Car reviews - BMW - 7 Series - range
Excellent ride and handling, high level of standard appointments, great engines
Room for improvement
Some of the new interior toys smack of gimmickry, unrefined lane keeping tech, rear seat cramped for three
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9 Nov 2015
By TIM ROBSON
THE large sedan has long been the standard bearer for many car companies, and in particular the German brands. BMW has always used its largest car to preview new, ground-breaking technologies, and the 7 Series has heralded a host of industry firsts in its 38-year history.
Electronic speedometers, cruise control, speed-regulated wipers, park distance control, onboard TV, six-speed automatic transmission, continuously adaptive dampers, ‘stop and go’ active speed control and more can all be traced back to debuts on the 7 Series.
The G11 (or G12 on long wheelbase form) is no different, even though the list of firsts might be getting shorter.
BMW has always prided itself on being a driver’s marque first and foremost, but large sedans don’t often lend themselves to country road shenanigans. The new 7 Series, though, shows real promise in the area of on-road dynamics.
Its chassis, for example, is built from an industry-first (for mass-produced cars, at least) composite of carbon fibre reinforced plastic, high-strength steel and aluminium, giving the car the magic combination of stiffness, light weight and low centre of gravity right off the bat.
Add a 50/50 front/rear weight distribution, a not unreasonable all-up weight of around 1860kg and rear-wheel-drive, and things start to get interesting.
Of course, the 7 Series fulfils a different mission for the brand than, say, a 3 Series it’s executive-standard transport for captains of industry, whether they are riding in the back or taking command in the driver’s seat. To this end, the 7 pursues a more comfortable and cosseting tune from this point on.
Air spring-based suspension is fitted all around, with the option of active anti-roll bars that automatically disconnect themselves from the rest of the stem, relaxing the ride when the road ahead is straight and narrow.
These same bars instantly reconnect when there’s even a hint of a corner, firming up the roll control before you know you even need it.
The 7’s engines, too, are a big part of the equation. GoAuto tested both the 3.0-litre straight six turbo-diesel and twin-turbo 3.0-litre petrol six – both backed by BMW’s eight-speed auto – and both are excellent performers in this guise.
With 195kW and a plentiful 620Nm on hand, the worked-over diesel is astonishingly quiet and refined, and will really hustle the 730d along in a suitably brisk yet restrained manner. Its torque spread is long and linear, and it makes short work of overtaking duties without ever becoming fussed by it.
Over 120km of rolling terrain, we saw economy figures dip into the low sixes on our brand new tester, against a claimed figure of 4.9 litres per 100 kilometres.
The twin-turbo petrol version is equally competent, but is the more willing and energetic of the pair. With more power (240kW) but less torque (450Nm), the petrol engine also shows admirable refinement and on-demand performance, though the diesel feels stronger earlier in the throttle travel.
A shorter, more demanding run saw fuel economy figures around eight litres per 100km, against a claimed figure of 7.1.
The driving experience is a good one, with light yet communicative steering and excellent ride control on our testers, which were all fitted with BMW’s $5500 optional active anti-roll bar set-up.
The multiple modes all displayed different characteristics, though giving the comfort and sport modes an extra ‘plus’ mode seems superfluous while the difference between comfort and sport is marked, it’s not so noticeable between comfort and comfort plus.
Sport mode, meanwhile, detracts from the 7’s otherwise relaxed, confident and competent demeanour, adding a brittle, jostly edge to the ride that isn’t in keeping with the car’s character.
The new interior has been tastefully done, with many familiar touches – the wide centre console armrest, for example – tying the car to its forebears. BMW has also added a host of content to lift the car’s interior in terms of lighting tech and materials, and it works both in the front seats and the rear.
Our testers were equipped with a host of options, including seat massagers, armrest heaters and vented seats, which added a sense of luxury of occasion to the car. BMW Australia has also added a host of standard spec to the range, including powered blinds for the rear and rear-side windows, Nappa leather interior, touchscreen infotainment, 360-degree camera and head-up display, which also add to the car’s luxury status.
There has been much fuss made about the gesture control… which, quite frankly, feels a little bit silly to use in real life. There is a considerable lag between making the gesture and the action being completed, for example, while the act of turning the stereo up or down or dismissing a phone call is already accessible via the steering wheel.
Another surprising disappointment is the action of the 7’s lane-keeping steering system. The theory is that the car will steer itself to keep the car between the lanes, even if the driver has little to no hand weight on the wheel. In practice, the car is late to correct its trajectory out of a lane, which leads to a more dramatic correction once it occurs.
Other systems on the market are far more gradual and confident with their tracking function, to the point where you’d be confident to relinquish control to the car if it asked. We ended up switching off the system in the 7 Series, as we felt it detracted from the car’s otherwise excellent steering and chassis dynamics.
Despite these small criticisms over our short drive, the 7 Series is an excellently appointed large luxury sedan with a high performance threshold from a clever chassis and spirited engines. BMW is confident it can wrest the sales crown back from Mercedes-Benz’s S Class in 2016, and if anything can manage the feat, the 7 Series is it.
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