New models - BMW - 7 Series
First drive: BMW's longer Seven
Long-wheelbase 7 Series arrives Down Under, packed with more luxury, comfort and standard equipment than ever
31 Jul 2002
THE biggest, most luxurious and highest technology BMW limousine ever has just landed in Australia, offering class-leading internal and external dimensions, a record level of standard equipment and highly competitive pricing.
First deliveries of two highly-specified V8 model variants of the longer new 7 Series begin now.
The 735Li and 745Li both feature a 140mm longer wheelbase, delivering unprecedented levels of rear occupant space, comfort and safety.
The extra length lies totally within longer, wider-opening rear doors, said to increase the rear passenger compartment to first-class airliner proportions.
Largely for those that enjoy being driven, the Li models, according to BMW, offer "a level of luxury and attention to detail high achievers will instantly recognise and appreciate".
At 5158mm in length - also precisely 140mm longer than before - the stretched Seven is now the longest, widest and tallest in its class, out-sizing rival L-variants of the Mercedes-Benz S-class - albeit by just 11mm - and other premium limousines like Audi's A8 and the Lexus LS430.
But the extended version of what is claimed to be the world's most advanced production car still falls short of local limos like the Ford Fairlane and Holden's Statesman, which spans a massive 5237mm.
The E66 is not short of technology, however, relegating fewer of the short-wheelbase E65's 75-long list of "industry leading and state-of-the-art technical and convenience features" to the optional equipment list, and adding exclusive new technology.
Both long models continue to employ as standard new 3.6 and 4.4-litre Valvetronic V8 engines, the world's first six-speed auto with steering wheel-mounted shift buttons, BMW's controversial one-knob-for-everything iDrive system, EDC-C electronic damper control (costing extra only on 735i), and Dynamic Drive - the active electronic stability control system that virtually removes bodyroll (free on 745Li, a cheaper option on 735Li).
Pushing the technology statement even further, the long models also bring, as optional equipment, what is claimed to be an Australian-first active cruise control system. Similar to Mercedes-Benz's yet-to-arrive-here Distronic radar-operated cruise control, ACC adjusts speed as required to keep a constant, preset following distance behind another vehicle.
Reflecting the new 7 Series limousine's off-line build exclusivity is the change from iL to Li variant designation, the 4.4-litre model's new 745 name (previously 740) and the fact that, for the first time, the longer 7 Series has a different engineering code to its donor car (E66 and E65, instead of just plain old outgoing E38).
A new 300k/600Nm Valvetronic V12 will power a range-topping 760Li from the first quarter of 2003, when Comfort Access keyless start (similar to Benz's Keyless Go) will also become available. A diesel version is a future possibility and, finally, a Protection model will again be offered, brandishing yet another new engineering code (E67), sometime in 2004.
So for now BMW's two-model Li range will compete with three long-wheelbase S-class models (in the absence of a V12), while two short-wheelbase Sevens leaves BMW short of a large six-cylinder in Australia.
But competitive new pricing (adjusted since being announced at the Melbourne motor show) sees BMW's entry level 200kW 735Li significantly undercut Mercedes-Benz's entry level long-wheelbase S-class, the 205kW S430L. At $184,600, the 735Li pricetag represents a $10,500 premium over the 140mm-shorter 735i, but is well under the $218,000 S430L, itself $18,800 more than the base S430.
Meantime, while both manufacturers' extensive standard and optional equipment lists make direct comparisons difficult, the 245kW 745Li may be $15,800 more expensive than its donor 745Li, but at $223,00 is still priced well below the 235kW S500L at $252,500.
Despite the relatively small increase in size and standard equipment over standard 7 Series models, BMW again expects the new long-wheelbase Seven to account for about 65 per cent of total 7 Series sales, which recently overtook S-class sales globally by recording 26,000 sales in the first half of 2002.
Featuring both better fuel economy and performance than the outgoing E38 model, some two-thirds of which were sold in the Asia Pacific and Middle East regions, the 735Li sprints to 100km/h in 7.6 seconds, while the vastly more powerful 745Li manages it in 6.5 and the forthcoming 750Li should see the figure down to just six seconds.
"The long-wheelbase 7 Series offers the most rewarding driving experience conceivable on four wheels," said Franz Sauter, BMW Australia managing director.
