With BMW calling the new 7 Series “the most innovative vehicle in its class”, Director joined a handful of business leaders on a North Yorkshire test drive to see if its innovative new features have the executive touch
There’s a palpable sense of excitement at the Rudding Park Hotel in Harrogate where, on a cold March Tuesday afternoon, several business leaders have congregated to test drive the latest iteration of BMW’s regal luxury sedan, the 7 Series.
Those assembled are brimming with anticipation. The storied history of the 7 Series is littered with world-first technologies. In 1977 – the year the range succeeded the E3 ‘New Six’ sedan – BMW became the first marque to implement an electronic tachometer. Fast-forward 14 years and it debuted xenon headlights. The 7 Series brought cockpit-integrated TV to motoring as early as 1995, while iDrive revolutionised in-car control architecture when the Bavarian manufacturer gave it its world premiere in 2001.
The sixth iteration of the 7 Series, though, is an even more eyebrow-hiking prospect, featuring an impressive 13 industry firsts. The Active air stream kidney grille, which sees electronic flaps open when the engine temperature is above optimum, prevents up to three grammes of CO2 being emitted into the atmosphere per kilometre. The LED headlight technology automatically dips when oncoming traffic is approaching. The Laserlight feature illuminates up to 600 metres in front of the vehicle − about twice as far as conventional LED headlights.
Among the safety features, meanwhile, are ‘adaptive mode’ – in which the car ‘learns’ how the owner drives it, and tweaks responses accordingly – and lane control, which intervenes and steers the vehicle back into its lane if you deviate without indicating. Then there’s the stunning ambient lighting, fine-grain quilted Nappa leather upholstery, 10.2-inch high-definition screens with tablet-style remote controls as part of the optional rear-seat entertainment package and a crystal-clear Bowers & Wilkins Diamond surround sound system featuring 16 speakers with a combined output of 1,400 watts.
So what would be the most striking new feature? One contender is the remote control parking, which takes in such factors as obstacles, gradients and in-car weight before manoeuvring the car in or out of parking spaces with no one at the wheel. The innovation that most here today can’t wait to play with, though, as they wind around the rural lanes and A roads, is the BMW gesture control and touchscreen technology. Made possible by 3D time-of-flight cameras positioned around the centre console, this allows drivers to swipe, sweep, pinch and drag their way through menus and page scrolls, as well as adjust stereo volume and explore maps. Rejecting unwanted calls with a dismissive swipe is, we’re assured, particularly satisfying.
So how does BMW’s smartest, sharpest offering to date go down with today’s enthusiasts? Delroy Beverley, director of the Bradford-based social housing provider Incommunities and winner of an IoD Director of the Year not-for-profit award last year, couldn’t wait to check it out. Thanks to the exceptional lightness afforded by the car’s Carbon Core, consisting of CFRP, aluminium and high-strength steels, it has attained a weight reduction of 130kg, meaning the turbocharged 3.0-litre, six-cylinder engine under the bonnet endows the petrol version with a 0-62mph time of 5.5 seconds and a 155mph top speed.
So did the drive match his hopes? “No doubt,” he laughs. “I’m used to driving a top-end BMW, and if a chance presents itself to open up the throttle, I’m going to take full advantage – and did today. The ability to move between the adaptive gear ratios is appealing to someone who spends significant time on the road. Also, the arm gesture equipment was interesting and useful in equal measure.”
Poonam Kaur, director of corporate finance at FDS Director Services, is a big fan of comfort, and was looking forward to the massage function (with eight different settings) and 140 millimetres of extra legroom afforded in the longer wheelbase model. “I also can’t wait to see what the car can do – to test all the functions, the sport and adaptive modes and so on,” she tells Director before taking the wheel.
Her post-drive verdict? “The Sport is definitely best saved for the open road,” she says, visibly exhilarated. “You really feel the power of the car. I felt comfortable with the adaptive mode, and could actually feel it getting used to how I drive. The heated seats and massage took so little time to get the hang of, and I loved them. As for the hand gestures – it’s the future.”
Gary King of Tendo, which advises SME business leaders on growth strategies, had high expectations: “Not just in terms of luxury and comfort, but in the ability to just put your foot down and enjoy it.” So how was the car, in terms of handling, responsiveness and sheer ‘whoopee’ factor? “Superb. With a straight road, putting your foot down felt great. Also, it seemed everything was at the touch of a button. Connecting my phone was so easy, and I have back problems, so the massage really got me through the journey.”
Suffice to say, the business leaders all seem pretty dejected when these vehicles embodying the future of motoring are loaded back up on the vast transporters that brought them here, and their temporary test drivers are returned to their routine present.