I guess it’s human nature but when snapper Gregory and I hear a group of lads approaching we are instantly on our guard. It’s one of the elements that makes a night shoot in London exciting, as you never know who you’re going to meet. Judging by the noise that they’re making, the group approaching us are fairly rowdy and I mentally double check that the key to the 7 Series is in my pocket while Gus subconsciously moves his bag of expensive cameras closer to him. Our concerns proved to be unfounded as when the group of lads returning home from a night out surround the car it’s plain to see that they’re just fascinated by this luxury limo.
It doesn’t take me long to enter full salesman mode and I’m soon busy demonstrating the vast number of technological highlights to them. It’s plain to see that the Seven’s gadgets and gizmos have completely blown them away and the conversation is punctuated by plenty of ’that’s amazing’ and ’sick man’ expressions. After about ten minutes I’m probably only halfway through the Seven’s extensive repertoire but by now the couple of non-petrol heads among them are becoming a little bored and they gradually slope off after smartphone pictures and videos have been taken. The last remark I hear before they’re out of earshot is: ’That’s the best car ever, man’. This might have been a group of teenagers but it doesn’t seem to matter the age of those casting an eye over the Seven, both young and old seem to love its high-tech wizardry.
My new Seven Series adventure started in the south of France when we were whisked from Nice airport to our hotel in the comfort of a long wheelbase 730d. As a motoring journalist it’s quite rare to actually be driven somewhere but there is no doubt that if you are going to be driven then the rear passenger compartment of a long wheelbase Seven is the place to be. The electric heated Comfort seats are fantastic and all manner of things can be changed or adjusted via the optional BMW Command Tablet. Via this tablet, that clips into the rear armrest when it’s in the down position, you can adjust your seat, move the passenger seat forwards to give you more legroom, raise or lower the electric blinds for the rear windows, access the entertainment system, dial-up information on the route navigation and even adjust the fragrance being blown into the cabin.
While all this is very impressive the most important aspect of the new 7 Series is also best discovered from the rear passenger compartment. And that’s its ride quality. The Seven has always suffered in comparison to the Mercedes S class in terms of offering a magic carpet ride. No doubt this has stemmed from BMW’s desire to not move too far away from its ‘ultimate driving machine’ tag. It certainly succeeded in being the better handling luxury limo and the one that’s most fun to drive but in this class, ride comfort takes precedence. And that’s why BMW has really gone to town on the suspension setup on the new Seven.
Its basic architecture will be familiar – double wishbones up front and a multi-link setup at the rear – but where BMW has deviated from its normal setup is in the use of self-levelling air suspension – front and rear. It’s a first for BMW and, lounging in the comfort of the rear passenger compartment, it proves to be fantastically successful. While we’re on the subject of suspension we should also mention that electronic damper control is standard across the board and that its different modes can be accessed as normal via the Drive Performance Control switch.
As an option, BMW has also developed a new active chassis control system called Executive Drive Pro. This is effectively a refined version of the Dynamic Drive system for reducing rolling movement at the front and rear axle and this works in unison with the air suspension and the Variable Damper Control to achieve what BMW reckons is ’a remarkable standard of suspension, damping and vibration comfort’.
For the first time the active roll stabilisation is carried out electromechanically, allowing the body roll forces to be equalised particularly swiftly and precisely when taking bends at speed. When driving in a straight line, the adjustable anti-roll bars are set so as to allow the suspension system the greatest possible freedom of movement for increased comfort. It also incorporates an anticipatory chassis control function where advance information for regulating the combination of chassis systems is gleaned from the driving style analysis readings, the data from the navigation system and a stereo camera that can spot items such as large potholes and adjust the suspension as necessary before the car runs over it.
It’s very clever stuff and will be one of the things I’ll be keeping an eye out for on the run back to the UK. The last thing I’ll mention that’s been gleaned from the rear seat compartment is that the fit and finish in here really is second to none. The standard fit Nappa leather (a step up from BMW’s normal Dakota hide) feels wonderfully opulent and the combination of chrome, wood and leather is absolutely spot-on.
Small touches – like the way the tablet rises out of its housing in a seamless gliding movement when you want to remove it – demonstrate the lengths BMW has gone to with the fine detailing on this machine. While pretending to be a captain of industry being whisked from here to there in leather-lined comfort is all very well I’m keen to get behind the wheel and the following morning I’m given the keys to ’my’ car – a 730d SE in Black Sapphire metallic with Black Exclusive Nappa leather. It looks sensational and hides its bulk well whilst managing to look modern, svelte and stylish but with a hint of hidden aggression. I particularly like the new front grille treatment that looks like it has significantly more slats than might be strictly necessary, but these are actually part of the car’s active aerodynamics package and open or close depending on the cooling requirements of the engine.
And that engine is a refinement of the six-cylinder unit that’s served BMW so well of late and detail changes have increased output slightly while majoring on improved refinement. Headline stats are 265hp and 457lb ft of torque but thanks to the new Seven weighing considerably less – up to 130kg lighter than the previous model due to its innovative ’Carbon Core’ – performance and economy have both improved. 0-62mph now takes just 6.1 seconds but it’s the combined economy figure of 62.8mpg and the low emissions of just 119g/km that really grab your attention. In the real world I’m not expecting to match the claimed economy but that emissions figure means that your £65k luxury limousine will only cost £30 a year to tax!
