The bragging rights battle between BMW and Mercedes-Benz is set to continue at the top end of the market with the release of the new BMW 7 Series. It's an impressive luxury sedan with driving performance to match the luxury.
At the outer reaches of the luxury segment, two technological tours de force sit at the highest step - one of which is the 2016 BMW 7 Series. Duking it out for decades with the Mercedes-Benz S-Class, the BMW 7 Series represents the very best in BMW engineering, the latest gadgets, cutting edge technology that will eventually filter down to other BMWs, vehicles that mere mortals like the rest of us can more likely afford.
While the 7 Series is out of reach for most of us, it’s a fascinating window into what the future of motoring might look like, and it’s done with the usual BMW panache. The 7 Series is now, more than ever, equal parts luxury limo and sports sedan despite what you might think. Interestingly, despite being a vehicle you’d expect is a chauffeur gimme - especially in LWB guise - some 85 percent of 7 Series owners drive their own vehicle in Australia, according to BMW.
It’s for that reason alone the BMW 7 Series must be able to represent ultimate luxury and some vestige of driving dynamics as well. According to BMW Australia, BMW owners expect driving engagement and sporting pretension regardless of the fact that this is the luxury limo in the BMW portfolio. Owners also expect the absolute latest in technological inclusions and equipment, in fact, it’s almost a badge of honour at this end of the market.
One key element of that bragging rights battle is the 7 Series’ alluring smart key. Now, just about every vehicle these days comes equipped with what the manufacturer claims is a ‘smart’ key, but take a close look at the BMW version and it’s obvious the others are actually quite dumb. Rolls-Royce owners are going to hate their 7 Series owning neighbour, let's put it that way.
The key has its own LCD display and is charged via a port on the side. You can charge the key at home or in the centre console while you’re driving. The screen, which is clear and easy to read, features swipe functionality to flick from one page to the next and alerts the driver to a range of notifications such as fuel range remaining. You can even set the HVAC to a timer to heat or cool the 7 Series remotely so the cabin is already at the perfect temperature the second you get inside.
You can read our full 2016 BMW 7 Series pricing and specification guide here. In short though, the 7 Series range spreads from a starting price of $217,300 right up to $312,700 plus on-road costs, with options to suit a variety of private and fleet buyers.
While prices have crept up (anywhere from six to 13 grand depending on model) across the 7 Series range, BMW Australia argues the increase in standard inclusions is worth more than that price rise, and the M Sport package is now available as a no cost option. Interestingly, Australia has the highest uptake of the M-Sport package for 7 Series anywhere in the world, with nearly 85 percent of buyers ticking that box. It goes to prove the theory that at this end of the market, if you’ve got the money to buy the car in the first place, you’ve got the money to tick a few options boxes too. From this model on at least, buyers won’t have to fork out for the M Sport package.
As Alborz mentioned in his international first drive, the 7 Series is, like the Mercedes-Benz S-Class, something of a unique proposition in the motoring world because of the multi faceted expectations of owners. Buyers (and indeed drivers) of these vehicles not only expect luxury and quality in every experience, they also expect the absolute latest technological inclusions. Critically, they need to be technological inclusions that work rather than silly gimmicks.
We drove the 730d and 740Li at launch, but let’s first start with our experience as a passenger in the back seat of the 740iL, given that’s where the new 7 Series is at its most impressive. Despite the fact that owners overwhelmingly drive their own vehicles domestically, the back seat experience is what these vehicles - especially the LWB variants with executive seats - are all about. It’s a completely different world of transport in the second row of vehicles like the 7 Series and you quickly start formulating reasons as to why you’d have a driver yourself if you could stump up the cash.
The Nappa leather trim is beautifully tactile, but also finished to the highest standard. Every stitch is perfect, every detail just so. You can raise and lower the squab, which makes getting in and out ridiculously easy, and you never have to fall ungracefully into the 7 Series or heave your way out of it either. Just as it should be then.
The back rest reclines substantially, beautiful suede trim covers the head rest pads, and the whole shebang can be controlled via a Samsung tablet that is mounted into the centre armrest. The table is removable and controls everything from massage functions and TV screens to the climate control. You can even move the front seat passenger forward if they are hogging too much of the expansive LWB legroom. You won’t struggle for knee room in the back of the 7 Series.
The seats themselves, with heating and ventilation are so comfortable you might struggle to keep yourself awake. It would be very easy for sir to catch a few winks while the driver does all the hard work up front. Choose your own colour for the ambient lighting and skylights to further personalise the experience. It’s all part of the individual tailoring that BMW is keen to emphasise to potential buyers.
Heading out of the CBD into the country tells the full story about the 7 Series’ truly sumptuous ride, especially in one of the two available ‘Comfort’ modes. Occupants feel like they’re floating along on a magic carpet such is the incredible bump absorption and general compliance. Even sharper potholes and ruts are barely noticeable. Regardless whether you’re the driver or passenger, the 7 Series is supremely comfortable over any road surface.
Whisper quiet along smooth stretches of freeway, there’s only ever a very slight hint of wind noise that enters the cabin at freeway speed. There’s effectively no road noise or tyre roar, and we noted how easy it is to have a quiet conversation in the 7 Series’ cabin. It’s another little touch of luxury from a vehicle that is otherwise dripping in opulence.
Switch over to ‘Sports’ mode and there’s a sharpening of every input from the driver’s perspective. Despite its size and heft, the 7 Series morphs into something of a luxury sports sedan, which we didn’t really expect after the more relaxed nature of our initial drive. Turn in is sharp, the chassis is flat as a tack through sweeping bends, the steering feels sharper and the handling generally more agile and responsive. You can really punt the 7 Series along in sport mode, which matches the chunky power on offer from either the petrol or diesel engine. Perhaps most impressively, there’s almost no loss of comfort when you switch to sport mode. There’s no banging or crashing over bumpy roads and no loss of composure inside the cabin meaning you can drive round in comfort while also hooking in on twisty roads.
Chauffeur drivers speak highly of their 7 Series too. Our driver from airport to the centre of Melbourne has three in his fleet, one with an impressive 470,000km on the dial. He’s keen to reinforce their bullet proof reliability, and BMW’s determination to quickly get to the bottom of any minor issue that might crop up. He’s already ordered this new 2016 model to replace the ageing members of his fleet. One of the factors he most appreciates is the three years free scheduled servicing that comes with the 7 Series. Further to that, the 7 Series tells you when it needs a service, notifying you that its time for a visit to the dealer.
If BMW has set out to deliver a luxury sedan that is slanted toward the driver, they’ve succeeded impressively with the new 7 Series. Fellow CarAdvice tester James Ward described the 7 Series as a vehicle for owners who enjoy driving rather than owners who drive because they have to. The driveway bragging rights battle with the S-Class is set to continue. Alborz scored the 7 Series a 9 overall at launch, and I reckon he’s right. It’s a high class offering at the very pointy end of the market.
After a full day driving the 7 Series, I’m left struggling to find any real negatives. Its design is impressive, its execution even more so, and its avant-garde technological inclusions all work properly. There’s nothing at all that is a cheap gimmicky attempt to gain attention. Buyers in this segment will love the 7 Series, and they will also love the fact that they can drive it with some gusto and be rewarded if the mood takes them. As far as a technological statement by BMW, it doesn’t get much more resolute than the new 7 Series. If I could afford one (and a driver of course), I’d be signing my life away right now.