2016 BMW 7 Series is a technological tour de force

Active parking, gesture controls, and pampering rear seat define the latest ultra-luxury sedan

Published: June 12, 2015 09:30 AM
Photo: Daniel_Kraus

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BMW aims to bolstering the 7 Series sedan’s ranking in the ultra-luxury hierarchy by winning the technology race. After teasing a few high-tech features, such as gesture control for the infotainment screen and automatic remote control parking, BMW has finally revealed the production 2016 BMW 7 Series, along with detailing versions and pricing.

For starters, the new 7 will come in two long-wheelbase iterations: the rear-drive 740i with a 320-hp twin-turbo inline six and all-wheel-drive 750i xDrive with a 445-hp twin-turbo V8. Both powerplants are teamed with an eight-speed automatic transmission. The 740i will start at $81,000, and the 750i xDrive will begin at $97,400. Both versions roll out in September as 2016 models.

A new plug-in hybrid is slated to debut later. Dubbed the 740e, the hybrid boasts a 23-mile electric-only range and will have a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine for longer trips.

The biggest breakthrough in the new 7 Series is the extensive use of carbon-fiber reinforced plastic (CFRP) in the body shell to reduce weight. BMW says the new 7 is up to 190 pounds lighter than the previous-generation sedan. That weight savings could start to restore some of the responsiveness we appreciated in older 7 Series sedan—and missed in the most recent version.

A lighter chassis could be expected to improve handling, braking, performance, and fuel economy. Given how dull handling is on the outgoing model, dynamic improvements would be welcome.

But BMW says it has gone beyond a diet to aid handling precision by adding a new active steering system and active stabilizers in the standard air suspension.

The real trick here is that "valet parking assist" will also give the 7 Series the ability to drive itself into and out of both parallel and perpendicular parking spaces. Controlled from the car’s optional display key remote, the system can even negotiate spaces so tight that you couldn’t get out of the car if you parked it yourself. The 7 Series will be the second car after the Tesla Model S to get this remote self-parking ability. For the first time, active steering will be available with BMW’s xDrive all-wheel-drive system on the 750i. Active cruise control with “stop and go” technology, traffic jam assistant, lane-keeping assistance, and front and rear cross-traffic alert with automatic braking (that works up to 130 mph) brings many technologies related to self-driving cars to the road.

A more entertaining party trick is the new gesture control ability for the iDrive infotainment and climate control systems. Drivers can wave, swipe, or pinch in the air in front of the screen to choose a function or song, or to adjust the fan speed in the climate control, among other things. In addition to gesture controls, the climate control system uses a touch screen, while iDrive also retains its controller knob.

With the optional rear seating package, rear passengers can recline up to 42.5 degrees while resting their feet on the electrically powered footrests in their luxurious cocoon. In limo fashion, the passengers will get their own fold-out table and a “flat-plane” tablet that can control the climate, navigation, and phone, or even fold the front passenger’s seat forward for a better view. Or the high-rollers in the back can also use it to stream music or movies, play video games, or surf the Web on their way to board meetings using the car’s built-in Wi-Fi hot spot. The LED Panoramic Sky Lounge Roof tints to reduce sunlight and illuminate in a rainbow of colors to coordinate with the car’s ambient lighting.

Photo: Daniel_Kraus

The new optional Bowers & Wilkins Diamond surround sound system puts out 1,400 watts through 16 speakers, including Kevlar midrange speakers, a Rohacell central bass subwoofer, and three unique diamond tweeters.

And if all this doesn’t make an indelible impression on you, LEDs shine the brand logo on the carpets, so you won’t ever forget which car you’re in. Exterior “light carpets” illuminate a swath beside the car like your own red carpet, declaring to others that you have indeed arrived.

BMW has tough competition in the technology race from Audi, Mercedes-Benz, and Tesla. Ultimately, the real trick is being on the cutting edge for safety and convenience, while bringing benchmark driving dynamics. The outgoing 7 Series fell short in that regard. We are planning on buying and testing the new 7 to see how it stacks up against its archrival, the Mercedes-Benz S-Class.

—Eric Evarts

Photo: Daniel_Kraus

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