FIRST DRIVE: BMW 7 Series
Larger than life and loaded with tech, can the new 7 Series really compete with the S-Class?
The Mercedes S-Class dominates the top of the car market, at least until you get to the uber-luxury options from Rolls-Royce and the like, but BMW fancy their chances with the new 7 Series.
The fight starts before you even step in the car; there’s a key for the 7 that not only includes your usual remote central locking button, but also a 2.2-inch touchscreen. From there you can set the air-conditioning, check fuel levels and even remotely drive the car in or out of a parking space.
No, really. No longer will you need to actually get in your car to reverse out of space. Instead you can now stand back and watch as the car eases itself out automatically.
It’s the first hint of a technological tour-de-force that dominates the car, from large parts constructed out of carbon fibre to a GPS-controlled gearbox.
All that technology doesn’t come at the expense of driving pleasure. The engineers at BMW have ensured that, while you are undoubtedly cosseted as you cross the country, there is enough of a connection between man and machine that a driver can feel perfectly engaged when wishing to press on.
That said, despite shaving around 130kg off the car's weight thanks to that carbon fibre construction, it still weighs the thick end of two tonnes so isn’t the most agile vehicle to ever grace the roads of Cambridgeshire.
Our test model was fitted with the optional Executive Drive Pro system that reads the road ahead, preempting what’s coming up and stiffening the air suspension as you enter a corner, giving you extra feel just when you need it, but leaving everything relaxed when wafting along. It’s an impressive system that adds £2,450 to the price tag, but it’s worth the spend. Only some slightly clunky moments at low speeds lets the side down.
The dashboard ahead of the driver is a little disappointing too, although it hides more impressive technology. Disregarding the dramatic opulence found in the Mercedes S-Class, the 7 Series gets a functional dashboard with a strong family style that’s reminiscent of the common 3 Series. Quality is top-notch, as you might expect, but it lacks drama.
Seven series drivers tend to prefer subtlety over style, so says the manufacturer, so the business-like interior will undoubtedly appeal. A large LCD screen dominates the centre stack, while BMW’s iDrive control system gets another useful update, but if you really can’t be bothered with pressing buttons or screens, simply waving at the car can control things. Want to turn the stereo up? Simply spin a finger in the air as if rotating an imaginary knob. Don’t want to answer an incoming phone call? Dismissively wave your hand through the air and the caller is sent to voicemail.
It might take some getting used to the commands (it’s not instinctive to point at the screen to answer a telephone call) but once you do it’s a genuinely liberating technology that means you really can keep your eyes on the road at all times.
Buyers lucky enough to have their own driver during the week can relax in the back with reclining, heated, cooled and massaged seats, optional iPad-like screens and controls for virtually any part of the car.
As you lay back and relax, watching the world go by behind double-glazed windows, you really do feel cut off from the outside. Whilst it’s not silent, it’s so well insulated that what little sound does make it through to the cabin is irrelevant.
The Bowers & Wilkins sound system, with 16 speakers, will soon drown any sound out. The sound quality is incredibly impressive, as you might expect from a system that includes diamonds and kevlar amongst its parts. Even the speaker grilles, made of less impressive stainless steel, include Fibonacci patterned holes and Nautilus spiral diffusers.
While enjoying the sound, you also get the chance to see what your £68,480 has been spent on, but it’s the options that make it easy to creep up to silly money - our test model had £21,795 of options included, many of which you might assume would be standard.
At least the 730d is about as efficient as a director's car gets. The promised 58.9mpg might be a tad optimistic, but that means a CO2 figure of 129g/km that translates to a tax bill of £564 per month for company drivers.
The BMW 7 is as good a car as BMW has ever made, but it’s still got something of a split personality. It’s drivers that the 7 is aimed at though, even in long-wheelbase form. While economy and quality are up with the best, it’s the engaging drive that is likely to tip the balance in the direction of the BMW.
However, for those that sit in the back and want the finest and most insulated ride, the S-Class is still the preferred choice.
Unless you can afford a Rolls-Royce.
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