The BMW 7 Series has been around since 1977 and in that time it has been the instigator of plenty of new technologies for the automotive landscape.
The number of world-first technologies that have debuted on the BMW 7 Series is too long to list, but highlights include electric cruise control, an on board computer, ABS, throttle by wire, rain sensing wipers, onboard satnav with a moving map and dozens more.
The point is, much like its arch-nemesis the Mercedes-Benz S-Class, the 7 Series is always striving to be at the forefront of automotive technology and showcase the technologies that will find their way to regular cars in the years to come.
The 2016 BMW 7 Series is no different. BMW claims that it features 13 unique new technologies that have not been seen in a car before. That sort of rhetoric has in a way become a bit of a war cry between BMW and Mercedes-Benz (and Audi to an extent), for each attempt to outdo the other with new technologies on every iteration of their top-segment ultra-luxury sedan.
As such, there’s an in depth look at the latest version of iDrive and other technologies in the 7 Series here, which we would highly recommend you read as a required companion to this review, given the importance of technology in this segment.
The Mercedes-Benz S-Class has, for a long time, been the benchmark in this segment. It sells the most by a big margin, but it’s also a genuinely better car, well, at least when compared to the previous-generation 7 Series.
While the S-Class has long provided the ultimate in backseat luxury – a feat that BMW has all but matched and in some way surpassed in the new 7 Series with executive seats – the new BMW 7 Series is now just as good for the driver as it is for the rear seat passengers - something Mercedes-Benz can’t claim.
In a country like Australia where private buyers of these cars tend to spend a lot of time driving themselves, that should mean a lot. On the other hand, chauffer drivers will also be interested to know the 7 Series will provide a far more engaging drive experience than its closest rival.
BMW’s long-standing motto has been the “ultimate driving machine” and in this segment the new 7 Series really is, just that.
BMW brought us to Monticello Motor Club in upstate New York, a private racetrack for the very wealthy, a place where you’d only ever expect to see a 7 Series or S-Class being used as transportation cars, alas, BMW wanted us to drive its sixth-generation 7 Series with anger, on a relatively unforgiving racetrack.
Firstly, lets point out the problem. Putting the 7 Series on a racetrack is akin to using a hand made Persian carpet as a door matt in a public restaurant. It’s not what it’s made for. However, BMW’s aim is to prove something, that the while Mercedes-Benz and Audi in particular, have been harping on about driverless cars, BMW wants you to know that while its car also features dozens of autonomous self-driving technologies, if you want to drive it yourself and drive it fast, you will really enjoy it.
Our test car is a long-wheel base xDrive (all-wheel drive) 2016 BMW 750Li, powered by a 4.4-litre turbocharged V8 with 335kW of power and 650Nm of torque, pushing power to all four-wheels via a ZF 8-speed automatic. It can do 0-100km/h in under 4.5 seconds, much faster than you’ll realistically ever need. Whether or not we will get the xDrive models is still to be decided for Australia and the first cars that land locally in late October 2015 will be the 730d, 740i and 740Li.
Nonetheless, with what we had to work with – a 750Li xDrive – we drove out onto the Monticello track. BMW has given 7 Series drivers a new adaptive mode for the car’s engine, transmission and suspension which essentially learns what you would like and adjusts the car as such. It’s good for everyday driving, but on a track, it’s Sport mode or bust.
Try driving the 7 Series fast in comfort mode and you’re presented with tons of understeer and big uncomfortable leans into corners. Switch to sport and the car’s standard front and rear self-levelling air suspension brings the height down by 10mm and stiffens everything that needs it.
The difference between comfort (which itself has two modes, for an even softer suspension) to sport is enormous - more than in any other car we’ve tested. It changes the character of the 7 Series immeasurably, from a docile floaty boat to something almost resembling a car tuned by BMW’s M division. The front is endowed with a double-wishbone setup while a five-link rear suspension does the magic out back.
