These are two cars that barely need an introduction. One is a long-time luxury vehicle from a respected German brand, while the other is a lightning-fast newcomer from an American brand with a focus on green credentials.
We’re talking, of course, about the BMW 7 Series and the Tesla Model S. Both vehicles sit at the circa-$200,000 mark and offer owners a healthy split between luxury and efficiency.
We chose the BMW 730d with M Sport Package, which offers the efficiency of a six-cylinder diesel engine and a sporty drive courtesy of the M Sport Package.
On the Tesla front, our test vehicle is the Tesla Model S P90D with Ludicrous Mode. Our long-term tester seemed like the perfect car to pit against this luxury limousine.
Both vehicles offer the latest in automotive technology and both offer an engaging drive courtesy of a sporty chassis and plenty of torque.
Pricing and specifications
Starting at $217,500 (before on-road costs), the BMW 730d is the more expensive of the two. The recently released G11/G12 (short wheelbase/long wheelbase) 7 Series debuted a new lightweight chassis for BMW and also marked the introduction of a raft of new technology.
Some of its standard equipment includes adaptive LED headlights, BMW gesture control, comfort access system, comfort seats for the driver and front passenger, electric sunroof, 16 speaker harman/kardon sound system, 10.25-inch infotainment touchscreen with satellite navigation, full electric seats, windows and mirrors, surround view camera, voice control and BMW ConnectedDrive services with internet.
The extensive features list also includes things like radar cruise control, DAB+ digital radio, heated steering wheel, heated seats with ventilation, an Android tablet for rear-seat vehicle control and power side window blinds.
In terms of safety features, the 7 Series comes with the full suite of dynamic safety aids such as forward collision warning and brake, lane departure warning and assistant, blind-spot monitoring and rear-cross traffic alert.
One of its most impressive features is the BMW Display Key, which includes an illuminated LCD display on the key that displays the car’s status and allows interactivity via Connected Drive for things like climate and remote locking/unlocking. The key can be charged wirelessly or via a USB cable.
Our test vehicle was fitted with the M Sport Package, which is a no cost option and includes 20-inch alloy wheels, M aerodynamics package and the M sports exhaust.
In addition to the M Sport Package, the car also had an ambient air package fragrance unit, ceramic surrounds for controls, laminated glass, Executive Drive Pro (more on this later), massage function for driver and front passenger, tyre pressure monitoring and a TV function.
These options increased the price from $217,500 to $232,500 (before on-road costs).
In terms of equipment, the BMW 7 Series is comprehensively equipped given its size and position in the market. Its optional extras are reasonably priced, while the standard gear doesn’t leave you wanting for more.
Under the bonnet of the 730d is a 3.0-litre turbocharged six-cylinder diesel engine that produces 195kW of power and 620Nm of torque. The engine is capable of moving this rear-wheel drive luxury limousine from 0-100km/h in 6.1 seconds.
The torque-laden diesel sips just 5.0L/100km on the combined cycle, making it an incredibly efficient internal combustion vehicle. That’s partly thanks to its carbon-core structure, which helps reduce weight to just 1698kg.
The 7 Series uses a hybrid of carbon-fibre, steel and aluminium to provide strength and reduce weight, lightening the body shell down by more than 40kg. It’s particularly useful in parts of the car that withstand high directional forces and in places such as the B-pillar. Deformation following an impact is prevented by distributing force around the car. In total, the sixth-generation car is now around 130kg lighter than the fifth-generation.
The Tesla Model S P90D on the other hand starts from $202,192 (before on-road costs). Tesla’s luxury sedan has been on the market for some time now, but recently benefitted from faster acceleration and a larger 90kWh battery pack.
It too comes with a long list of standard equipment, including leather seats, electric windows, mirrors and seats, heated first row, 17-inch infotainment touchscreen with satellite navigation, integrated music streaming, Alcantara headliner, automatic windscreen wipers and bi-xenon headlights, keyless entry and start and front/rear parking sensors with reversing camera.
The Model S comes with a raft of standard safety equipment that includes blind-spot warning, lane departure warning, forward collision alert and braking and front and side collision avoidance.
To get all of the cool technology and features, buyers need to be prepared to fork out extra cash. Our test vehicle had almost every options box ticked, increasing its list price by $50,600.
A lot of these options really should be standard on what is considered a top-specification vehicle. Some of the no brainers include the panoramic glass roof ($2300), AutoPilot convenience features ($3800) and air suspension ($3500).
