If you had read my previous write-up on the History of the 7-series, you would no doubt realise that the E65/66 BMW 7-series did not impress me at all. Where its predecessors were sleek and beautifully designed, the E65/66 was too gargantuan, losing the traditional BMW combination of sportiness & elegance. It looked like a styling exercise gone bad, and that wasn’t all.
As a driver’s car, it was too complicated to drive. I once test drove the 750iL, and it was like flying a jetliner. As a car to be chaffeured in, you’re better off in the Mercedes S-class. It did have one thing going for it though – it wasn’t boring. It generated controversy, it provoked huge debate. Traditional BMW fans hammered Chris Bangle in forums worldwide, and sales of the then outgoing E38 7-series actually went up after photos of the E65 were leaked into the Internet.
But people (me not included) eventually warmed to the design, and the E65 went on to chalk impressive sales figure. According to Geoffrey Briscoe, MD of BMW Malaysia, the E65’s sales increased by 153% over the E38, though whether he meant a the E65’s total sales was at 153% of the E38, or that the sales volume increased by a margin of 153% was not clear.
Either way you look at it, the folks at Munich had a massive task at hand – they needed a product which would eliminate the E65’s flaws, enhance its strengths, maintain its sales figures, and finally win the eternal battle against the Mercedes-Benz S-class. How well did they fare? At the official launch last Wednesday (14 Jan 2009), I got hold of the full technical specs of the new 7. Here’s my take on it…
Price and Variants
As of now, the 7-series has three engine options – a 3.0-litre straight-six turbodiesel, a 3.0-litre straight-six petrol and a 4.4-litre V8 petrol – with a choice of short wheelbase (F01) or long wheelbase (F02) bodies. The Malaysian market gets only the petrol engines – both with twin turbos and High Precision Injection - in long wheelbase guise only.
The 3.0-litre engine powers the 740Li, which costs (excluding insurance) a shade below the RM850k mark. The 4.4 V8 goes into the 750Li, offered at the price of a bungalow in Petaling Jaya – a whopping RM1,138,800. BMW is reported to be looking at introducing the 730d in the future, but there’s no certainty in that news. A V12-powered 760i is also under development, but don’t expect to see it in our shores.
Currently, both variants arrive to our shores CBU from BMW’s plant in Dingolfing, Germany – birthplace of over 7 million BMW cars over the years. Of the two, the better value would appear to be on the 740Li, coming almost RM300k cheaper with minimal on-paper deficit in terms of performance and specifications.
Just on looks alone, the F01/2 is a massive improvement from the E65. The flame surfacing treatment, overused in the E65, has been toned down here to give a more elegant yet more aggressive look. At a glance, the F01/2 appears to have lost some of the E65’s visual bulk despite growing in size. This is no small car, being 1,478mm tall and having a footprint measuring 5,212mm(L) × 1,902mm(W)
Although letting the size grow, BMW actively slashed weight all around, with extensive use of aluminium in the outer surface panels. The roof, bonnet, front fender and doors are all made of aluminium, while the rest are steel sheets. BMW claims a weight saving of 22kg just by using the aluminium doors alone.
Up front, the styling language is unmistakably BMW, but reinterpreted for the new century. The trademark double kidney grille grows to epic proportions – styling cue from the Concept CS – while the headlights continue to feature the beautiful angel eye design, with a slight ‘tear-drop’ at the edge and an upper light bar that gives a sort of ‘eye-lid’ effect. There is no way you can mistake this front-end for anything else when it comes up your rear-view mirror.
At the flanks, we have subtly pronounced wheel arches in front as the side apparently, to quote BMW marketing speak, ‘grows into the rear wheel’. The side surface also features a visually powerful shoulder line, along which the door handles and fuel filler are located. Along the meeting line between the front fenders and doors is a chrome-plated gill with integrated signal lights.
Both variants are equipped with 245/50 R18 tyres as standard, but BMW Malaysia has upsized the wheel and tyre combinations for both models for our market with the 740Li having 245/45 (front) and 275/40 (rear) tyres wrapping around 19″ wheels. The 750Li gets 20″ rims shod in 245/45 (front) and 275/35 (rear) rubbers. The tyres are runflats, which are good for travel of up to 250km after decompression – with the Tyre Defect Indicator immediately warning you of such an event.
At the rear end, BMW goes back to the L-shaped rear lamp cluster styling of the last used in the E32 generation. Of course, as with all BMW styling exercises these days, no styling exercise is ever done simple. The taillights light-up in a three bar LED design, with a ‘tear-drop’ feature at the edge to mimic the front end. The bumpers feature a pair reflectors together with integrated exhaust vents. While the taillights look rather awkward, the integrated exhausts give a pleasant visual effect.
