BMW 7-Series (2016) First Drive

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We take a drive in BMW’s flagship product. It incorporates a raft of new technologies and is claimed to be the segment’s most dynamic offering, but is it good enough to best the Mercedes-Benz S-Class?

The BMW 7-Series was first introduced in 1977 and, with the brief exception of the discontinued 8 Series (1989-1999), remains the brand’s flagship passenger car range. The sixth generation has been introduced locally and, as ever, it's vying for segment supremacy. 

What's new

 

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The big news for the latest incarnation of BMW 7-Series is its all-new platform and a smorgasbord of onboard driver technology. The platform is assembled out of a combination of carbon-fibre-reinforced plastic, high-strength steel as well as aluminium. You even get a badge proudly proclaiming "Carbon Core" on the B-pillar when you open the door. Weight saving seems to be one of the big priorities here as carbon fibre has been used extensively and BMW says the new model is 15% lighter (by about 130kg) than the outgoing version. 15% may not sound like much, but in a big limousine, it makes a difference. In terms of looks, the new 7-Series is unmistakably a BMW when viewed from the front, while the rear oozes luxury and presence thanks to some chrome exhaust surrounds and fancy taillamps.

The kidney grille is imposing and while it’s mostly cosmetic, it features active vents that open and close to assist with cooling and aerodynamics. All vehicles in the BMW 7-Series range feature an eight-speed Steptronic gearbox with paddles located behind the wheel, self-levelling suspension (front and rear), dynamic damping control, and the options list promises even more. 

You can opt for the revolutionary BMW Laserlight headlamps, which are claimed to illuminate an area up to 600 metres ahead of the car. How about a breath-taking audio system from Bowers and Wilkins? You can even spec Executive Drive Pro, which scans the road ahead for surface irregularities and adjusts the 7's damping to compensate.

As is the case with most German vehicles, the options list is extensive and BMW has taken its cue from its Rolls-Royce division in terms of the level of personalisation it affords 7 Series customers. With BMW Individual Design Composition a buyer can customise and personalise a variety of elements, including exclusive wheels, as well as a multitude of paint/trim/leather combinations. The Munich-based manufacturer claims "additional customer requests based on personal preferences are met by the BMW Individual Manufactory", which we read as "whatever you want, we’ll do it, but it’s going to cost you".

The line-up

The initial South African 7-Series line-up consists of three engines, with the plug-in petrol-electric hybrid 740e to follow shortly. BMW has not confirmed the mighty V12 yet, but we expect it to arrive eventually. At the launch, we drove only the 730d and 740i models.

Our first stint was behind the wheel of the petrol 740i, which has a 240kW and 450Nm six-cylinder turbopetrol motor. It’s brisk too, with a claimed 0-100kph time of a formidable 5.5 seconds. The 740i is also said to return combined fuel consumption figure of 6.6L/100km.

Its diesel sibling was the chariot for the second day, and that motor packs 195kW and a mighty 620Nm of torque. It’s no slouch either, with 0-100kph being accomplished in a claimed 6.1 seconds. The main benefit of the oil burner will be its economy; the 730d is said to consume just 5L/100km. Of interest, the forthcoming 740e will feature a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine with a 70kW electric motor. It has a combined output of 240kW and 500Nm, but the most impressive stat has to be the 2.1L/100km fuel consumption claim.

How does it drive

 

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The key of the new BMW 7-Series is definitely worth a mention as it's more of a smart device than a car key. The fob bears a remarkable resemblance to a smartphone with its screen displaying car status, range to empty and so on. You’re also able to remotely start the car as well as set your temperature preferences before you get in. Imagine you’re at a restaurant on a winter’s night. A few minutes before you leave, you set the car’s heater to warm the cabin. Don’t worry about the key’s battery dying either; it sits nicely on a wireless charging pad.

The measure of success in this segment has to be the ability to deliver an exceptional ride quality, low noise/vibration/harshness (NVH) and refinement in spades. We appreciate the effort that BMW has put into the new 7-Series in an effort to match the Mercedes-Benz S-Class: you can feel just how far this new vehicle has come. Turn down the radio and climate control, and you’ll be gobsmacked by how quiet it is.

The launch route comprised a variety of roads such as highways, open roads, dynamic sweeping bends as well as inner city congestion. The BMW 7-Series soaked it all up and past complaints about noisy run-flat tyres have been dealt with. Overall, the 7 feels a highly polished saloon that's always relaxing to drive whether you're cruising on a smooth, open road or creeping in slow-moving rush hour traffic.

Throw some corners into the mix and the 7-Series transforms from a restrained luxurious limousine to a lithe, athletic performer. When he drove up Franschhoek Pass (a dynamic test for any vehicle). Despite its size, the 7 performed admirably and felt not too dissimilar to a 3-Series, dynamically. It’s certainly agile enough for its size.