The AutoPilot convenience features helped build the Model S’s reputation and status in the industry as a technology leader, so making it optional seems strange. The AutoPilot convenience features include an ability for the car to drive itself hands free, which includes lane changes, in addition to automatic parallel parking and the new hands-free parking feature called Summon.
The Model S was updated not long after we did this test. The new model comes with revised styling and the ability to option an air filtration unit and LED lighting elements. Adaptive headlights are now standard too.
Another change includes the ability to increase the charging rate from 48A (which is higher than the 40A on the current vehicle) to 72A.
Under the bonnet of the Model S is…nothing. The Model S P90D is powered by two electric motors (one at the front and one at the rear) and a 90kWh battery pack. The motors output 375kW of power at the rear and 193kW at the front, producing a combined 346kW of power (peak) and 967Nm of torque.
With the Ludicrous Mode option selected ($15,000), the combined power output increases to 397kW. The combined outputs are limited by battery power. If this wasn’t a limiting factor, combined power outputs for Ludicrous Mode vehicles would sit at a staggering 568kW.
These figures nevertheless still allow the car to sprint from 0-100km/h in a mind-bending 3.0 seconds.
Unlike the BMW, which has a potential driving range of 1773km, the Model S can only muster a maximum range of 509km. But, it comes with free access to Tesla's Supercharger fast-charge network, which means that in theory the vehicle could be cost-neutral to operate once purchased.
The range limitations also come courtesy of the Model S’s comparatively portly 2187kg kerb mass, a huge 489kg over the 7 Series.
To start with, both cars really blew us away when it came to interiors. The BMW is classic BMW, but features a luxury edge.
Soft-touch leather surrounds every surface, while the infotainment screen sits elegantly atop the dashboard. Likewise, the steering wheel sits nicely in the hand and the buttons feel premium and suit the character of the car.
BMW has adopted a LCD display for the tachometer and speedometer, bringing the car in line with others in this segment. Unlike some systems, the refresh rate is very fast, meaning that there is no lag between throttle applications and the dials changing figures.
As you progress through drive modes, the screen changes colour to indicate a new mode of operation. The screen also features a digital analogue clock and the ability to navigate infotainment and telephone menus. The heads-up display is crystal clear and features all the information necessary for navigation and regular driving.
Also new to the 7 Series is a single-piece LCD screen that controls the climate and fragrance dispenser. The screen is clear enough, but looks pixelated when looked at closer. BMW could have gone with a higher resolution retina-esque display to make it feel a bit more special.
iDrive has been improved once more to bring even snappier functionality. BMW has also enabled touchscreen functionality on the main 10.25-inch infotainment screen, allowing it to be controlled by both the iDrive knob and by touch. The top of the iDrive controller also acts as a touchpad for writing in addresses and telephone numbers.
Arguably one of the handiest features is a touch-sensitive element on the seat controls. Given the seats have a huge number of available adjustments, in addition to a plethora of massage functions, simply touching the controller will bring up an explanation on the screen.
Instead of fumbling between adjustments, the driver or front passenger can simply find the right control and make their adjustments as required.
New also to the 7 Series is gesture control, which allows the driver to use hand gestures to perform certain functions on the car. You can rotate your finger to increase or decrease volume, swipe to answer or reject a call and pinch to rotate the reversing camera image.
The reversing camera in the 7 Series is quite unique. Not only is it a 360-degree panoramic camera (unlike the Tesla, which is a 180 degree reversing camera), the driver is able to select a director’s view of the car which shows different angles of the car and its surroundings.
It comes in handy when parallel parking and assessing objects that are close to the car. It’s also matched with a parallel parking feature that works quite well.
The technology is bolstered by BMW Connected Drive, which allows the owner to pair their phone with the car for remote access. Once paired, the owner can send navigation destinations to the car so they are ready to go upon entry.
Remote functionality also includes the ability to remotely lock and unlock the car, check its location, enable climate controls and also check the status of the car.
When it comes to sound systems, both cars offer exceptional units. The 7 Series uses a 16-speaker harman/kardon sound system with crystal clear clarity and plenty of bass. The auxiliary streaming options mean that you can use pretty much any device to get the most out of it.
In theory, this technology sounds fantastic, but as we found, it has its flaws. When we tested the G11 7 Series earlier in the year, we returned our first car because it had a number of tech gremlins. We were told at the time the vehicle was a display vehicle and wasn’t production ready.
Since then, we drove the 750Li and had no issues at all, but this 730d had a number of problems.
The gesture control would rarely work correctly, or it would be delayed. For example when trying to increase volume, nothing would happen and then all of a sudden the volume would dramatically increase.