As the E65 charted the styling direction of a whole new generation of BMWs that included the E60 5-series and E90 3-series, we can expect the F01/2’s styling language to trickle down into all the new BMWs rolling out in the next 7-10 years, starting with the F10 5-series, widely expected to arrive in 2010.
As mentioned earlier, the only 7-series variants officially being sold here are the F02 long wheelbase variants. The folks in the BMW press room made it a point to highlight on the press release the additional 14cm of wheelbase length compared to the regular wheelbase F01 versions, with the biggest beneficiaries of these 14 centimetres being the two rear passengers.
Yes, two. For Europe-spec 7s, customers have the option of specifying two individual and adjustable rear seats. They allow for 70mm forward-backward motion plus backrest tilt adjustment. BMW Malaysia has specified this as standard equipment for both the 740Li and 750Li. Indeed, this appears to be the first BMW interior designed with greater emphasis on the rear passengers.
For starters, each passenger gets his/her own climate control, in-car entertainment system, and even a roof-mounted vanity mirror. Like in a 747, each of the front headrests houses (depending on options) an 8″ or a 9.2″ LCD screen from which one can watch DVDs and even RTM and TV3. No Astro though. Both screens function independently from each other, and in order to avoid distracting the driver in front, sound is only heard through headphones connected to special access jacks located at the tail-end of the centre console.
The 7-series is equipped with a sophisticated four-zone climate control system as standard. Each, and I mean each, passenger gets his/her own climate controls, with the demands of the rear passenger supplemented by roof-mounted vents that draw their air from (get this) a seperate air-con compressor located in the boot, which definitely is one of the biggest extravagances in automobile engineering history.
Despite not having as much toys to play with, the folks sitting in front need not feel short-changed. A much improved unit of the iDrive is featured here, and is used to control most of the car’s sophisticated functions. Unlike the previous iDrive with just a knob, iDrive MkII comes with several direct selection buttons which allow far greater permutations of control than before, and a 10.2″ LCD screen at the centre of the dashboard. Through the iDrive, the car’s user can also access the Integrated Instruction Manual, no need for any clumsy printed user’s manual – though it would be interesting to see what happens when the owner needs to access the “iDrive troubleshooting” section when it’s needed.
Other than that, up front appears to be typical and traditional BMW. The three-spoke steering looks to be a new design, but not drastically different from the current generation, the ergonomic gear lever is lifted from the E60 5-series facelift, while the handbrake button appears to be inspired from the Audi A8. The overall dash design is a simple and elegant one, being neat and uncluttered – an advantage of having the iDrive controlling most of the toys.
Getting on board, you will notice that the instrument cluster is simply a black-surface with four horse-shoe shaped rings. Just make sure the alarm remote (or transponder, or unit, or whatever they choose to call it) is inside the cabin with you, press the ‘Start’ button, and everything comes to life. The instrument panel comes online, showing a traditional-looking BMW-face cluster that looks like those found in the regular 3 and 5-series.
Look closer. Everything you see in there, except for the needles, generated by a high-resolution graphic display, which BMW calls black panel technology. This design enables the instrument cluster to be configured with the ability to convey information to the driver in ways never before possible. This is one innovation that would be nice to see trickle down to lower end models. The 750Li even comes with heads-up display, a feature also found in the facelifted E60 5-series – 525i and above.
As mentioned earlier, there are only two powertrain options offered for the Malaysian market – a 3.0-litre straight-six and a 4.4 V8, both force-induced by twin turbochargers, and featuring high-precision injection directly injecting to the combustion chamber precisely calculated amounts of fuel – which BMW claims to optimize both power and consumption.
In the 740Li is the award-winning N54B30 engine which debuted in the E92 335i in 2006. For its application in the 7-series, power output of the 2,979cc engine is now up to 326hp @ 5,800 rpm and the maximum rated torque of 450Nm is available from 1,500rpm to 4,500rpm.
The 750Li, meanwhile, is powered by the new N63B44 engine which debuted last year in the X6 xDrive50i. Displacing 4,395cc, this engine is rated by BMW to produce 407hp @ 5,500 – 6,400rpm. Max torque is a whopping 600Nm available from 1,750 to 4,500 rpm (which is pretty much whenever you drive). The two turbos of this engine sit right in between the two cylinder banks, giving the engine compact dimensions, ramming air into four cylinders each. According to data in the press release, this engine can fuel grade as low as RON 91.