"Another target was to challenge convention with the motto: if you follow others you'll never overtake them."
E66 A TREASURE TROVE OF TECHNOLOGYStandard specifications for all 7 Series includes ABS, 10 airbags, Automatic Stability Control plus Traction (ASC+T), the latest Dynamic Stability Control (DSCIII), Dynamic Brake Control, cruise control, front and rear Park Distance Control, fog lights, bi-Xenon headlights with washers, rain sensing wipers, folding and auto dimming wing mirrors, remote central locking/alarm, metallic paint, Nasca leather trim, power seats including front lumbar and driver's memory, onboard monitor with TV, satellite navigation, telephone, voice recognition, electrically adjustable multi-function steering wheel with remote gearshift buttons, automatic climate control and single-CD audio with six-CD in-dash stacker. All of this brings the kerb weight of a standard 735Li alone to around 2000kg.
Along with EDC-C as a no-cost option, plus Dynamic Drive as a lower-cost option, the 735Li adds a number of goodies 735i owners pay extra for, including self-levelling rear suspension, automatic tailgate operation and an electric rear sunblind, while rear air-conditioning including coolbox is optionally available only on Li models.
745 models are further differentiated from 735 models by an electric glass sunroof and clear indicator lenses from the BMW Individual options list, plus the optional availability of Comfort Seats with active headrests and passenger memory. And while both long sedans get unique wheels - 18-inch multi-spoke for 735Li and 19-inch star-spoke for 745Li - each is optional on other models.
Like 745i, 745Li gets EDC-C as standard, while Dynamic Drive is standard equipment exclusive to 745Li.
However, remaining optional equipment on all 7 Series models is: a ski bag, electric rear side blinds (cheaper on Li models), in-dash Mini Disc player, steering wheel heating, rear telephone, rear Comfort Seats, active front seats, front seat heating, rear seat heating, ventilated front or rear seats with heated front/rear seats, full Club leather, soft-close auto doors, Climate Comfort glazing for all windows, protective glazing, plus a host of BMW Individual range luxuries like 20-inch wheels, Merino leather and headrest-mounted DVD monitors.
DRIVE IMPRESSIONS:There's no doubt the biggest ever mainstream 7 Series delivers huge advances in comfort, safety and technology, with a reasonable increase in standard specification to go with the extra 140mm of rear legroom for roughly an extra $10,000 and $15,000 respectively.
Of course, some of the technology is controversial and, as in short-wheelbase versions, the standard iDrive all-in-one control system can be frustrating and takes plenty of getting used to.
Once mastered, however, the intelligence of the all-encompassing technology is impressive to operate and - barring the lack of some basic dash-mounted controls for the likes of switching off traction control and selecting between AM and FM stations - we suspect it's just the type of cutting-edge technology potential 7 Series owners lust after.
And there's no argument from us about the extra real-world convenience offered by new techno features like the self-opening and closing boot, the soft-closing doors that remain ajar at precisely the angle you choose and the handbrake that engages and releases by itself at traffic lights.
Predominant rear-seat passengers will also bask in the comfort of (optional) fully adjustable, heated and ventilated rear seating, the massive leg and headroom, and the latest in optional infotainment technology.
But the big version of the new Seven is much more than a technological showboat, furthering the BMW tradition of producing real driver's car far greater than the outgoing E38.
Yes, the steering too light for many and the road/tyre noise from both the 735Li's 18-inch and the 745Li's massive 19-inch tyres and alloys detract from an otherwise first-class package.
But, proving the worth of the new 7 Series' techno-overload even in terms of the driving, features like Dynamic Drive - which effectively actively varies stabiliser bar forces as you corner to virtually eliminate bodyroll (free on 745Li, cheaper on 735Li) - make driving the massive new Seven, which starts out at around 2000kg, a radical new, gravity-defying experience.
So too does BMW's optional new Active Cruise Control, which eerily accelerates and decelerates (often not quickly enough, especially when bends approach) to keep a constant preset distance behind the vehicle in front at speeds of up to 100km/h.
Similarly, the EDC-C active damper control (standard on 745Li), which is said to provide an infinite range of damping characteristics and does work well on a wide variety of Australian road conditions - is yet another example of the sort of industry-leading technology that should make the Li models the most popular BMW limousines ever.
REVISED 7 SERIES PRICING:735i $174,100
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