At speed and when driven in anger, the 7 Series corners and grips like no car its size has any right to. Everything from the steering weight and feel to the big limo's out-of-corner acceleration is class-leading at the limit, even more so than the AMG versions of the S-Class – which are more about straight-line speed and outright acceleration than driving dynamics.
We suspect BMW will do an M7 version of the new 7 Series in due time, and it’s hard to imagine how much better that could be.
Using what it calls a ‘Carbon Core’ - 13 carbon fibre pieces interwoven into the car's aluminium and metal body – as well as other weight saving technologies (more on that here) BMW has taken a good 86kg out of the new 7 Series despite adding plenty of additional technologies and safety features. That slight weight difference and extra stiffness also helps the 7 Series’ dynamic ability.
In essence, it’s the fastest way to travel in ultimate luxury without having to endure airline food.
But - and it’s a big but - whether the new BMW 7 Series is the best in class will ultimately come down to its comfort for rear seat passengers. From a ride comfort perspective, it’s hard to fault the S-Class when optioned with its ‘magic’ suspension that can read the road in front (using cameras) and pre-prepare the springs for maximum comfort. Even so, in super-soft comfort mode, the 7 Series did an excellent job of providing a quiet and pleasant cabin to be in.
We will have to put the two rivals side by side to have a definite verdict. Watch for that in November.
Our long-wheel base models (the only ones sold in the USA), were equipped with executive seats, seats that with a click of a button from a seven-inch fully integrated tablet positioned in the back seat, will push the front passenger seat forward and provide a first-class like experience for the rear occupant.
It’s similar to what you'll find in the S-Class, except it’s much easier (and more engaging) to control thanks to the tablet, which is standard equipment on all 7 Series models in Australia.
In fact, the relatively high level of standard kit on the new 7 Series (still to be completely confirmed) is surprising, considering BMW Australia’s usual inclination to make everything but the steering wheel an optional extra.
Apart from the tablet and the new display key, BMW will also throw in the latest version of iDrive with its very handy and cool gesture control system that lets you interact with the car in an entirely new way. More details on these technologies can be found here.
You’ll be pleased to know that almost all these features are options on the 7 Series in the USA, which starts with the 740i long-wheel base at around USD $83,000 (plus delivery and other charges), or $108,000 in our money. That seems cheap, and it is when you consider the current 740iL in Australia starts from $227,275, but that price difference is not a completely true reflection, considering the dozens of features that are standard on our cars which remain options in the States. It's also fair to say the sticker price and the actual transaction price may be two completely separate things.
Interestingly, the M Sport Package for the 7 Series will also be a no cost option in Australia so private buyers will be able to give their 7 Series a sportier appearance without having to fork out the extra cost, as per the previous model.
As far as interiors go, the new 7 Series no longer feels a whole step behind the S-Class. There is a far more upmarket feel to the whole cabin, with simple things like touch screen surface for the control panel of the standard 4-zone automatic climate control, high quality displays, standard Nappa leather upholstery for both the seats and instrument panel with the use of real wood throughout the cabin.
Strangely, while the S-Class cabin has those two giant screens with heaps of brushed aluminium for the controls and instrument surrounds to give it that modern look, the 7 Series is still more traditional and conservative inside – which for both cars, is against their actual character.
But much like the Merc, the front and rear seats of the 7 Series are unreasonably comfortable, particularly the executive seats in the rest position. You can indeed live back there if you had to. Ultimately, it’s hard to complain about the BMW’s interior. In fact, finding legitimate faults with the 7 Series is a challenge to say the least.
Will it close the sales gap to the Mercedes-Benz S-Class? That’s hard to know for sure until BMW announces full pricing and features, but on merit alone, it should. The 7 Series now looks and drives better, provides equal if not better levels of comfort for rear passengers and comes with tons of very high-tech and world-first technologies. Whether that will be enough to shift the favour away from Stuttgart to Munich remains to be seen.