The pinch adjustment for the reversing camera rarely worked or would do the same as the volume where it would do nothing and then rotate too much all of a sudden.
Other issues included a grinding noise on the driver’s seat ventilation unit and a Bluetooth system that would continuously drop calls every few minutes, making it incredibly frustrating when on the move.
The straw that broke the camel’s back was the Android tablet for rear seat passengers. It’s meant to control the rear blinds, audio and video, along with adjusting lighting within the cabin. It didn’t work at all for us.
Most of these things are likely to be the result of dodgy firmware or glitches in the matrix, but we all felt that if we had spent north of $200,000 on this car, we’d want it to work perfectly.
Technology issues aside, the interior is a beautiful place to be. Rear legroom is good with plenty of toe and headroom. A central armrest drops from its holder to store the tablet and also provides storage for odds and ends. Curiously, there are no USB charging points in the rear. A cable needs to be stretched from the front into the rear, which isn’t overly convenient.
Interior build quality is excellent, as is fit and finish. It feels like a premium cabin and feels like its price tag is justified given the level of detail on each surface.
The Tesla’s cabin is also nicely presented, especially with the optional premium interior and lighting package (a $4500 option), which adds Nappa leather armrests and dashboard, Alcantara headliner and upper dashboard, along with a number of lighting features.
Unlike the BMW, the Tesla’s interior is very simplistic — in a good way. Most of the car’s functions are confined to either the central 17-inch infotainment screen or the steering wheel.
The central screen is easy to use while stationary and features an incredible suite of features. The most impressive is the huge Google Maps display, which streams live from the Google servers to deliver up-to-date maps with satellite overlays and traffic (both vehicles have the ability to display traffic conditions).
We found that the navigation was always spot on in terms of time estimates as it uses Google’s live traffic monitoring to determine the quickest route. Additionally, given the maps are pulled from the Internet, several new estates we visited were on the maps, while they weren’t on the BMW.
The music streaming options are great, but we found the quality wasn’t amazing on TuneIn radio, while Spotify would drop in and out on occasions. There’s also a distinct lack of DAB+ digital radio, which is disappointing.
The optional ultra high fidelity sound system is a cracker. The 12-speaker sound system features neodymium magnets and an 8.0-inch subwoofer to deliver incredibly crisp tunes with chest-shaking bass.
US Model S vehicles come with the ability to surf the Internet on the giant display, but it’s disabled for the Australian market. Curiously, Internet can be had on the BMW.
Like the 7 Series, the Model S’s speedometer cluster is one large LCD screen that has been recently improved to make it easier to read. The speed sits high in the display and the screen can be customised to include various items. The Model S lacks a heads-up display, which comes in handy on the 7 Series.
Leg and headroom in the front row is excellent. Legroom in the second row is also great, but is hampered by a lack of toe room, which makes it hard for taller passengers to get comfortable.
The Model S’s real trump card is the huge amount of cargo capacity. The BMW offers 515 litres of cargo capacity in the boot. The Model S offers just over 150 litres in its front boot and a huge 745 litres in its rear boot. That space increases to 1545 litres when the second row is folded.
Elements of the Model S interior don’t feel worth of its price tag. The doors close with a bit of a thud and the dashboard fascia above the speedometer cluster was loose and could be ‘jiggled’ by the hand slightly. The driver’s seat was also not secured correctly, meaning that it would move slightly about its diagonal axis during acceleration. There was also the wavy finish to the bonnet, which looked a little dodgy and can be seen in the image below.
Other cheap-feeling items included the window controls, steering wheel buttons and ex-Mercedes-Benz switchgear. The point is that buyers that spend around $120,000 on their entry-level Model S get the same interior feel as those that spend close to double that.
Another thing that we found frustrating was a lack of storage options. There is a huge central tray for large items like bags, but they would slide around all the time. The only other place to store items was the glovebox or within the two cup holders. The doors lack pockets too.
Both vehicles offer voice recognition systems that work really well. They have advanced massively since the early days of needing to speak slowly and clearly with structured commands.
On the interior front, it’s the 7 Series that wins on the comfort front. Comfort levels sit much higher than the Model S and we found it more comfortable to sit in either the first or second rows.
The Model S claws back in terms of storage and simplicity, but we felt the 7 Series interior was more representative of a car in this price bracket.
On the road
The BMW 7 Series and Mercedes-Benz S-Class have long been leaders in their field for ride. The G11 7 Series is no exception.
