BMW 7er Series

By Jonathan Spira on 1 February 2009
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Last September we looked at the Lexus LS460 and Mercedes S550, two leaders in executive-class luxury.  Next month, BMW will introduce the new 2009 7er Series in the U.S., the automaker’s fifth generation of its über-luxury sedan.

Invited to drive one of the first production cars, I planned a trip befitting the aristocracy of this automobile.  I chose as my destination the city of Portorož in Slovenia.  At the turn of the last century, Portorož, on the Adriatic, was one of the most important European seaside resorts and was frequented by royalty and the aristocracy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

Looking at the new 7er head on one knows it’s a BMW from the large and vertical kidney grilles (thanks to Europe’s pedestrian crash standards) and the illuminated eyebrows over the headlights.  The sides of the cars benefit from two elegant character lines.   At night, the car’s brilliant LED taillights make the car a knockout.

The car’s interior is the first new BMW in years to sport a cockpit tilted towards the driver (there is not as much tilt as my E21 320iS had but all tilt was welcome).  Despite a host of new and useful electronics, the interior keeps its Teutonic cool with few knobs and switches, vastly improved ergonomics, and materials of the highest quality, comparable to the Mercedes-Benz and Lexus flagships (both of which I recently drove).  In case one needs help, an online multi-media manual (with videos and slide shows) is just one iDrive click away.

Inside, a high-resolution (1280 x 480 pixels), 10.2” display that dominates the cockpit yet doesn’t wash out in sunlight greets the driver  New, more intuitive menu structures, improved menu navigation, an ergonomic controller with shortcut buttons, all contribute to greater Freude am Fahren.

During my drive, I found that the new fourth generation iDrive, formally called the Car Infotainment Computer (CIC), did indeed live up to this lofty title.

Entering a destination using the controller or voice command was fast and easy.  Once a destination had been selected, the system displayed a preview for several routes, as well as an “efficient” route that should use less fuel. The map can be full screen (previously not possible), and it can display two different map types in two different scales in split-screen mode (also not previously possible).

You can also display far more information in the smaller Assist window, something that takes a very useful feature and increases its utility (and something the competition hasn’t caught on to – the assist window remains unique to BMW and iDrive).

Inserting a CD or music DVD into the drive starts the process of copying the music to the car’s hard disk. Separate from the iPhone/USB option in the center console, a USB port in the glove box facilitates transferring music to the CIC.

BMW uses elegant Black Panel technology in the climate-control area as well as the dashboard display.  With the engine switched off, the driver only sees the elegant chrome rings and the climate controls are dark.  Once the car is turned on, the numbers and needles glow from under the surface.  The effect is stunning.

A “magic” button on the MFL controls radio and telephone functions, displaying information in the panel.  These functions are of course also controllable via the newly-enhanced iDrive controller with fixed function buttons of different shapes and sizes (so your hand remembers which is which) but the button is far more convenience for simple functions.  Other cars have fixed buttons but they are all the same shape and size so the driver has to look down to select one, a decided disadvantage.  Voice command functionality has been enhanced and you can use the iDrive controller in conjunction with Voice Command (previously, turning the controller would stop Voice Command dead in its tracks.)

New safety features abound. Night Vision now comes with Pedestrian Detection, which recognizes living objects up to 1600 feet in front of the car.  Sideview cameras mounted in the front fenders provide visibility forward of the front seat.  The Active Blind Spot Detection and Lane Change Warning system warn the driver of incursions into the car’s blind spot while Lane Departure Warning alerts the driver should the car wander.

A Europe-only option (for now) recognizes and displays speed limit signs in the Heads-up Display.

You’re probably wondering how it drives and the answer is, brilliantly.  After 1500 km (930 miles) in weather conditions ranging from snow and ice to warm Adriatic sunshine, the verdict is clear: the new King of the Business Traveler Hill is the 2009 BMW 7er Series.  From the driver’s seat, the 7er felt like a much smaller car.  The superb handling doesn’t adversely impact ride quality, which was soft over bumps but always completely under the driver’s control.  And the ride was smoother and more composed than any car in its class (including the Lexus and Mercedes we wrote about last September).

And I saved the best for last.  The 730d, despite its heft, managed an incredible 7.4 l/100 km (32 mpg) at an average speed of 113 km/h (70 mph).  As of now, BMW of North America only plans to bring in the gasoline-powered 750i (expect 21 mpg) to the U.S. but, with 70% of BMWs sold in Germany and other BMW diesels starting to arrive in the U.S., let’s hope it’s only a matter of time until BMW adds this one to the roster.

2009 BMW 730d
Base price/price-as-tested $N/A (750i $80,000)
Drivetrain Front engine, rear-wheel drive
Engine 3.0/245 hp/turbocharged I-6
Transmission 6-speed automatic with Steptronic
Curb weight (lbs) 4276
Wheelbase (inches) 120.9
Length x width x height (inches) 199.8 x 74.9 x 58.3
0-62 mph (seconds) 7.2
City/highway fuel economy (mpg) 25/40

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