2016 BMW 7-series first drive: Bavaria goes after the S-class

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New 7-series delivers driver luxury, plus more vim and vigor than ever before

What is it?

It’s the new 2016 BMW 740i and 750i; collectively the 7-series, the company’s flagship luxury sedan is now in its sixth generation. BMW says the new car sets benchmarks for weight savings, driving dynamics, comfort, intelligent connectivity and intuitive operation. “Modern luxury,” is how BMW officials put it.

BMW 7 Series New York Media Launch.

Indeed, the changes are many: Carbon-fiber-reinforced plastic is used in the passenger cell, and the car boasts high-tech gizmos galore, including gesture control, wireless charging and an active kidney grille. BMW says it’s the first automaker to mass produce a car using CFRP with steel and aluminum.

The CFRP passenger cell reinforcements — the carbon is developed in Moses Lake, Wash., and extensive aluminum use (the doors and trunk lid are aluminum, for example) mean the new 7 is nearly 300 pounds lighter. BMW says the cell is derived from its i-series and that the 7 is the first production car to bond carbon fiber with steel and aluminum.

Overall, the new 7 is 206.6 inches long, about an inch longer than the outgoing model, while width and height remain largely unchanged. BMW says it’s the roomiest sedan it has ever created and only the long-wheelbase version is offered here.

The exterior, with its long hood and short overhangs, looks much like the outgoing model, but, according to BMW, the changes are many. For starters, the car is a bit curvier, the front end bolder. That active grille only opens when under-hood and/or brake temps heat up. BMW says this helps aero and makes the front end look better coupled with the wider low air intake. The headlamps now extend up as far as the grille, the hood is more sculpted and tail lamps are LED.

BMW 7 Series New York Media Launch.

Like the exterior, the new interior design is more evolution than revolution. In other words, it’s still driver focused but fit and finish and material quality is way up. BMW design boss Karim Habib says the interior is probably the car’s biggest step forward. The instrument cluster is configurable, altering the graphics and color scheme depending on drive mode (Eco pro, comfort and sport). Major buttons and knobs are now chrome, and there’s a choice of aluminum or wood trim.

The iDrive system can now be controlled via a touchscreen (with the ability to pinch and expand to zoom in and out) or by using voice activation for the navigation system. Gesture control also arrives, using 3-D sensors to take hand movements in the center console’s vicinity and turn them into commands. You can adjust the stereo volume and accept or reject phone calls with a turn, point or wave, respectively.

Reclining rear seats are an option (hello, China), and rear-seat passengers can also get a removable Samsung tablet to control things such as seat adjustment, interior lighting and air conditioning, as well as infotainment and nav. The tablet can also play music and videos, and you can use it to surf the Net.

The optional Bowers & Wilkins Diamond surround-sound system features a 10-channel amp with an output of 1,400 watts and 16 separate speakers, including Kevlar-cone midrange drivers.

The U.S. market only gets 740i and 750i xDrive models. A 4.4-liter twin-turbo V8 producing 445 hp and 480 lb-ft powers the 750i xDrive, while the 740i uses a 320-hp, 3.0-liter turbocharged straight six. The six gets all-wheel drive later. Both engines are mated to a ZF eight-speed automatic transmission. In a twist, the trans links to the nav system, so gear selection is adapted to the driving situation and route, adjusting shifting characteristics accordingly.

BMW 7 Series New York Media Launch.

A plug-in hybrid 7-series comes next year with a 2.0-liter turbo under hood mated to an electric motor. A lithium-ion battery is stowed under the back seat, chargeable via a wall socket, BMW’s i Wallbox or a public charging station. The eDrive button on the center console allows the driver to adjust the hybrid drive’s operation mode: In auto, the electric drive gooses engine power, while in MAX eDrive the car runs on electricity up to 75 mph for a maximum of 23 miles.

The new 2016 BMW 7-series has air suspension combined with a double wishbone front and five-link rear. Several suspension and brake pieces are now aluminum instead of steel and you can raise ride height 0.8 inch and it’s automatically lowered 0.4 inch at cruising speeds in sport mode — there are also comfort and comfort-plus modes. Four-wheel steering (BMW calls it Integral Active Steering) is available on both rear- and all-wheel drive. BMW promises the self-leveling suspension makes the new 7’s ride/handling mix superb. An active chassis control BMW calls Active Comfort Drive with Road Preview is optional and links with the nav system to read the road ahead and adjust the suspension accordingly.

An M Sport package adds an aero kit and lighter wheels (19- or 20-inch).

There’s tons of other equipment, including a new version of the optional parking assist (it maneuvers into both parallel and perpendicular parking spots and can pull the car into/out of a space remotely); rear cross-traffic warning; frontal-collision warning; pedestrian warning; active blind-spot detection; lane-departure warning; and so on. All U.S. cars have a panoramic moon roof standard.

BMW 7 Series New York Media Launch.

What’s it like to drive?

The six cylinder provides all the oomph most customers need, though we do prefer the V8; it brings the car to 60 mph in 4.3 seconds and delivers the 480 lb-ft smoothly and silently. It also worked brilliantly with the eight-speed.

The lower center of gravity, weight savings and new chassis and suspension combine with optional active steering (turning the rear wheels in the same or opposite direction as the fronts depending on speed) to help the car feel more maneuverable around town and composed at highway speeds. The ride and body control are excellent in all the modes — the car arcs through corners and thunders down straights like a smaller car. The car simply has more vim and vigor than a 7 ever had.

Dropping unsprung weight 15 percent helps here too — the big fella just glides over road imperfections and the like. As we said when we drove the prototype, “though not exactly the mythical M7 fanboys covet, the 7-series did things a luxury car shouldn’t be capable of when driven in anger. Stability, steering response and body control are the best we’ve ever experienced on a full-size Autobahn bruiser.”

Now that we have driven the production car we stand by that statement.

BMW 7 Series New York Media Launch.

Do I want one?

Well, you could certainly do worse. The new BMW 7-series arrives this fall, priced from $81,300 to $94,400. Of course, the $90,000 question is, how does it compare to Mercedes Benz’s S-class? That answer must wait until we drive the two side by side. For now, we can say the 7-series might be the best driver’s luxury car on the market.

By Wes Raynal Courtesy AutoWeek

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