2015 BMW 7 Series prototype review
BMW's flagship has taken quite a beating from the Mercedes S-Class in recent years. Can an all-new chassis and fresh engines help it to fight back?...
The BMW 7 Series has always been a strange kind of luxury saloon - focused on handling agility more than the ride comfort that well-heeled buyers demand - but now the car is getting a complete overhaul in a bid to become a more rounded package.
The next generation of 7 Series will switch to an all-new chassis and benefit from some of the carbonfibre manufacturing techniques that BMW has picked up from its i3 and i8 electric models.
It's much lighter - the lightest car in the class, BMW claims, and 130kg lighter than the car it replaces - and this has allowed engineers to target comfort while packing in a host of new safety features and technology.
What's the 2015 BMW 7 Series like to drive?
Our drive in a pre-production version of the 7 Series showed that BMW has made clear strides in ride comfort. Over the poorer surfaces at the firm's French test track, the new car managed to mix decent body control with better absorption of bumps and ruts.
There's still a little bit of patter, even in the chassis' Comfort Plus setting, but the overall package feels much closer to the sort of smooth wafting ride that you get in the current class leader, the Mercedes-Benz S-Class.
As well as manually selecting the car's modes - which affect suspension, steering and throttle response - you can now choose an Adaptive setting, in which the car constantly evaluates your driving style and, using GPS technology, the road ahead, then picks what it considers the best mix of modes.
What's clear, even from a short drive at a test track, is that the new 7 Series is still going to be a driver-focused limousine. Rear-wheel steering helps it to change direction surprisingly swiftly for such a large car, and the steering has excellent response around the straight-ahead.
BMW hasn't announced performance or economy figures, dimensions or even engine specifications but our car - a 740i with a long wheelbase - felt brisk enough when required. It was also exceptionally refined, as the turbocharged six-cylinder petrol engine (seen for the first time in this car) was almost inaudible apart from under hard acceleration.
The eight-speed automatic gearbox was occasionally slow to kick down but when it's outside of the test track and on mapped public roads, it'll be able to use GPS information to 'read' the road ahead and pre-select the correct gear.
As well as the 740i, incidentally, the 7 Series is likely to be launched with a more potent 750i and a diesel 740d - and a plug-in petrol-electric hybrid is in the pipeline for 2016.
What's the 2016 BMW 7 Series like inside?
BMW had covered up the dashboard on our prototype car, but we did have a chance to play with a mock-up of the latest infotainment system that will be offered in the 7 Series. It gets a higher-resolution 10.25in screen in the centre of the dashboard, but it's now touch-sensitive.
This functionality has been integrated neatly into the overall set-up; you can grab sat-nav maps and move them around with your finger, or pinch to zoom in and out. Similarly, you can still enter a contact name, address or phone number via the iDrive dial between the front seats as usual, but moving your finger towards the screen at any point in the process brings up a relevant display of a keyboard to allow direct entry.
The set-up's voice controls have also been updated to respond to more natural phrases, as with Apple's Siri phone assistant. The processing power behind this function will use the car's own 3G connection - but that means it will depend on reception.
Arguably the most significant introduction to the infotainment system is gesture controls; you can receive or dismiss incoming phone calls with a suitable wave of the hand, or adjust the infotainment volume by rotating your finger.
Some of the functions are a bit gimmicky, but it's easy to see how waving away an unwanted incoming call could be a more natural reaction than searching for a 'hang up' button on the screen or the steering wheel.
Elsewhere, the ventilation and heated seats are now controlled by another touchscreen mounted lower down in the dashboard, and there are neat touch-sensitive 'sliders' on the air vents that allow the driver and front passenger to each select their own temperature. Surprisingly, though, this set-up won't be offered in the rear cabin.
Should I buy one?
The 7 Series doesn't go on sale until late autumn, but there's no doubt that its mix of improved ride comfort and technology tricks will make it a more serious, credible rival to the S-Class than it has been for many years.
We'll wait to drive it on UK roads, and see the full line-up of engines and efficiency gains, before giving it a recommendation, but if you're going to be in the market for a luxury limo then you should keep the 7 Series on your radar.