Despite always upping the ante in terms of luxury and technology, being the transport of choice for our President as well as James Bond’s gizmo laden ride in the 1997 film Tomorrow Never Dies, the BMW 7-series has always towed the line behind the Mercedes-Benz S-class in the lucrative luxury sedan market.
However, with the current model from Sindelfingen already three years old, the recent arrival of a Metallic Sophisto Grey coloured 740i to the Autodealer office came as to perfect opportunity to find out whether Munich's recently launched lump hammer has finally succeeded in breaking Mercedes-Benz’s nut.
Although the untried eye could easily view the new seven as simply a facelift of the previous F01 generation, the efforts of designer Nader Faghihzadeh on the newly designated G11 has made for something that looks understated but not boring.
Combine the stealthy looking paint finish with the bulging bonnet line, angular adaptive xenon LED headlights, chrome kidney grille with active air-vents, chrome strips on the bumper and at the base of the front doors, the optional 20-inch V-spoke alloy wheels and expensive glass area, you end up with what this writer rates as the best looking seven since the E38.
Step inside, you might be somewhat disappointed to discover that BMW has been more traditional in choosing their cabin layout compared to the futuristic looking method adopted by Mercedes-Benz.
Granted, the 10.2-inch touchscreen display protruding out of the thickly padded leather dash and the TFT instrument cluster are by no means dated, it just somehow fails to match the full-screen width dash layout of the S-class.
That said, the interior, as to be expected at this end of the market, can hardly be faulted for quality with soft touch finishes on all surfaces, while the mix of the optional poplar fine grey wood inserts, silver aluminium inserts and exclusive Ivory Nappa leather upholstery gives airy and upmarket feel.
As is the case, the majority of seven owners are likely to employ the services of a driver while taking in the rear seat comfort of BMW’s entry level flagship model. To this end, head and rear legroom are dependent on the position of the multi-configurable heated rear seats, although selecting the “standard” position turned up more than ample levels of both.
Where the seven starts to makes it presence known is the level of technology even on its base model. As well being fitted standard with BMW's three-mode Adaptive Ride self-levelling air suspension; Eco Pro, Comfort and Sport, our tester boasted quad-zone climate control, surround view camera system, wireless smartphone charging pad in the centre glove compartment, Lane Departure Warning, Blind Spot Recognition, Lane Keeping Assist and Rear Cross Traffic Assist.
Noteworthy options, which bumped the standard sticker price from R1 339 000 to an eye-watering R1 721 338, included heated and cooled front and rear seats with massage function, ventilated and backlight Bowers & Wilkins sound system, Night Vision with object recognition, smart key which allows various functions to be set before you get in and, as part of the TouchCommand system, dual 9.8-inch screens, Wi-Fi and a removable tablet that also controls the seating positioning, side and rear roller blinds, navigation and the aforementioned sound system.
The tech fest continues with BMW’s much vaunted Gesture Control system, which allows the driver to turn-up the volume by circling his finger in front of the central display, or end a call by swiping his hand. Although a dirty screen prevented this for taking place at first, a quick clean soon at the fingers rolling despite the roof-mounted sensor occasionally refusing to recognise my twirling.
As far removed from its early days, the iDrive interface is both easy and intuitive though the ceramic finish of the rotary dial controller would have to be constantly cleaned to avoid showing finger prints, especially when insisting on the “drawing” function for the satnav inputs.
Up front, and contrary to the badge on the boot, the 740i uses BMW’s proven 3.0-litre TwinTurbo straight-six developing 240 kW and 450 N.m of torque. More smooth than kicking you in the back with each prod of the accelerator, the unit did display a hint of lag at low revs but generally made the perfect partner for the seamless shifting eight-speed Steptronic box.
Tipping the scales at 130 kg less than the F01, the G11 also showcased its ride credentials to perfect effect by soaking up bumps and imperfections when in standard Comfort mode. Select Sport, the ride becomes firmer and throttle response that bit quicker, although its more than likely that most owners would choose the former than also making use of the shift paddles behind the steering wheel.
Another new addition is BMW's active steering four-wheel steering system which turns the rear wheels in the same direction as the fronts to aid manoeuvrability in parking areas or when changing lanes on the highway. Fuel consumption during the 740's weeklong stay was slightly on the heavy side with a recorded 9.8 L/100 km, well off BMW's somewhat optimistic claimed figure of 6.6 L/100 km.
Always threatening but a case of so close yet so far, the latest BMW 7-series has truly laid down the challenge to its three-pointed star rival in the biggest possible way since its launch in 1977. Loaded with tech and oodles of luxury, the book on executive luxury sedans has been re-written.
|ENGINE LAYOUT||DOHC 24v Inline 6 Twin-Turbo|
|MAX POWER||240 kW @5500-6500 rpm|
|MAX TORQUE||450 N.m @1380-5000 rpm|
|DRIVE LAYOUT||Front engine; Rear-wheel drive|
|ACCELERATION (0-100 km/h)||5.5 secs|
|TOP SPEED||250 km/h|
|FUEL CONSUMPTION||9.8 L/100 km*|
|PRICE||R1 721 338**|
* As recorded during test period
** Total price with optional equipment