They set us down in sunny Porto, the second biggest after Lisbon. Unesco’s honoured it as a heritage region on account of it’s Romanera history. Largely though, it’s remembered for the fortified wines that carry its name. Here, BMW promised a car like we’d never seen, either to be rushed around some of Portugal’s best roads, or leisurely coasted along as we pretend-played shady Russian oligarchs. The all new 7 Series would prove fittingly adept at both.
Assembling scribes at a charming, centuries-old, godown on the expansive Douro River, it was rather obvious one group appreciated finely aged cheeses, while the other preferred finely tuned chassis instead, perhaps to temper soulless nought-to-sixty figures with a chuck of sophistication and eloquence. Just as the thoughtful folk at BMW provided both, so shall this review do its utmost to describe the experience of driving a 7 Series; ownership being a different beast altogether.
The first of a two day test-drive day began excitedly enough, with a fidgety crowd munching obligingly on canapes, even as their eyes kept scanning the long row of saloons parked to incarnate German precision. Piano black with an immaculate mirror-image polish, the new 7 looks sleeker than ever despite the considerable heft. You might have noticed Malaysian billboards promoting Beemer’s laser-light headlamps – an intricate evolution of their ‘angel eyes’ – but for all its technological mastery, design was still a organic process. Project father Walter Schindlbeck described to me, how the chrome side-mirror mounts were shaped to stylistically silhouette a hand holding the mirror assembly.
For the moment, Malaysians get two guises – the 730i and 740i, each guaranteeing speeding tickets if your right foot’s nonchalant in the least. The Bavarian auto maker also produces a 750i employing a twin-turbo V8 at 445 horses and a 760i, boasting a 6.0 liter V12 with 535 horses. A quick look at our passports to verify identity, and we had our mighty little key fobs in hand. Marvelous devices looking of milled aluminum framing a touchscreen, they are as impressive as the auto itself. You might have heard of the new 7’s grandest party trick, remote controlled parking. Some say it’s gimmicky, but when you’re walking across the country club parking lot with your buddies after a rousing 18-holes, nothing will grab their attention, not even your hole-in-one, like a humongous 7 Series gently moving itself out of a tight spot to offer you dignified entry. With a cheery “Till next weekend chaps!” you’ll have loaded up and driven off with everyone wondering how soon they can arrange a trade-up. Plus, it remotely controls cabin climate (useful if you’ve parked under the sun), displays mileage (just in case that nebbish club valet has been doughnutdriving once he’s out of sight) and even alerts you to servicing intervals. Or you can remotely honk the horn and flash the lights if you can’t locate it in a crowded parking lot. Wireless charging for both fob and smartphone is located in the front centre storage.
From town, it was a four-and-a-half hour drive up country to the Douro Valley vineyards for our stopover. Highway cruising was properly effortless, with plenty to keep rear passengers occupied; their most strenuous exertion being to pull down the armrest and pop-out the seven inch touchscreen tablet. Commanding everything from cabin ambiance to videos streamed over the car’s Wi-Fi hotspot, to your preferred choice of pre-loaded designer scents, those at the back can also schedule a quick workout with the Vitality Program. Coaching you in a series of movements as you press your body into the massage seats, it’s designed to alleviate stiffness and sore muscles after a long drive.
Up front, the ultimate, Ultimate Driving Machine, has lots of new tech to draw big smiles. With a series of programmable hand gestures, you can now answer or dismiss phone calls. Simply flick your wrist left or right and like a devoted manservant, your Beemer instantly tells guests if they’re wanted. Or keep your eyes on traffic as you twirl your wrists clockwise, signaling that you want volume turned-up several notches – the car doesn’t hesitate to serve, tracking smoothly not unlike a Nintendo Wii. You can also program the system to navigate to selected locations with your own version of sign-language i.e. an impertinent finger for the shortest route to the mother-in-law’s.
Available overseas in both rear-wheel and all-wheel drive, with long and regular wheel-base configurations, you’ll also be pleased to know all major suspension components are adjustable. You can tweak and tinker ride height to your heart’s content, opting between soft and firm settings for the anti-roll bars. Comfort Plus, allows you to float along on a cloud but sudden, evasive maneuvers will have the car leaning off centre. On the other end of the spectrum in Sport, where purists judge every BMW worth it’s salt, you can feel body movement is firmly damped, rolling over camber changes and twisting round hairpins with a tautness that gives a ton of confidence and control. Speaking of terrain conquering, the transmission is designed to interface with the sat-nav, and will tweak gear shifts to match the climbing, dipping, snaking, road ahead.
Arriving at the gilded vineyard chateau, our Bavarian minders seamlessly ushered us into our rooms for a quick refresher and then it was dinner al fresco in the crisp night air. Paired with syrup-sweet vintage port and creamy desert cheeses, the very mise-en-scène of it all also constitutes part of enjoying a 7 Series. Not everyone gets to sup and sip this well, with their uber German limo standing at the ready to whisk them wherever desire dictates. These are the signifiers of success, wealth, and exclusivity, that come with owning BWM’s latest and greatest carriage.
Making this lifestyle choice can also be particularly exhilarating, especially when you’ve been promised the twin-turbo’ed V8 the following morning. Expectations were understandably high, with yesterday’s 730Li already providing surging acceleration for effortless over-taking power. With almost 200 horses more than the standard car, this long-wheel base V8, with a mechanized ottoman for the reclining chairman in the back, takes to narrow country roads just as easily as it swallows up ribbons of highway. Punch Sport Mode and the digital meter cluster turns a bright red, tightening steering feel and reminding you to angrily churn the revs.
Visually, you expect the car to feel huge, and it does, though not in a cumbersome way. Gentle steering tweaks adjust direction immediately, while heftier turns can actually make swoopy trunk-roads pretty fun. You could intentionally swerve around bends and it wouldn’t be too unnerving, as long as you bear its full girth in mind. And if you missed an exit on these scenic routes, a cramped three-point turn wouldn’t be too troublesome. Encouraged by a vivid heads-up display, entering the highway meant opening-up the taps on full – a terrific highlight. Speed was too easily coaxed and likewise smothered, with intelligent sat-nav alerting drivers to highway stretches with differing speed limits; and when the car was in bumper-to-bumper city traffic, you could even engage auto-pilot to keep the car ontrack, albeit that in 15 second intervals.
The 7 Series has traditionally served as the debut platform for BMW’s cutting-edge technologies, before filtering it down to the rest of the product range. Certainly with this generation, it’s reset the chessboard clock. And with precious seconds ticking down, rivals of greater or similar prestige are reviewing battle plans, while those aspirationally looking up are scurrying to take notes. It’s one of those cars that asks it’s drivers to unlearn and re-learn whatever they think they know about a luxury vehicle. And that’s not literary hype. BMW will actually organize a “getting-toknow- you” meeting pre-delivery, so owners can get to grips with their talented new toy. Coupled with the fact it’s been hailed as a return to form in terms of driving dynamics, BMW’s flagship model is an exciting prospect for those who enjoy cosseting luxury with a sporting edge.