First Drive. New BMW 7-Series for 2015

TheChauffeur.com gets behind the wheel of the new BMW 7-Series range and discovers what is in store for UK Chauffeurs when it arrives on our shores later in the year.

Dr Ian Kuah takes to the roads of Portugal to find out if the new 7 will continue to go head-to-head with its German rivals.

“As BMW’s flagship model, the 7-Series carries the heavy responsibility of not only setting the technology bar in its class, but the driving dynamics one too. The engineers have done their job well and where the previous model gave best to the Mercedes S-Class in ride quality, the new 7-Series has now closed that gap.

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With more power and a weight saving of around 130kg the new car is faster and more agile than its predecessor. Importantly, as it is a limousine, overall refinement and ride quality are also noticeably improved.

To confirm that VIPs will have no complaints, I spent half the time in the rear seat, which is comfortably spacious in the standard car, and impressively roomy in the LWB version, which has 140mm more legroom.

All our SWB test cars had the optional electric rear seats, which made the journey even more comfortable. However, the Executive Lounge Seating option in the LWB car offers the ultimate restful experience.

Normally, you have to press and hold a button to move such a seat to its fully reclined position. BMW thoughtfully provide a more convenient one-touch arrangement, and it is possible to halt the process in intermediate positions. And when the front passenger seat reaches the end of its forward journey, the big video screen then realigns its viewing angle to the vertical.

As customers have different requirements, permutations of two individual rear seats or a normal three-seat arrangement without the rear centre console are there for the asking.

The move to remote control for rear seat occupants of either wheelbase models sees a neat solution in the form of a Samsung tablet with BMW software that allows access to all the cars systems from the audio system to heating and rear seat massage functions.

While Harman Kardon continues to provide the entry-level audio system in the new 7-Series, Bowers & Wilkins replaces Bang & Olufsen as BMW’s top-of-the-range audio alternative.

With a real high-end domestic audio manufacturer in play at last, the 16-speaker, 1,400 watt B&W Diamond system’s tonal balance is natural and musical rather than hi-fi spectacular. The one caveat is that it sounds better in front than in the rear.

Many people wrongly equate a soft ride with comfort. BMW recognises that a supple primary secondary ride in conjunction with iron-fisted control to remove yaw and heave are paramount for a comfortable ride. Their new air suspension system with active anti-roll stabilisation cracks this tough nut, and the new 7-Series equals the sublime ride quality of the Mercedes S-Class without compromising the responsive handling BMW is renowned for.

In Comfort mode, the 7-Series glides over bumps in a manner that speaks of perfect wheel and body control, and even in Sport mode the ride never becomes too firm. For extra feel good factor there is an additional Comfort+ setting that adds even more to the sense of gliding along, but that is best disengaged when you pick up the pace.

When the new 7-Series goes on sale in October it is clear that the 730d will be the most popular model in the UK and Europe, while the 750i V8 will take centre stage in the US and Middle East.

In other petrol markets like Japan and Asia, the 3.0 litre six-cylinder 740i, which has 326hp and 450Nm of torque, will be the mainstay model. I drove a pre-production 740i three months ago, and while it is not as torque rich as the diesel, it is rapid enough for most people.

A Plug-In Hybrid model known as the 740e will be introduced within a year. Powered by a combination of BMW’s turbocharged 2.0 litre four-cylinder engine and an electric motor it has a total system output of 326hp and 500Nm

With a fuel consumption average of 2.1 L/100km (134.5 mpg Imperial) and emissions of just 49g/km, the 740e will be the economy and emissions champion of the range. Downsides? While BMW has arranged a flat boot floor, like its rivals, this Plug-In Hybrid loses 90 litres of the normal 515 litre boot capacity.

Where most Plug-In Hybrid cars have their power sockets on the right rear corner BMW places this one on the left front wing as they found it the best if your garage is narrow, to open the door and to avoid tripping over the cable in a LHD car. Of course this logic fails if you prefer reversing into your garage and have a RHD car!

With 265hp and 620Nm of torque, the 3.0 litre six-cylinder 730d has smooth and rapid acceleration. It is a restful drivers’ car, with an extremely comfortable and serene rear seat ride as well. On a light throttle cruise at 130km/h, the engine is as inaudible as that of the V8-powered 750L xDrive.

While its 6.1 sec 0-100km/h time is merely brisk compared to the 4.5 sec of the V8, the huge wave of torque coupled to supreme refinement and aerodynamics also makes it is easy to reach three figure speeds without much effort.

The optional Integral Active Steering (rear-wheel-steering) is available on both rear and xDrive (4WD) versions, but the maximum handling benefits are felt with both systems together.

BMW say an increasing number of their customers are taking up the xDrive option even in countries without heavy winters as they recognise the safety and traction benefits on wet roads. Importantly, xDrive will be available on RHD models.

The LWB 750i xDrive I tested on the second day was equipped with both systems, which proved their worth on the twisty hill roads above Porto. The 7-Series is a wide car, and with the extra 140mm in the wheelbase of the LWB version, it is also long.

However, the IAS helped it turn in and track round tight bends with a smaller radius and greater feeling of agility than would otherwise be possible, and this is significant when parking and manoeuvring at low speeds. With a steering ratio and feel perfect for the chassis turn-in rate, threading this big car along the twisty roads felt perfectly intuitive.

The 450hp and 650Nm of torque generated by the silky smooth 4.4-litre twin-turbo V8’s is seamlessly transferred to the tarmac via the eight-speed automatic and xDrive. Even full throttle out of tight bends never provoked a hint of any wheel slip.

Over two days of driving, I struggled to find negatives and eventually came up with just two. Wind noise around the drivers’ exterior mirror becomes obvious on the motorway at certain oblique wind angles, but not otherwise.

Tyre noise on some road surfaces was more apparent than I would have liked. Our test cars were on 19-inch Pirellis, and this might be better or worse with the alternative tyre makes. The base wheel size is 18-inch with 19, 20 and 21-inch wheels as options.

Finally, I asked BMW if they plan to produce an extended version of the 7-Series to challenge the Mercedes-Maybach. Their answer was that this already exists in the Rolls-Royce range!”

Dr Ian Kuah – TheChauffeur.com

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