Despite changing its marketing tune over the years, and jousting for the top spot in the premium car segment year after year, for many the name BMW is still defined by the same old “The Ultimate Driving Machine” tagline it has been using since the 1970s. Even though handling competence doesn’t rank as highly amongst customers as it once did, those descriptive words has shaped BMW’s image and fortunes to this very day, which leaves their flagship limousine, the new G11/G12 7 Series in a tricky quandary.
Limousines, as conventional wisdom dictates, aren’t made for driving. They are big staterooms on wheels with plush recliners for seats to lounge in as someone else on your payroll shuffles you to your next destination. More so in today’s context as limousines are at the cutting edge of autonomous driving technology, which are used to reduce the reliance on the driver and imbue occupants with a better peace of mind that their top dollar ride is also doing its part in driving.
I say all this because BMW’s sixth instalment to their 7 Series family certainly hasn’t conformed to the thought of relegating the best seat in the house to the rear just yet. Equipped with the Driving Assistant Plus package, the 7 Series in Malaysia comes with clever steering and directional control assistant with a Lane Departure Warning Assistant with active side collision protection, rear collision prevention, Person Warning with Light City Braking Function, and cross-traffic warning, on top of the usual radar-guided cruise control paired with Stop&Go functionality that has become de rigueur in its class. So while these features really do take the edge off the stresses in one’s daily commute, especially when dealing with its 5,238mm girth, the 7 Series hasn’t entirely eliminated much of the responsibility of driving it from the driver.
Instead, the more we poked our noses around the grandiose body and fine cabin of the 740Li, which BMW Group Malaysia graciously gave an exclusive preview of, the more the 7 Series came across as a car built to be just as enjoyable in the driver’s perch as it is in the back.
As it is with BMW tradition, the dashboard is still built around the driver, with the centre console being ever slightly slanted towards the driver, and every button and knob being placed well within the driver’s reach. If you are familiar with BMW’s dashboard layout, then the dashboard in the 7 Series won’t come out as a surprise to you.
What does come as a surprise is the level to which BMW have upped the quality in the cabin. Its buttons and switches have a beautiful high-quality metallic finish, whereas fine leather has been draped over the interior as far as the eye can see. There is leather even in the places where the eyes don’t see and the hands don’t reach such as the rear bulkhead behind the centre armrest and the front seat pockets.
Though its interior design is more evolutionary, the on board features on the other hand are revolutionary. While the 7 Series is fitted with BMW’s familiar and intuitive iDrive system, BMW has sought to elevate the user experience with a complete revamp of its near-perfect infotainment system. Now fitted with a wider 10.25-inch high resolution monitor, users can navigate its improved interface by either touching the desired function on the screen or using its new BMW gesture control, which uses a 3D infrared camera that allows you to tweak the infotainment system’s volume, accepting or dismissing phone calls, with the wave of a hand or twist of a finger. The adoption of gesture control allows you to control the car’s commonly used functions without needing to press any buttons, though it took us a while to try and master the gesture control and made us wonder if it would actually improve the user experience while being on the move.
You don’t even need to get inside the car to find out the vehicle status anymore. With the BMW Display Key, users can scroll through the 7 Series’ status on its fuel level, central locking, window and glass roof, as well as its service prompts, all from its miniature screen. Although it is rather big, almost the size of an average adult male’s palm, it is surprisingly light and can easily fit into your front shirt pocket without leaving any bulges or creases.
However the 7 Series’ strangest fixture this side of the limousine business is its thick rimmed sculpted leather bound three-spoke steering wheel, which is a show of intent of what it is made for. Taking lessons in carbon-fibre manufacturing from their ‘i’ car programme, the 7 Series features a Carbon Core body structure.
Give the A-pillar and C-pillar a light tap and you would hear that unmistakable wooden sound of carbon fibre. It isn’t only that, the roof cross members, package tray, sills, and centre tunnel are also made from the lightweight material. This hybrid spaceframe construction means that the 7 Series is up to 130kg lighter than its predecessor. Furthermore with less weight in the roof structure and a stiffer centre structure, the 7 Series now boasts a lower centre of gravity and better rigidity, which in turn it means business when it comes to the job of going around corners.
On a short drive around some hilly roads the 740Li proved to be amazingly agile. Although we left it to its “Comfort” setting the body does roll around a fair bit, as expected of the ride being in its soft ride setting, it is still remarkably wieldy and dare we say it, rather indulgent to drive. Never once does its 1,845kg mass feel flabby or uncontrollable, even on high-speed bends the car’s poise is impressive.
In order to balance the occupant’s needs for comfort and the driver’s demands for sporty handling, the 7 Series comes fitted with front and rear self-levelling air suspension with Dynamic Damper Control. The Dynamic Damper Control now adds an “Adaptive” mode to the Driving Experience Control’s usual settings of “Comfort”, “Sport”, and “ECO PRO”. In “Adaptive” the system would automatically adjust the powertrain and chassis setting according to the driver’s driving style and the route profile.