BMW’s close ties with Rolls-Royce mean that the new 7 Series picks up some of the plush ride characteristics engineered into the latest fleet of that company's super-luxury vehicles.
During our city loop, we found the ride to be so plush that it would literally glide over bumps without even flinching. It almost became a challenge to find a portion of road that would upset the 7 Series.
The ride quality comes courtesy of air suspension that uses air springs driven by an electric air compressor. The car actively adjusts body height and can send air to individual springs depending on the vehicle’s load conditions.
The excellent ride is partly thanks to the Executive Drive Pro package, which uses electromechanical anti-roll bars to reduce body roll, along with using the forward-facing camera to prepare the suspension for deviations in the road’s surface.
Outside of smoother city streets, the 7 Series performed just as well through our country loop.
While the Tesla uses a single-speed gearbox for each electric motor, the BMW uses an eight-speed automatic gearbox with paddle shifters attached to the steering wheel.
With 620Nm of torque available, the car makes the most of each gear to extract its masses of torque. The engine is smooth as silk and really gets moving if you stand on the throttle.
It’s mated to a communicative steering rack that transmits everything that’s happening on the road. It’s just as good to drive around the city as it is through a set of corners.
The 7 Series is surprisingly dynamic, thanks to the optional electromechanical anti-roll bars that work to oppose body roll and keep the vehicle flat through corners. This, and the fact it weighs just under 1700kg help it achieve such impressive performance feats.
Brake pedal feel is great and helps the car feel like a total package.
If you love attention, the Model S is for you. During our city loop in the cars, the Model S was the centre of attention with people turning around to watch the car drive by. We also spotted three separate people taking photos of us in traffic.
The Model S really is the definition of the people’s car. Despite Tesla’s impressive market penetration in Australia, the car still garners a great deal of attention, which is great.
And, it’s rightfully so. The Model S is totally ballistic in a straight line. The acceleration is absolutely unmatched in this segment and absolutely never gets old.
Even in Sports mode, the car propels with a huge amount of force. Flick the switch to Ludicrous Mode and the acceleration almost becomes sickening.
That near-1000Nm of torque is unleashed within an instant and is virtually unrelenting. The Michelin Pilot Sport tyres fitted to our car ensured that it got off the line with absolutely zero wheel spin, despite being capable of a 0-100km/h dash of just 3.0-seconds.
A new ‘Max Battery Power’ setting increases the temperature of the batteries to a high level, which offers low impedance. This provides the catalyst for an aggressive full-power launch, but has the tradeoff of reduced battery longevity during that charge cycle.
It takes around 30 minutes to generate the heat and once ready, it can be used with a new inbuilt launch control mode.
Steering feel is surprisingly good. The electrically assisted steering rack can operate in three settings — Comfort, Normal and Sport. Each setting offers varied levels of resistance.
We generally just used Normal or Comfort, which offered a great deal of feel, even during aggressive driving.
In a phenomenon unique to electric vehicles, the Model S uses off-power periods to generate electricity to charge the battery. Instead of using the brakes, you simply roll off the brake pedal and the rolling energy of the car’s mass in motion allows the vehicle to act as a generator to charge the batteries.
This is great for two reasons — firstly, it’s charging the battery for free and secondly, it means your brake pad life is increased substantially thanks to rarely using the brakes. The only downside is that the brakes can squeak at times because they are rarely used and as a result don’t generate heat to reduce noises.
While these cars are unlikely to be used as full time sports cars, we spent a limited time testing their handling dynamics. From the tests we did, the Tesla performed surprisingly well. While it does weigh north of 2000kg, the low centre of gravity of its batteries meant that it was enjoyable to drive at quicker speeds.
The two electric motors have no mechanical linkage and use torque vectoring through an essentially open differential to direct torque to each wheel. The end result is an ability to slingshot out of corners at incredible speeds.
The car will eventually reach its grip limits, where weight can’t be overcome. But, you will enjoy the drive all the way to this point.
Through the city the ride is excellent, thanks to the optional air suspension package. It softens out bumps and ensures a consistent ride. On country roads it can get a little rough with larger bumps and potholes, but it’s nothing worth writing home about.
When it came to ride, the BMW outclassed the Model S. The ride can only be described as Rolls-Royce-esque, especially with the optional Executive Drive Pro package.
But, straight-line acceleration, cornering dynamics and wow factor went to the Model S. It is incredibly fun to drive and the acceleration never gets old.
It’s also worth noting how well each vehicle’s autonomous driving modes worked. Both vehicles feature an autonomous driving feature that allows the vehicle to effectively drive itself with no driver input.
