Back in July of 1986, BMW unveiled the 2nd generation 7 Series sedan, which had several cutting edge features for the time – an integrated car phone and fax, for example, and double-glazed windows and (gasp) traction control, among others. If Gordon Gekko had rolled up to a BMW showroom back then, he would have been forced to crack a smile at the features list; today, however, it takes a whole lot more to impress the kind of capitalist that is the 7 Series’ primary buyer – and BMW has done its darndest to attract the attention of this set, with the 2016 7 Series.
Said capitalist would probably find it a little difficult to tell the new 7 from its predecessor, however. Unlike, say, the current king-of-the-hill Merc S-Class (which adopted a rather different design language compared its ancestor), the 7 Series is very much an evolution rather than a clean slate; you won’t mistake it for anything other than a BMW. The chaps with the markers and pencils went for a bolder look with this car, but without veering toward the OTT side of things – there are two character lines running down the flanks of the car, and the distinctive kidney grille is larger (BMW says it’s the largest grille they’ve ever put on a sedan), but that’s really about it, other than the fact that the shape of the lighting clusters inside the headlight casings has also subtly changed. It’s still a very ‘safe’ design, and the S-Class will still draw more attention on the road, even though it’s no modern design masterpiece.
The cabin of the 7 Series is the business end of things, and in this regard, BMW have knocked it out of the park – the older car wasn’t cattle class by any means, but the new interior ratchets things up to S-Class levels and beyond. Predictably, the quality of leather, wood and metal is extremely high, and you get the most rear legroom of any car in this class. Option the executive seating package and you’ll be able to stretch out in the rear seat in the manner of an airline business class luxuriator; a footrest pops out from the back of the front passenger seat, and you can open out a work table as well. Turn on the massage function and you’re truly set. I have to say here that Audi debuted this seating feature in its A8 long before BMW and Mercedes, but that’s splitting hairs – it’s a terrific thing to have.
More than anything tactile, however, it’s in the technology department that the new 7 will make some headlines. BMW has thrown in something it calls gesture control, which allows you to control certain features by moving your hand in front of a section of the centre console. Twirling your forefinger in an anti/cockwise motion allows you to raise and lower the volume on the audio system, for example; swiping left or right lets you accept or reject an incoming phone call, and a thumb-and-forefinger pinch lets you rotate a 360-degree view of the car on the screen. I suspect this is more BMW’s way of flipping the bird to its rivals than the features being life-altering, but they’re still rather cool. Between the rear seats lies a dock with a Samsung tablet, using which you can control pretty much everything in the car save for your chauffeur’s dietary habits – and I’m sure there’s an option for that as well. Additionally, the key has a touchscreen on it, and you can check the fuel level and set aircon temperatures with it. Before you ask, yes, you can also use it to lock and unlock the car.
Despite being such a large car, the 7 Series remains the best of its class to experience from behind the wheel. It’s no M5, but it’s more satisfying to drive than its rivals, in no small part due to the amount of weight it has lost – almost 90 kg over the previous 7. This is down to an extensive use of lightweight metal and carbon fibre in the body shell, as a result of which it has a 45 kg advantage over a similarly specced S-Class. Not that most owners will ever take the 7 Series to a racetrack, but driven hard on one, this car will respond surprisingly well – there is no hiding its bulk and weight around corners, to be sure, but it remains absolutely assured and offers a good amount of feedback from its steering wheel. You can select from various suspension and drivetrain settings – at its softest setting, the car is a little too wafty, but switch to either adaptive or sport mode and the balance between ride quality and handling capability is finely balanced out. Doing sterling duty under that massive hood (in the India-bound cars) are a superb V8 petrol engine – with lots of power, smoothness and a fantastic engine note – and an equally capable 6-cylinder diesel engine, which will be the top-seller in India; both engines are paired with an excellent 8-speed automatic transmission.
It’s not going to be easy to unseat a car like the S-Class from its position at the top of the luxo-barge heap (and the Merc will arguably still be the steed of choice for the moneyed set in India) but I have to say that the new 7 Series is an exceptional automobile that actually has what it takes to fight off the competition in a fair fight. It could have been a far better looking car, certainly, and BMW’s brand value has taken a bit of a beating in India of late, but from the seat of my pants, this is a more rounded car than the S-Class and far ahead of the current Audi A8. It’s up to BMW to price it attractively and really push the car in an aggressive manner – if it does, the current Gordon Gekko’s of the world will be a satisfied bunch.