Unfortunately our short stint with the 740Li meant that we weren’t able to see if the “Adaptive” mode really would be able to keep up with the driver’s pressing demands. However what we are able to tell is that the 740Li’s Executive Drive Pro system works wonders with its behaviour on the road. Working in unison with the air suspension system, the Executive Drive Pro system features an electromechanical active roll stabilisation feature, which is able to cull body roll, giving it level and stable ride even when taking corners with plenty of gusto. Put together with its carbon-fibre construction, you might say that this is the closest thing you might get to a proper four-door luxury sports car.
To complement its smooth and refined demeanour, the 740Li’s all-new 3-litre inline-six turbocharged unit is one gem of an engine. Dining on a diet of petrol the engine delivers an impressive amount of low end torque, 450Nm from as low as 1,380rpm, and steadily builds up in urge, culminating in a total power output of 326hp at 5,500rpm. Coupled to an 8-speed automatic transmission, this leviathan is able to sprint from 0 to 100km/h in 5.6 seconds, and on the NEDC cycle is still able to clock in a combined fuel consumption figure of 6.6L/100km. However more than its power and torque figures, this inline-six engine stands out as being one of the smoothest running engines in the business, and even if you wrung it out the power unit barely feels flustered, a shining testament to BMW’s high standard of powertrain refinement.
Even with such focus on handling finesse and driver engagement, life in the back seat hasn’t taken a metaphorical back seat, so to speak. Rear accommodations in the 7 Series is very roomy with reclining seats upholstered in soft luxurious hide, and two 10-inch rear-seat entertainment screens for you to occupy yourself with on the daily commute.
The old iDrive system in the back has been replaced for something more suited in granting occupants full control over its many and varied features. Fold down the centre armrest and you will find BMW’s new Touch Command control unit. Though it looks like a touch screen panel, the control unit is a removable 7-inch tablet that can be released and presented to the user at the touch of a button.
This wireless tablet allows occupants to control everything from the rear-seat entertainment system, climate control settings, driving and navigation information, raise or lower the sunshades, control the sunroof, tweak the ambient lighting, and even adjust the rear seat massage and ventilation functions. As it is with BMW’s iDrive system, the level of integration between the Touch Command tablet and its multiple features are flawless with slick high-resolution animations and intuitive graphics that correspond immediately with the vehicle features.
To give occupants a more welcoming atmosphere in the cabin, BMW engineers had turned to fitting special lighting fixtures to enhance the ambience inside. At the press of a key fob microoptic lenses on the 7 Series’ underbody would project a striped pattern that would guide occupants to the door. Inside the cabin is bathed by the subtle glow of the ambient lighting strip that wraps around the instrument panel, door belt lines, and foot wells.
Also included on the long wheelbase models that are available in Malaysia is the 7 Series’ new Ambient highlight, which are vertically arranged light sources that disperses a diffuse light that provides a more comfortable ambience for rear-seat occupants. Over head the 740Li’s panoramic Sky Lounge glass roof features an LED-based lighting installation, which is comprised of over 15,000 lighting elements in the glass, giving rear-seat occupants a dazzling overhead décor.
As strange as it sounds, with BMW’s focus on making a limousine that is actually pretty good to drive the 7 Series comes across as the most well-rounded limousines around today. As much as you can imagine yourself indulging in its rear seat appointments, the 7 Series is the sort of limousine you can almost see yourself being perched up at the helm and actually enjoying yourself just as much.
And not to mention this 7 Series is one of the most beautiful limousines around with a body that looks more sculpted rather than drawn. The 7 Series cuts an authoritative profile with a commanding presence that befits an automobile of distinction. This is perhaps the most beautiful 7 Series since the 1990s E38 of James Bond and Transporter fame, which makes it even appropriate to be seen stepping out of the driver’s perch, rather than hiding away in the back. The 740Li is temptress that is enough to make you keep that swank display key to yourself, instead of passing it onto a chauffeur.
BMW 740Li Specifications
Price: RM788,800 (OTR with Exclusive BMW 100 Years Anniversary Price)
Engine: 2,998cc inline-6, turbocharged petrol
Max Power: 326hp @ 5,500-6,500rpm
Max Torque: 450Nm @ 1,380-5,000rpm
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic, rear-wheel drive
Acceleration (0-100km/h): 5.6 seconds
Top Speed: 250km/h
Fuel Consumption (NEDC Combined): 6.6L/100km
Safety Features: 6 airbags, Dynamic Stability Control incl. Dynamic Traction Control, Driving Assistant Plus package, Heads-up Display, Laserlight headlights with High-Beam assistance, Surround View camera, ABS with brake assist, and ISOFIX child seat anchor points