BMW's all-new flagship luxury car is a major step forward in automotive design and marks a new design direction for the company. Both inside and out, BMW's designers and technicians have created an entirely new look and feel for the 7 Series and developed a revolutionary interior concept called iDrive.
Under the skin is a technological tour de force, which combines cutting edge body, engine and chassis technology with the latest in electronic and computer know-how. The combination of performance and economy are peerless in the luxury sector and refinement is second to none.
It makes perfect financial sense too, with lavish equipment levels, highly competitive pricing, an innovative five-year service and maintenance package and strong residual values.
Two models will be available at launch, the 735i (£52,750) and the 745i (£56,950). The V12 760i and long wheelbase models will join the line-up later in 2002, with six cylinder petrol and diesel models in 2003.
Penned by BMW design chief Chris Bangle, the 7 Series has an entirely new look. He has created a shape which communicates dynamism, performance, luxury and has a commanding on-the-road presence. At the same time, familiar features make it unmistakably a BMW.
Lightweight materials have been used extensively, like aluminium and high-strength steel. Although the new 7 Series is longer (+45 mm), wider (+40 mm) and higher (+57 mm) than the previous model and packed with new systems and extra equipment, it is only marginally heavier (+20 kg). The new body is also extremely aerodynamic which helps deliver the outstanding fuel consumption figures - 735i 26.4 mpg, 745i 25.9 mpg.
BMW has rewritten the rulebook on automotive interior design with its new iDrive concept. Faced with the conundrum of ever-increasing vehicle systems and technology, yet limited space for the resultant proliferation of knobs, buttons and switches on the dashboards of luxury cars, BMW has found this radical solution.
iDrive is an intuitive, ergonomic design concept which puts the driver back at the centre of vehicle control. It splits the control systems into two main areas within the cockpit - the driving area, immediately in front of the driver and the comfort area, running up the centre console and the middle of the dash, dominated by the large circular knob (the Controller) and the Control Display.
All the primary controls needed to drive the car are directly in front of the driver. The gearshift is controlled by a stalk on the steering column and the parking brake is operated by a button on the dashboard, within easy reach.
The rest of the dashboard is almost devoid of switches and buttons, giving the interior clean lines and a feeling of light and space. Exceptions are the primary heater controls and the sound system on/off knob.
All remaining secondary controls are operated via the Controller - a large circular knob positioned on the centre console. Control areas are selected via a menu-driven display at the top of the dashboard.
The Controller and Control Display has been structured to be highly intuitive and easy to use - and at the same time to reduce driver distraction. Optional voice control of many of the systems makes life even easier.
One of the most significant innovations within this system is the world's first mobile internet gateway, called BMW ONLINE. This will give access to services like email, Yellow Pages, news and local guides, when it comes to the UK in 2003.
Interior materials have been selected from the finest available and the 7 Series has an air of opulence and luxury. Standard specification is generous, including satellite navigation, telephone and leather upholstery and the option list is virtually limitless. Passenger space has increased compared to the previous model in every dimension and most notably, rear passengers have 42 mm extra knee room.
At the heart of the launch models are two of the most refined and advanced V8 engines in the world. Power is up by 14 per cent compared to the previous models (735i 272 bhp, 745i 333 bhp) and fuel consumption reduced by a similar amount (735i 26.3 mpg, 745i 25.9 mpg).
Both engines have 32 valves, Double-VANOS variable valve timing and BMW's new variable valve lift technology called VALVETRONIC. The latter system allows the inlet valves to regulate the amount of fuel/air mixture entering the cylinders and so negates the need for a throttle butterfly. This increases efficiency and reduces fuel consumption. A world first is BMW's new variable length inlet manifold system, which allows optimum breathing at all engine speeds.
Performance is impressive, the 735i launching from standstill to 62 mph in 7.5 seconds and the 745i in 6.3 seconds. Maximum speeds are both limited to 155 mph. Mated to both engines is another world first for a series production car - a six speed automatic gearbox. This has three modes; drive, sport and manual. In manual mode, gears are shifted by using the Steptronic buttons on the steering wheel.
An extremely stiff chassis and a new active suspension system are complemented by the latest in electronic driving stability aids, to serve up the ultimate driving experience for a luxury car. But however hard the car is driven, the refinement and ride quality remain sublime.
Dynamic Drive active anti-roll is a standard feature on UK-specification cars. Sensors detect when the car begins to corner and hydraulic actuators rotate the asymmetric roll bars to lift the car on the outside of the bend. This does not load the suspension (like some other systems) so the ride quality remains perfect. Body roll is reduced dramatically, although not eliminated, as this feels rather unnatural, and helps to keep all occupants in even greater comfort.
An optional Electronic Damper Control system (EDC-K) has a Sport and Comfort setting, but in each mode it constantly adjusts the damping rate to suit the driving conditions at any given moment. In Sport mode the dampers are stiffer and the steering has more weight.
As well as BMW's highly praised electronic active safety systems, such as Dynamic Stability Control (DSC), Dynamic Traction Control (DTC) and Cornering Braking Control (CBC), there is a new one called Fading Brake Support (FBC). Temperature sensors in the brake discs detect excessive heat build-up and apply extra force to the discs to compensate for any fade. Under really extreme driving conditions, when disc temperature exceeds 600ºC, engine torque is electronically reduced by 25 per cent to allow the brakes to cool.
Servicing peace of mind
BMW has launched an entirely new five-year, 75,000 mile service and maintenance package for the new 7 Series, called BMW Concours. When the car is sold, Concours passes to the new owner, which will help to enhance residual values.
A one-off fee of £500 (a fraction of the retail cost) will cover service and maintenance by BMW technicians, including engine oil and filters, wiper blades, brake pads and discs, spark plugs, air filters, microfilter, brake fluid and coolant.
Computers constantly monitor the condition of all the major components and inform the driver when servicing is required and what needs replacing. Service intervals will average around 18,750 miles and could be as long as 25,000 miles for more gentle drivers.
Buyers of the 7 Series will be predominantly male, with an average age in their early 50s. Around two-thirds describe themselves as freelance or self employed and will comprise a broad group of individuals, from celebrities to sportsmen and diplomats to chauffeurs. A quarter will be directors or top managers from all kinds of different industries, many of whom will spend more time being driven than driving themselves.
With the business user in mind, BMW Financial Services have set particularly competitive contract hire rates of £799 and £999 plus VAT per month for the 735i and 745i respectively. This is over a 36 month period with £3886 and £3173, respectively, in advance. BMW predicts an exceptionally strong residual value of 45 per cent over three years and 60,000 miles.
Managing director of BWW GB, Jim O'Donnell, commented, "The revolutionary design of the new 7 Series, inside and out, will make a major impact in what is an increasingly competitive market", O'Donnell continued, "and the car's combination of performance and supreme fuel-efficiency is simply second to none. This will help to allay some of the environmental issues - particularly when the diesel becomes available next year. We believe our new 7 is really going to shake up the luxury sector in the coming years."Published 11 February 2002