Mercedes-Benz would no doubt dispute the claim, but BMW reckons its 7 Series, and not Merc’s S Class, is now the most technologically advanced car on the road (Tesla’s Elon Musk might be annoyed, too).
The new engines don’t make any giant leaps, but the carbon-fibre core, laser lights, gesture technology, integrated tablet for the rear passenger, iPhone-style Display Key and advanced suspension all make a fair argument for its claim. It might still use internal-combustion power, but other than that the 7 Series feels like the car of the future.
WHAT IS IT?
A proper limousine/executive cruiser, now in its sixth generation, that just keeps getting bigger and better, in this case growing just 19mm in length. The BMW 7 Series is also very much a showcase for the technologies BMW will trickle down into all its cars over the next few years. This is the vehicle that everything from iDrive to ESP made their debut in. It’s also remarkably attractive for such a big unit.
WHY WE'RE TESTING IT
Because it’s like a bit of a motor show on wheels, in terms of new technology, although we remain to be convinced by semi-autonomous steering .It’s also one of the marquee cars for the marque.
Mercedes-Benz’s S Class range and the Audi A8 are the two big players here, and the Audi has long been the best looking, inside and out, but this 7 Series could actually challenge in that department. It remains to be seen, via comparison, whether it can match its claim of being the best driver’s car in the segment.
THE WHEELS VERDICT
It’s hard not be initially overwhelmed by all the tech tricks the new 7 Series has up its shiny sleeves, and some of them really are impressive, and game-changing. Everyone will have to make keys with screens on them now, and you can bet the Apple Car has one. Most importantly, though, underneath it all is a car that delivers on the road, with the kind of magic-carpet ride buyers at this end of the market expect, combined with great steering and an involving overall experience. Being rich never looked so good.
PLUS: Interior space; quality; powerful and economical engines; driving dynamics; ride; and just overall poshness
MINUS: Semi-autonomous steering a bit buggy; prices go up and were high already, not sure gesture technology will catch on
THE WHEELS REVIEW
JUST about every car company claims to have a “smart” key of some kind, but they’re all going to look like fob slobs next to the iPhone-esque Display Key offered with the new 7 Series.
Fitted with a lushly graphical touch screen, this next-gen gadget can tell you remotely how much range you’ve got left, “pre-condition” your vehicle before you get to it on a hot day, remote start and, once BMW gets around some tricky local regulations, will even be used to park your cruiser-sized car remotely in tight spaces.
And, most importantly of all, it will be quite simply the coolest car key to drop on a bar, or a conference table – no contest.
This is merely the smallest of the leaps forward the new 7 - which BMW proclaims as the most technologically advanced vehicle on the road - makes, alongside gesture control, a carbon-fibre core lifted from the sexy i8 supercar (saving up to 130kg), semi-autonomous steering, an integrated tablet for rear-seat passengers, and laser headlights that double your effective high-beam distance from 300m to 600m.
BMW says the profile of its 7 Series buyers has changed in recent years, and that while they are still captains of industry, they're much more tech-savvy and innovation friendly than they were when the contentious iDrive knob was launched in 2001, and the fear was that many of them didn’t even know how to program a VCR, let alone operate such software.
This new luxe-barge recognises that we all now live in a touch and swipe world - allowing you to pinch and zoom the satnav screen with your fingers, for example - and that even pushing screens is becoming passé. Thus you can turn up the volume in the new 7 by simply twiddling your finger in the air, and answer or reject a call with a flick of your hand.
Perhaps the car’s most instantly striking achievement, though, after you’ve stopped goggling the key (which does become yet another thing in your life you’ll need to keep charged) is an old-fashioned one; its design. This sixth-generation of the biggest BMW has grown just 19mm in length but remains whale-like in proportion.
Designers have famously struggled to make the 7 Series look good in the past, but this one is definitely more Charlize Theron than Venus Williams, with a striking rear end and the biggest, boldest kidney grille ever fitted to a BMW (it’s also an active one, staying closed when started to aid warm-up, then opening and closing to aid aero).
The overall effect is one of prestige and power, and the stylistic deftness carries over to the cabin, which feels more luxe, and more advanced, than ever, with high-pile carpets apparently borrowed from sister company Rolls-Royce (they don’t feel quite that plush) and excellent seats with pillow-like headrests and a ($2000 optional) massage function that lifts and separates your buttocks in a pleasing fashion.
BMW likes to claim that its limo is the most driver focused and involving in the segment (some 85 per cent of buyers actually drive themselves around), and the new twin-turbo V8, straight six and diesel engines, aided by less mass to shift, certainly deliver. The almost freakishly quiet BMW 730d is a particular highlight, delivering 195kW and 620Nm from its 3.0-litre and an almost unfeasible fuel economy figure of 4.9 litres per 100 kilometres.
The steering is suitably regal and yet typically BMW in its muscular feedback, which makes it far more fun to drive than a Rolls-Royce Ghost, for example.
What must be an interesting discussion for the two conjoined companies is how well a 7 Series is allowed to ride. The engineers in Munich have the technology to give their luxury model the famous waft-iness, but they choose a slightly sportier set-up, with two-axle air suspension with automatic self-levelling.
The result is a beautifully controlled balance and an ability to filter out big bumps and small imperfections with equal ease.
Standard on the 750i and fitted as a $5000 option on cars we drove is Executive Drive Pro, which is a form of active electromechanical roll stabilization. It uses cameras to scan the road ahead for potholes and pre-adjusts the suspension in milliseconds to prepare for the impact.
This, like so much else about the new 7 Series, is the kind of next-level technology that makes your inner geek have a little freak of happiness.
Some of the big Beemer’s tricks seem a little on the gimmicky side, while others, like the heated armrests, seem like genius, but the lasting impression is of a car that has truly raised the bar.
BMW Australia has thus seen fit to raise prices as well, with the 730d up $11,300 at $217,500; the 740i up $11,925 to $224,200 and the 750i just $6070 more at $289,600.
On the plus side, the M Sport package, which was previously ticked by 85 per cent of buyers despite costing $10,000 (the highest take-up in the world) is now a no-cost option. And thus a no-brainer.
Model: BMW 730
Engine: 29939cc, turbo diese in-line 6
Max power; 195kW @ 4000rpm
Max torque: 620Nm @ 2000rpm-2500rpm
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
Kerb weight: 1755kg
Fuel economy: 4.9L/100km (DCT 7.1L/100km)