I need to hit the road pretty rapidly as I’m planning the Nice to London jaunt in one sitting as I need to be at home the following morning. Before thumbing the starter and pointing the Seven’s nose north, however, I have to take in some of the technology that’s on board. There’s four-zone air-con as standard and the buttons to operate this are new touchsensitive jobbies that exude a quality feel; the resolution of the satellite navigation screen is better than ever and the standard fit head-up display has grown in size, has a clearer look to it and displays even more information than before. If you feel that you’re getting information overload from the HUD you can program (via the iDrive) the information it displays. In fact, you can program just about any aspect of the car’s functions through the iDrive and with a clearer operating system this is easier to do than ever.
Once the mirrors and seat have been adjusted to my satisfaction it’s time to hit the road in search of an Autoroute or two and I follow the sat nav’s clear instructions that even I can’t mess up. The clarity of the HUD’s information is stunning, showing not only the direction you need to go in and a countdown in distance to the next turn but individual sections of map are displayed, which makes following the route a doddle. Once onto the motorway it’s time to switch on the cruise control, settle back in the luxurious leather and watch the world go by. I’m almost tempted to ask the car to wake me up when we get there! That would mean missing out on experimenting with all the various features of the car, though, so it’s time to start pressing buttons and using gestures to find out what’s possible.
First up for analysis is the ’Ambient Air’ package. BMW has launched eight different scents for the car, two of which can be slotted into a receptacle in the glovebox at any one time allowing you to breathe in ionised, scented air. Given that the air freshener business is a multi-million pound one there’s obviously a demand for this sort of thing but it’s not really my cup of tea to be honest so is quickly switched off. Perhaps it’s okay for hiding the scent of wet dog in a ten-year-old Touring, but I like my new cars to smell of new car.
I experiment with the Active Cruise control and unsurprisingly it works a treat. Once I’ve ticked that box I try out some of the elements in the ’Driving Assistant Plus’ package – a £2960 option. This basically comprises the aforementioned Active Cruise along with rear collision prevention and rear crossing traffic warning, approach control and person warning with light city braking function, lane change and lane departure warning and speed limit info with no overtaking indicator, front crossing traffic warning, steering and lane control assistant including traffic jam assistant and lane keeping assistant with active side collision protection. Got all that?
Like most of the technology in the car the items you want to be active can be tailored via the iDrive but after experimenting with everything switched on I’m not entirely sure this would be an option I’d tick. If you drift towards the white lines on the motorway you’ll get a vibration through the steering wheel and if you continue in that direction the car will even correct its line to move you back into the middle of your lane. If feels a trifle odd to be honest; maybe if you live with it for a little longer you’d get used to it but I eventually find it a little unnerving.
The standard Comfort seats are superb, though. They come with heating elements as standard and this car has an optional cooling function, too, but perhaps best of all is the standard massage function. You can choose from eight different programs to, say, massage you lower back or your whole body, and it’s amazing at how effective it is in stopping the aches and pains you get after a long time at the wheel.
Much has been made of the gesture control that the Seven’s now equipped with (where you wave a hand at the iDrive to adjust the volume, reject or accept incoming phone calls or control the 3D view display). There’s no doubting it’s very clever but after having experimented I have to admit I tended to use the steering wheel-mounted controls in preference to having to remove a hand from the wheel.
By the time I reach London I’ve spent 14 hours at the wheel but feel in no way tired. I’ve completed countless long drives back from launches over the years and I can’t remember ever stepping out of a car and feeling this good. The ride’s excellent, especially in Comfort Plus or Adaptive modes and wind noise is very well disguised, while the diesel mill is a distant refined hum.
A further week is spent with the Seven in the UK and it simply blows everyone away with its technology and gadgets. The iDrive screen can also now be used as a touchscreen but, to be honest, I’m now so used to using the iDrive controller that I didn’t really utilise it. The bird’s eye view has been further refined and you can scroll around the car getting a full view of what’s around you – very clever and also very useful when parking in tight spaces. The ’welcome carpet’ you can see in the pictures looks undeniably cool when viewed in the dark and the interior lighting can be changed to six different colours, offering different ambiances to the cabin. The bottom line is that this car is dripping with technology and luxury touches. I think I’m even more stunned by it now it’s gone and can’t help but agree with the lads we met in London… ’That’s the best car ever.’
LED headlights are a standard fitment and offer excellent illumination of the road as well as looking super-cool.
TECHNICAL DATA BMW-730d-G11
ENGINE: 3.0-litre turbocharged straight-six diesel
MAX POWER: 265hp
MAX TORQUE: 458lb ft
0-62MPH: 6.1 seconds
TOP SPEED: 155mph (limited)
CO² EMISSIONS: 119g/kg
PRICE: £64,530 (OTR), £78,685 (as tested)
The interior is stunning, a real work of art. Seats are hugely comfortable and the Seven simply oozes technology.
The six-cylinder diesel is mighty refined yet provides excellent performance and decent economy.
The standard fit Nappa leather feels wonderfully opulent.