The new 7 is equipped with a 6-speed semi-auto transmission as standard for both the 740 and 750. This transmission, together with its ergonomic gear lever has seen service in several more recent BMWs, which isn’t a bad thing, especially the gear lever, which just fits perfectly into the grasp of your left palm. These powertrain setups are sufficient to propel the 740Li from rest to 100km/h in 6.0 seconds, while the 750Li does it 0.7 seconds faster. The quarter mile sprint, if you’re interested, is accomplished in 25.8 seconds by the 740 and 24.2 seconds by the 750.
The 7-series see extensive application of BMW EfficientDynamics technology to maximise performance and reduce consumption (that’s what they all say..). The central theme of EfficientDynamics is to optimise energy usage, minimising wastage of energy, and its application goes beyond just working on the engines – the body has been engineered to provide minimum drag and minimum weight. Indeed, BMW has claimed impressive consumption figures of 10.0 and 11.4 litres/100km for the 740 and 750 respectively on the combined cycle, with carbon dioxide emissions at 235g/km and 266g/km, complying with the latest Euro 5 emission ratings.
Standard features under the EfficientDynamics theme include Brake Energy Regeneration, which disconnects the alternator when the engine is pulling car. This feature on its own already leads to massive savings of energy, which translates to improved consumption figures. Furthermore, the air-con compressor is physically disconnected from the engine by means of a magnetic clutch when de-activated. This serves to reduce engine load further, though I am not sure if it would be used too often in Malaysia.
Ride & Handling
Although the F01/2 7-series is geared for greater focus on the passenger, this is still a BMW, and that means it is still required to possess razor-sharp handling in the event the towkay decides to take the wheel and go on a spirited drive. Aiding him in his cause would be a sophisticated suspension setup, consisting of a double-joint tiebar spring-strut setup upfront and an all new Integral-V multi-arm axle behind.
At this stage, you’ve probably re-read the last paragraph five times, trying to understand that last sentence. Don’t worry, it confused me too. Though I’ve since found that it was just BMW’s way of saying double wishbone upfront, and multi-link behind. Suspension construction is of aluminium, and the long wheelbase versions sold here feature self-levelling air rear suspension as standard. This represents BMW’s first foray into using double-wishbone suspension design, having consistently relied on the MacPherson-multilink setup for generations.
Stopping power is generated by single piston ventilated disc brakes all-round, backed by the usual three alphabet acronym systems. Both models get massive 374mm discs up front, with the rear discs measuring 345mm for the 740 and 370mm for the 750.
Another new BMW technology introduced in the F01/2 7-series is Integral Active Steering, an intelligent four-wheel steering system. Besides incorporating Active Steering, which varies the degree of power assistance to the steering as a function of speed, the system also turns the rear wheels as well. At high speeds, the rear wheels are turned in the same direction as the front wheels, allowing the car to glide across in lane-changing maneuvers.
However, at lowspeeds, negotiating the backalleys of downtown KL, the rear wheels are turned in the opposite direction of the front wheels. The rear wheels have a maximum steering lock angle of 3°, which is sufficient, BMW claims, to reduce the F02’s turning radius by up to 70cm – this makes a massive difiference in whether you’re able to clear the tight U-turn or not.
From front to back, the new 7-series is laden with the latest and best technologies from Munich. Firstly, there’s the Dynamic Driving Control, which allows the driver to choose between four driving setups – Comfort, Normal, Sport and Sport+ - still showing a slightly sporty bias on BMW’s part. The Dynamic Driving Control system varies gear shifting maps, steering assistance, throttle response and all the other driving electronics onboard.
Notice I didn’t use the acronym DDC for Dynamic Driving Control. BMW doesn’t either, for good reason. Doing so, would lead to confusion with Dynamic Damper Control, a system which adjusts the damping rates of each wheel independently. The driver can vary the Dynamic Damper Control map by adjusting the Dynamic Driving Control setting to the four abovementioned modes.
Continuing the ‘dynamic control’ theme is the Dynamic Stability Control system, whose parameters can be indirectly adjusted via the Dynamic Driving Control system, or directly set via an independent control button on the centre console. Deactivating the DSC leads to the activation of Dynamic Traction Control, a special mode of the DSC with raised threshold settings, which BMW claims is best used for snowy or loose sand surfaces.
Other driving aids include intelligent cameras that monitor road markings and roadsigns, tying with the lane departure warning system and the Speed Limit Indicator. Those constantly travelling at night would find useful features such as the high beam assistant, BMW Night Vision and Adaptive Headlights all combining to give optimum night time visibility.
Over the years, BMW have managed to constantly match Mercedes blow-for-blow in every segment they compete in. The one segment where Mercedes continued to hold a clear superiority is the battle between the S-class and the 7-series. Despite each generation of the 7-series being well-engineered and sophisticated models of their own, people have always referred to the S-class as the Future of the Automobile. This might just be the 7-series to change that.