The BMW’s system still seems like it’s in beta. It works well when there are very clearly marked lines, allowing the vehicle to steer around corners, maintain following distances and slow down for slower vehicles.
But, the when clear lines disappear, the system becomes ineffective. Additionally, it almost always requires your hands to be on the wheel; otherwise it cancels and stops the autonomous driving feature.
BMW calls this system Driving Assistant Plus and it’s standard across the entire 7 Series range. To BMW’s defence, the system isn’t designed to autonomously drive the vehicle, it acts more as an assisting mechanism as opposed to a controlling one. Regardless, it isn’t effective in places where line markings are faded or obsolete.
The Model S on the other hand takes autonomous driving technology to the next level. While AutoPilot is optional, ticking that option box is a no-brainer.
The intelligent technology uses both lane markings and vehicles in front as a guide. So, if lines disappear, the car can predictively use the vehicle in front if it was travelling on the same trajectory prior to the lines disappearing.
The system can also change lanes by simply activating the indicator. It checks the adjacent lane and then merges across when safe. Additionally, the system will slow down and speed up as required depending on vehicles in front.
Like the BMW, it can also come to a complete stop and start again if the vehicle is in traffic. The system works well both in traffic and on the highway, but given the nature of the system, we would generally only use it on highways.
To put it to the test, we drove around 120km on a highway with using AutoPilot at night. It was able to do the entire trip without disengaging or presenting any issues. While the car can be driven with no hands, the system will poll for the driver to grab the wheel again at set intervals to ensure they are still awake or lucid.
It’s incredibly accurate technology but is still in a beta phase, according to Tesla.
BMW offers a three year/unlimited km warranty with the 7 Series. The warranty includes three years of roadside assistance with service intervals at every 25,000km or 12 months, whichever comes first.
Unlike the Model S, the 7 Series comes with three years of free servicing (or 100,000km, whichever comes first) at 12 monthly intervals. BMW Service Inclusive Basic (BSI Basic) servicing includes servicing of the engine oil and filter, air fuel and micro filters, spark plugs (for petrol vehicles), brake fluid and a vehicle check.
While servicing is included in the purchase price, the equivalent value would be $1900 over three years.
The Tesla features a slightly different offering. The Model S comes with a 4 year/80,000km warranty (whichever comes first) and an 8 year/unlimited km warranty on the battery and drive unit.
In theory the Model S should rarely require servicing, given its minimal amount of moving parts, but the company still recommends yearly inspections, or every 20,000km.
Services can be paid for in an inclusive plan, which costs $1525 for three years, $2375 for four years or $4500 for eight years, which includes three, four and eight yearly inspections respectively.
The first year Tesla service includes tyre inspections (including rotation), air filter replacement, wiper blade replacement and key fob battery replacement. The second year covers the same, but also includes brake fluid replacement and an air conditioner service. The third year of servicing reverts back to the same items as year one. The fourth year of servicing includes all items from the second year of servicing in addition to battery coolant replacement.
Tesla offers convenience services such as free vehicle collection if you’re within 25km of a service centre. The company also offers a loan vehicle if servicing takes longer than four hours and a service technician can also attend to your location at a cost for servicing.
In theory, Model S ownership can be cost neutral if the owner uses Tesla superchargers to charge their vehicle. Use of superchargers is free for all new Model S purchases, which is effectively ‘free fuel’ in comparison to an internal combustion engine.
When we kicked this test off, we weren’t expecting the results to be as close as they are.
Both cars offer an incredible experience in so many different ways. The 7 Series brings to the table unparalleled luxury and superior build quality, along with a ride that brings a new benchmark to this segment.
The Model S on the other hand is a technological masterpiece. It’s the definition of the modern automotive era and represents the advancement of electric vehicles. It also provides brain-bending levels of straight-line performance.
So where does that leave us? While both these cars sit with price tags a little over $200,000, it’s an end result that leaves us scratching our heads.
Aside from the technical gremlins in the 7 Series, it really is the ultimate luxury fuel-efficient cruiser. Technology levels are a huge step up from the outgoing 7 Series, but equally they are not at the levels of the Model S.
The Model S counters that with heaps of storage space, a simplified interior and incredible performance. But it lacks the high-end feel of the 7 Series.
If it’s the generic luxury feel you are after with excellent fuel efficiency and a plush ride, you can’t look past the BMW 730d. But, on the other hand, if you want to be at the cutting edge of technology with manic performance to boot, the Model S P90D is the car for you.