The year was 1977, Apple computers had just been formed, Jimmy Carter became the 39th president of the United States, Star Wars hit the big screen and the Germans launched the BMW 7 Series.
Thirty-two years have passed and in that time the world has changed and BMW has established itself as the most successful luxury car maker in the world. The one model that has always been the pinnacle of the German brand’s entire collective technological ability has been the 7 Series.
Much like Mercedes-Benz with its S-Class, BMW uses the 7 Series as a way to emphasis its capability as a manufacturer. The fifth generation 7 Series will be on sale in Australia in the coming months and I had the pleasure of attending the official Australian launch.
One thing to note about the BMW 7 Series is the controversy caused when the fourth generation came out in 2002. The so called Bangle-butt and overall design was shunned by many critics, yet the car became the most successful 7 Series of all time, finding 344,395 buyers worldwide.
In case you’re thinking BMW has gone back to the drawing board and ‘fixed’ their design, I encourage you to realise just how many other manufacturers have taken up BMW’s bold design approach since 2002. From the Koreans to the Japanese, the Bangle philosophy has spread across the whole car-design industry.
BMW Group Australia Managing Director Guenther Seeman says the BMW 7 Series should always be the perfect combination of sportiness, elegance and enjoy a certain presence. The fifth generation BMW 7 Series does all of that and then some.
BMW follows a simple philosophy of form follows function. The company employees more than 400 designers around the world and the final fifth-generation BMW 7 Series design came from a chap called Karim Habib.
Once his design was chosen, the concept images were passed onto six separate BMW design teams to build a full-size clay model. All six teams worked in complete separation, competing with each other to bring about the best real world manifestation of the concept design.
Despite being such a long car (longest wheelbase in its class), the BMW 7 Series is well proportioned. Limited forward overhang, long bonnet with the engine set very low and 50:50 front and rear weight distribution showcase BMW’s uncompromising efforts to build the best car in its class.
Even though it appears to be more rounded and more refined, from the front, the new BMW 7 Series has a far more aggressive presence compared to the outgoing model. The giant kidney grilles plus the company’s patented angel eyes complete the package.
The new BMW 7 Series design has been greatly influenced by the BMW CS Concept, which unfortunately is not going into production any time soon.
The rear L-shaped tail lights are available with brake force display. If you happen to slam on the brakes, not only will the LEDs shine brighter, but the entire rear light display will illuminate to signify the urgency of the situation, followed by the auto engagement of the hazard lights. A feature that is most useful on high-speed German autobahns.
Moving inside, the 7 Series has a lot to prove. The problem with luxury cars today is the claim that all are supremely well built, with leather this and leather that. So for the 7 Series to stand out, something special had to be done.
Firstly the gear selector has been moved back from the steering wheel down to the centre console, freeing up space around the wheel and also encouraging a more ergonomic driver interaction. iDrive has been greatly improved and I can finally admit I worked out how to do something complicated within 10 seconds of use.
The most notable improvement with iDrive is the shortcut buttons. You can simply program your most used commands into “favourite” buttons. For example simply pressing the first button will bring up the Navigation system to plan a route back to your house, pressing the second button will phone the office and pressing the third button will play your favourite song.
A 10.2 inch high-resolution LCD takes care of all iDrive, audio, navigation, reverse and side camera displays. Although not noticeable at first, the centre console is angled, by seven degrees, towards the driver to allow for a more natural approach.
All Australian delivered 7 Series are upholstered in premium BMW Dakota leather. Buyers can pick between Everest Grey, Veneto Beige, Oyster/Oyster, Oyster/Blach, Saddles Brown Light, Black or Barrique Red.
If you want to go the extra bit, the Nappa leather upholstery option extends the leather to the centre console. As for the stereo, an 80GB hard drive handles iDrive (8GB allocated to music), connected to a 12-speaker system, and there is a 16 speaker, 600-Watt system in the 750i.
The extended-wheelbase models come with a four-zone climate control system allowing for both front and rear, left and right, separate temperature settings. No other car in its class can match the 208mm legroom nor the 988mm headroom either.
Leaving the design and interior alone for a second, I want to tell you about the engines. There will be three choices, the 730d, 740i and 750i.
The 730 will be powered by a 3.0-litre, turbo-diesel that manages 180kW and 540Nm, this results in a 0-100km/h time of just 7.2 seconds. Remarkable results for a diesel 7 Series with a kerb weight of 1865. Did I mention it only uses 7.2 litres of diesel for every 100 kilometres? That’s less fuel, coupled with less CO2 per kilometre emissions, than the Lexus LS600hL hybrid!
The 740i, which was powered by a V8, is now powered by the current engine of the year (two years in a row), the 3.0-litre, twin-turbo, inline-six (also found in the 135i, 335, X6). The engine now puts out a healthy 240kW and 450Nm, will 0-100km/h is achieved in a breathtaking 5.9 seconds!
