the 730d limousine
► Full review by CAR magazine
Like its illustrious predecessors, Audi’s A8 and the Mercedes-Benz S-class, the sixth-gen 7-series strives to be a kind of low-flying Lear, a ground-hugging business jet for those keen to cocoon themselves from the noise and tumult of road travel. So there are fabulous massaging front seats, back seats like thrones from First Class, little trace of road noise (were the 7 allowed to run without mirrors, you’d struggle to hear anything above the sound of your own breathing) and such niceties as the optional Rolls-inspired star-studded Sky Lounge panoramic roof, a front passenger seat that can fold forward in long-wheelbase cars and let you get horizontal in the back, and a neatly integrated Samsung tablet that lets you take care of everything from seat massage functions to email.
Wanton levels of comfort and refinement you expect, but the new 2016 7-series also boasts some genuinely exciting tech. From early 2016 you’ll be able to opt for remote control parking. Found a parking bay a little tight to be able open the door and squeeze out comfortably? Just hop out in front of the bay, close the door and, using the 7’s astonishing baby iPad of a key, prompt the car to park itself. It’ll use its cameras and sensor array to steer around the dust-laden running machine in the corner of the garage and stop short of the back wall.
Reversing into an evil-looking driveway, perhaps around a corner and between two particularly stout-looking gateposts? Select Surround View, stifle a gasp as a fully rendered 3D representation of the car and its surroundings appear on the iDrive display (one that you can rotate using a pinch and move gesture) and effortlessly back the big Seven in like you have eyes in the back of your head. Tired of switching between Sport and Comfort drive modes as and when your multi-road commute requires it? Select Adaptive and let the car use nav and camera information, together with an analysis of your driving inputs to optimise the car’s set-up on the move.
Flat-Earthers could argue all of the above is just superfluous additional complexity, but the truth is they all work, feeling so polished and resolved that you experience a small moment of joy every time you use them.
Fabulous, but I’ll be driving the new 7-series...
Indeed. And you’ll have a ball. Air suspension and electro-mechanical anti-roll bars (more efficient and swifter of response than hydraulics) together deliver both catnapping refinement and very satisfying driving dynamics, depending on your settings. In Comfort Plus the 7 feels every inch and kilogram of its size and bulk, particularly when you decide to try to corner at speed. But in Sport, which tenses the chassis and drops it lower over the wheels, the 7 delivers impressive body control and steering you can trust, though the overly chubby wheel rim never manages to shake its numbness.
Perhaps remarkably given the complexity of the chassis’ mechanical and electronic systems (peek into the wheelarches and you’ll find Nasa-grade machined aluminium hardware and some serious-looking digital and pneumatic plumbing), the big BMW also manages to establish clear lines of communication to each corner of the car, letting you drive with confidence, and even a smile on your face, on roads you’d expect to tie a limo in knots. Do luxury saloon buyers want a backroad playmate? Probably not, which is why for many the S-class is the default choice. But for those who appreciate balance, feedback and a little malleability, the 7 is king.
The 730d’s oil-burning straight six will be the engine of choice in most UK-bound 7-series and it’s a fine fit for the car; hushed once running, torque-rich and strong enough to deliver useful, queue-hopping acceleration. The transmission’s an equally accomplished performer, though the sheer brilliance of the auto ’box’s shift mapping means you rarely feel the need to reach for the paddles. When you do, because you can barely hear the engine, prepare to blunder into the limiter once or twice – the optional head-up display can’t be configured to show revs and gear, M-style.
Cockpit like an explosion in a button factory?
Somehow no, and that’s one of the new 7-series’ biggest wins. Climate and seat controls follow established BMW practice, as does iDrive, albeit with a trackpad top that allows for pinch-zooming and swipe-scrolling of maps. Voice control works well for tasks like destination inputting, while the new gesture control feature – swipe away to decline calls; twirl a finger clockwise to crank up the breathtakingly good optional Bowers & Wilkins audio (£4675 for the flagship Diamond 16-speaker system…) – becomes second nature in moments. Some buyers will prefer the S-class’s lounge-like interior, but for clarity, ease-of-use and sophistication, the more car-like but equally artful 7 cabin wins.
For a car so traditional in style and conservative in design, the new 7-series has tremendous feelgood factor. Truly it’s a technological powerhouse, from the i-inspired structural carbonfibre to the dismissal of unwanted phone calls with a nonchalant swipe of your hand in thin air. But for all its innovative, mostly brilliant new systems, the 7 remains a compelling driving machine, one able to morph at will between leather-lined isolation chamber and genuinely rewarding, admirably communicative sports saloon.
This breadth of ability, not to mention the BMW’s calmer, clearer and more thoroughly resolved cabin, will have Mercedes-Benz worried. Expect the all-important back-to-back twin test just as a soon as we can get the two cars together.