Occasionally, press trips allow us working-class folk a glimpse at a world we rarely experience. It’s a brief dabble into a small portion of society that enjoys such things as lavish meals in restaurants that brandish Relais & Château plaques, boasting their status in an elite membership of high-end establishments.
When making a layover in a city like New York, this upper echelon of society doesn’t search online for a bargain motel; they book a night at the Park Hyatt, where rooms start at $1,100 USD. They have the means to bypass the bustle of Manhattan traffic, preferring a short drive to a helipad, where a helicopter whisks them off to lunchtime meetings in a fraction of the time it would take you to get there by car.
These are the experiences the nice folks at BMW allowed us to sample during the international launch of the newest 7 Series sedan, held in New York City and at the private Monticello Motor Club. These exclusive opportunities emphasised the latest 7 Series' renewed focus on luxury.
Six generations of 7 Series
The 2016 7 Series will be the sixth generation of BMW’s flagship luxury sedan. It began life in 1977, and aside from that first generation, which hung around for a decade, the 7 Series has been experiencing a major redesign every seven years since.
It has been gradually refined with each makeover, and this latest generation has been heavily revised, first by experiencing a reduction in weight. Some technology has been transferred from the i3 and i8, namely the use of carbon fibre in the chassis. BMW calls this blend of frame materials Carbon Core, and it includes steel, aluminum and carbon fibre. This provides a more rigid platform that reduces weight by up to 86 kilos compared to a similarly equipped outgoing 7 Series.
But even though BMW has traditionally placed a lot of focus on the performance of its 7 Series, this latest version gets an extra dose of luxury. In fact, what’s under the hood probably isn’t all that important to most 7 Series owners, as long as it does the job well. And the revised 4.4-litre twin-turbo V8 in my 750Li xDrive test car does a stellar job.
It is smooth, it is quiet, and it allows the long wheelbase car to lap around the Monticello Motor Club, a members-only circuit tucked away in hilly countryside two hours north of New York City, at a surprisingly quick pace while in Sport mode.
It accelerates with a rich exhaust note that doesn’t shock the senses, but rather caresses them with a soothing drone. The engine’s 445 horsepower is forceful enough to sink you deep into the 7’s diamond-quilted leather massaging driver’s seat, or if you’re into number crunching, it takes you from zero to 60 mph in 4.3 seconds.
The 3.0-litre turbocharged inline six also returns, gaining a 5-horsepower boost for 2016. Both engines are coupled to an eight-speed automatic that shifts so smoothly, about the only indication that it has changed ratios is the dipping of the tachometer needle within the 31-cm configurable instrument screen. Only all-wheel drive versions will be available in Canada.
Sweet scented serenity
There’s no piping of the engine sound into the serene cockpit of this high-end, full-size sedan; the 750Li driving experience is instead one of refined luxury, with the cabin almost completely isolated from unpleasant road noises, and when selecting Comfort Mode Plus, the ride is ultra-plush without being wallowy or land-yacht like.
You can also choose to stimulate your olfactory sense with the optional Ambient Air package. This feature pumps one of two fragrances (eight are available) into the cabin, with three levels of intensity.
The heads-up display has been increased in size by 75 percent, making it much easier to see. In the central screen you can now find a 360-degree overhead view, composed from four cameras, one at each corner of the car. There are also 180-degree forward and rear views that can display approaching side traffic, a feature that proved useful while I was pulling out of the Motor Club parking lot.
BMW’s iDrive operating system now includes gesture control, which recognises five hand gestures to control certain functions. To raise the volume, for example, all you do is make a circling gesture with your right hand, in an area above the shift lever and in front of the central screen, and the volume either increases or decreases depending on the direction of your gesturing.
Other gesture controls include answering or rejecting phone calls, changing the view of the 360-degree camera, and there is one programmable gesture; our test cars were programmed to change radio stations.
Pampering your chauffeur
If you prefer being driven about, don’t worry about your driver; the cockpit is lavishly appointed, with heated and cooled massaging front seats, and individual climate controls. And the driving experience is still as engaging as you’d expect from a car made by a manufacturer whose tagline is, “The Ultimate Driving Machine.”
In the rear, the optional Rear Executive Lounge Seating package on the long wheelbase version offers the comfort and convenience of the business-class seating in a modern airliner. With the push of a button, the rear seat reclines, the front passenger seat moves all the way forward, its seatback folds forward, and a footrest unfolds from behind it.
A plush pillow on the rear headrest provides the final touch of comfort, which will likely prompt you to take a snooze instead of pumping out those financial reports on the laptop resting on the fold-out tray, which hides out of sight in the rear centre console when not in use.
Also in the centre console is a removable Samsung tablet that allows access to rear climate controls, the infotainment system, seat adjustments, ambient lighting, the navigation system, as well as the Internet through the car’s built-in WiFi. For your listening pleasure, Bowers & Wilkins provides the 16-speaker, 1,400-watt sound system.
For that extra-special passenger experience, BMW has developed unique external lighting that shines several narrow beams of light onto the ground, guiding you into the car on a carpet of white light.
When can I get membership?
Perhaps to emphasise the difference between the Canadian and U.S. markets, in Canada we can choose between the $113,900 750i xDrive, and the $117,900 750Li xDrive (long wheelbase), whereas south of the border only the long wheelbase variation is available. The take rate of the short wheelbase model is expected to be 55 percent. The outgoing model had a take rate of about 70 percent in favour of the shorter car. In the U.S. that number was closer to about 15 percent.
The two 750 models will be available at Canadian dealers in mid-October. The six-cylinder 740i xDrive and 740Li xDrive will be released early in 2016, followed by a new 740e xDrive plug-in hybrid. Pricing for these models will be announced closer to the launch date.
|Test model||2016 BMW 7 Series|
|Price range||$103,000 - $116,000|
|Price as tested||N/A|
|Options||M Sport package, Rear Executive Lounge Seating|
|Competitive models||Aston Martin Rapide, Audi A8, Jaguar XJ, Lexus LS, Mercedes-Benz CLS-Class, Mercedes-Benz S-Class, Porsche Panamera, Tesla Model S|
|Fuel Consumption||A guestimate based on the previous model’s performance.|
|Comfort||The interior is among the most inviting on the market.|
|Performance||It is still heavy, but it manages its weight exceptionally well.|
|Infotainment System||Improved interface, and redundant buttons on the dash if you prefer tactile controls.|
|Driving Experience||Your chauffeur will be very happy.|