To top it all off, if you want the ultimate in sheer driving pleasure, one must look no further than the 750i. Powered by what can only be described as a monstrous engine, the 4.4-litre, twin-turbocharged, V8 that we first saw in the X6 is nothing short of addictive.
No matter how many times the accelerator pedal was introduced to the floor, the sheer sound, raw energy and overall confidence emitted from the ultra modern V8 was still astonishing. Who would have thought a 7 Series could be so much fun?
With 300kW and 600Nm available at any instant, the 750i will catapult you from 0-100km/h in just 5.2 seconds! I initially hesitated to believe this figure. Surely a car of this size and calibre is incapable of such brisk acceleration, but time and time again, 0-100 after 0-100, the 750i made me eat my hat.
The driving experience is also one which tends to surprise those who have yet to set foot in a new 7 Series. Unlike the current generation Mercedes-Benz S-class, which does very little to emphasis sporty credentials, the 7 Series is all about sporty elegance. Every BMW is designed with sportiness in mind and the fifth generation F01/F02 7 Series is no exception.
There are four driving modes to pick from, comfort, normal, sport and sport +. Initially it may be somewhat hard to tell them apart, the difference includes dampers, gearshift dynamics as well as throttle and steering assistance maps. BMW says the new 7 Series is 20 times faster at adapting its chassis management to the chosen environment than any other car in its class.
Steering is precise, direct and weighted perfectly for everyday situations. Active steering and optional rear steering also improve turning circle and high speed manoeuvring.
Whilst I do like the 740i (730d was not available for evaluation), I think if a 7 Series was on the cards, the 750i is the car you can’t go past. Ultra-luxury mixed in with incredible performance results in a dream car for anyone wishing to emphasis success and achievement.
Meanwhile the 730d will come to Australia in July and if 7.2 seconds to 100km/h doesn’t sound slow, and it shouldn’t, it’s the one to go for. Not only does it deliver better fuel economy than any hybrid/petrol car in its class, but it’s also puts out less pollution than most cars on the road today.
The list of new technologies in the fifth generation 7 Series is extensive.
Integral Active Steering, or IAS, is an optional extra but one worth mentioning. Car enthusiasts would know that rear-wheel steering has been around for some time, in fact the Japanese put the technology to use in some everyday cars back in the ’90s, but it never seemed to stick.
BMW’s take on the technology is quite intriguing. At speeds of less than 80km/h the rear wheels will turn the opposite direction to the front wheels, to a maximum of three degrees, this will allow for a 70cm reduction in the turning circle and better manoeuvrability. At speeds above 80km/h the rear wheels will turn three degrees in the same direction as the front, allowing for quick and seamless lane changes.
BMW’s brake energy regeneration is not a new concept, in fact the idea is rather simple, like most good ideas, and the kinetic energy from the wheels, when not accelerating, is captured and used to charge the battery. This means the battery will require less work from the engine and hence result in lower fuel consumption.
The amount of active safety technology is also quite enormous. From side cameras that allow side-on views of oncoming cars/pedestrians, active cruise control that ensures you won’t run into the car in front of you, lane change departure warning system that will vibrate the steering wheel if you accidentally leave your lane, to my favourite, the night vision system with pedestrian recognition, that can see pedestrians long before you.
If you’ve read about the new 7 Series previously, you’d have noticed one of the stand out features is the car’s Speed Limit Detection system. Using the same cameras as the lane departure system, it scans the roadside for speed limit warning signs and relays them back to the Head Up Display. It’s clever enough to even realise when it’s raining and suggest wet weather speed limits!
Currently the system is not available in Australia, as BMW is still working on programming the speed signs and other data required for Australian roads. The company expects the technology to be available, as an option, in Australian delivered vehicles in due course.
Has the time come that ultra modern cars are practically driving themselves?
Surely if the steering wheel vibrates when you’re about the leave your lane, without indicating, the speed limit can be read and displayed in the HUD, active cruise control will keep a set distance to the car in front, the thousand or so other safety features will make sure you can’t possibly do anything wrong, then what’s left for the driver?
Mr Seeman was happy to answer this question, stating that BMW will always make sure the driver is in control of the vehicle at all times. The information provided to the driver from the array of safety system is merely there to better inform and allow for a safer journey but when it comes down to it, it can all be turned off and the 7 Series can be driven pretty much like any other car.
Looking to the future, the German powerhouse is working on a whole range of alternative fuel technologies from hydrogen to mild-hybrids for the 7 Series.
As an overall package the fifth generation BMW 7 Series left me wondering what can possibly come next. BMW has once again set the bar for the rest to follow.