Flagship sails into e-territory

 

Factfile: BMW 745i  The latest BMW 7 series is revolutionary from the tyres up - and that's before you get inside and see the dazzling display of electronic gadgetry that runs the show. Andrew Hamilton reports on this triumph of Bavarian engineering

We all know there's complicated computer-driven technology under the bonnet that makes much of it incomprehensible to many of us. But what about the fascia from where the driver does his or her driving?

We have been used to mostly user-friendly switches and buttons and, whatever about the complicated electronics upfront, we knew what to do.

Now BMW wants us to move on. The fascia has been revolutionised and it has happened in BMW's new 7-series flagship.

At the international launch, we actually heard of one BMW insider who drove 3,000 kilometres learning to use everything on board. Frank Keane, who brought BMW to the Irish market in the late 1960s, sees the new 7 as a breakthrough into a new era in motoring.

He is talking about a luxurious car that combines core BMW engineering and driving qualities with revolutionary new levels of interactive technology. The engineering bit is not difficult, but the related ancillaries which impact on our tenure behind the wheel, take a bit more study.

How do we describe the new 7-series? It's new from the ground up, not just an update. It is aimed at a luxury executive user, who prefers his or her luxury to include a degree of driver involvement. It's bigger than the immediate predecessor, and looks quite different too, although it is distinctive enough not to be mistaken for anything else.

V8-engined 735i and 745i versions have been on sale here for five months now. The Irish prices may sound intimidating, at €96,300 and €105,000 ex-works, but at this level in the market they aren't a deterrent.

According to Clare O'Neill, spokeswoman for Motor Import Limited, the Irish importers, demand has exceeded expectations. "We've sold over 120 and, of course, we have other models coming, like entry-level six-cylinders," she says.

We have been testing the standard-wheelbase 745i. Its new 4.4 litre 32-valve V8 has Bi-Vanos variable valve-timing, and the impressive Valvetronic variable valve-lift system rather than a conventional throttle. It produces 333 bhp. The only transmission is drive-by-wire automatic with six speeds and three modes-standard or sport automatic and sequential Steptronic manual.

THE basic suspension layout is familiar, with coil springs all round, struts at the front and multi-links at the rear, but new refinements include electro-hydraulic adaptive control that can vary both damping and anti-roll settings. Steering is assisted rack and pinion, brakes are all ventilated discs, with ABS and EBD electronic brakeforce distribution as standard.

That's a précis of just some of the 745i's technical armoury. The real question, of course, is just what is it like to drive. The answer predictably almost, is very impressive. The new V8 is impeccably smooth, quiet and flexible. There's 43 bhp more on offer than the old 4.4 V8 but it's more economical, with an EU combined consumption figure of 25.9 mpg, a 14 per cent gain. But it isn't only the rapidity of the performance that impresses, it is its depth - the effortless mid-range punch and the long, strong legs of a sixth gear that cruises at more than 35 mph/1,000 rpm. We thought the one bit that was at odds was the multi-mode transmission. In basic full-auto mode, the six-speedbox is all that most drivers will ever need.

The 7's handling belies its size. It's wonderfully comfortable and quite supple, but brilliantly controlled. It isn't an exaggeration to call it agile. Its bulk is real and a constraint on a tight road, but it steers, grips and stops with the sharpness and enthusiasm of a substantially smaller car. It's sporty in the gentrified style of a luxury saloon.

The interior, all-new again, is roomy and comfortable, with a stylish sophistication. It's so well finished that we must all be wondering how longer cars in this class can continue to get tangibly better.

We were pleased with our overall fuel consumption. A long drive gave us a return of nearly 27 mpg, the sort of figure that many motorists are getting in a car with only half the power of the 745i.

If someone asked us to describe the 7-series or the 745i that we were testing, we would do it in two words, simply complicated. As with a desktop computer, or even a mobile phone, many users might never look at half the available features. What's important for them is that the 7, at heart, is an astonishingly good car - and not really complicated.