There are essentially three driving modes: Comfort, Eco and Sport. We say essentially because there are sub-modes of the three, which you can personalise. We found that you can make the ride extremely soft and floaty in Comfort Plus, whereas Sport with damping, steering, ‘box and engine in Sport Plus was very responsive; you could feel how taut the suspension suddenly became. To correspond with the different drive modes, the digital dashboard changes colour, layout and font.

If we had any gripes, it’d be that the electronic steering is very numb and unless you’re in Sport mode and pressing on, it can be a tad vague with very little reassuring feedback. Also, the safety systems (when fully enabled) could be viewed as rather intrusive and overly cautious. This car is not meant to driven like a sportscar, but it’s nice to know that it can provide effortless performance should the need arise to press on.

The cabin

A mark of a successful limousine is well it drives, but perhaps, more importantly, how much space/comfort/refinement is afforded to rear passengers. BMW organised drivers for the last leg of the launch so we could sit in the back and experience chauffeur-driven first-class service. The BMW 7-Series is a pleasure to drive, but it’s far more enjoyable to experience it in the comfort of the passenger seats.

The seats are of exceptional quality and you’re able to specify heating/cooling and massage functionality for all four passengers. Rear passengers get soft pillows on top of their headrests. Space and legroom are considerable, and at no point does one feel cramped.

Technology in abundance

 

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We’ve left the technology section until the very end of this First Drive, because it’s by far the most comprehensive and futuristic vehicle we’ve ever experienced. To make things easier, we’ve compiled some of the best features in a quick, easy-to-read format.

iDrive The satnav/infotainment system has been redesigned for better user experience, features new graphics and now has touchscreen functionality. All screens have high-quality resolutions.

Gesture Control Using your hands in the area by the infotainment system, you’re able to accept/reject phone calls, raise/lower the volume, zoom in on the satnav and much more. A highlight!

Head-up display: The new HUD in the 7-Series is a lot more detailed and in the right mode, there’s hardly any need to glance down at the dashboard; all the important information is projected in front of you.

Semi-Autonomous Driving and Safety: The new BMW 7-Series is able to park itself, keep inside its lane, follow the car in front of it as well as match the traffic speed autonomously. In low-speed traffic jams, we were able to remove our hands from the wheel and the car automatically kept pace with the flow and stayed in its lane. The car is able to read road signs, spot pedestrians in the dark, avoid collisions from the front, side and rear. Cross traffic is thrown in as well.

Remote parking: You can use the BMW Display Key to remotely park the 7-Series. Park in front of your bay/garage, get out of the vehicle, close the door and direct the vehicle fore and aft using the key.

Tablet: Located in the central armrest in the rear is an Android tablet. Using the BMW app, you’re able to control the seats, blinds, lighting and media. Plus you’re able to remove the tablet and take it with you and enjoy normal tablet functionality (email, browsing etc).

Connectivity: two USB ports, Bluetooth as well as wireless charging (thanks to an inductive charging pad). The car also has a built-in SIM for Internet connectivity and to run BMW ConnectedDrive services.

These are just some of the many incredible features that the BMW 7-Series can be equipped with and we’ll be sure to try them out in detail when the vehicle arrives for a full evaluation.

Summary

In an effort to make the 7-Series the new king of the luxury limousine segment, BMW evidently threw everything including the proverbial kitchen sink into the project. Older buyers will be daunted by the sheer array of onboard technology, while the tech-savvy generation (those who can afford such a vehicle, of course) will feel right at home.

In terms of dynamics, the BMW 7-Series is a lot more agile than its predecessor and feels like a larger, more mature 3-Series, which is meant as a compliment. The 7's imbued with that lovely hands-on driving feeling and despite its electronic steering (which ultimately lacks feedback), you feel like you’re still behind the wheel of something vaguely sporty, which is something none of its rivals offer.

The plush cabin, refined ride quality and extensive integration of high technology will win the BMW many fans, and the plethora of features packed into the car arguably renders everything else in the class obsolete. It’ll be interesting to see what Mercedes-Benz’s reply to the new 7 is. If this vehicle is anything to go by, it’s very likely that the next-generation BMW 7-Series will offer fully autonomous capability.

BMW 7-Series Price in South Africa

The BMW 7-Series comes with many trim options and being a premium product, numerous options are available:

  CO2 Tax      Standard    Exterior Design
Pure Excellence  
M Sport   M Sport with
Interior Design
Pure Excellence  
740i Sedan R3 488,40 R1 339 000 R1 350 600 R1 378 500 R1 398 300
730d Sedan R1 128,60 R1 365 500 R1 377 100 R1 405 000 R1 424 800
750i Sedan R6 566,40 R1 755 000 R1 766 600 R1 775 000 R1 424 800
750Li Sedan R6 874,20 R1 893 500 R1 905 100 R1 913 500 R1 932 200

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