Someone looking for an ultimate sedan that will make them feel like they are driving the best car in the world.
Comparable models in this class:
Audi A8, Infiniti Q45, Lexus LS 430, Mercedes Benz S-Class
Iam fascinated whenever one of the megabuck sedans comes up for acomplete makeover because manufacturers typically use this opportunity toshowcasegroundbreaking technology for the first time. I and my technologicallyinquisitive colleagues (known by less enlightened folk, like my wife, as"car nuts") have witnessed the introduction of some extraordinaryautomobiles over the past 5 years. We enjoyed itwhen we pored overthe sleek all-aluminum Audi A8, and again when we tried to decipher the COMMANDsystem on the new Mercedes S-Class. Last year, we all pondered the conundrum of how Lexushadtransformed the seriously quiet LS 400 into the even smoother, quieter LS 430. It isno wonder that we applaud the fanciful TV ad that envisions the Infiniti Q45outfitted with technology that turns trafficlights green as an apt metaphor for the state of automotive technology.
Even with the high expectations I had going in, this all new BMW 745i blew me awaywith the massive infusion of revolutionary technology that it brings to the luxurycar battlefield. All indications are that the7-Series is the vehicle that will prove that we ain't seen nothing yet! It looks like the engineers at BMW have succeeded in maintaining their vehicle's place atthe top of every automotive journalist's list of "Things to buy when I hitthe Lottery." Most of us even have the color and options picked out,just in case.
The 7-Series is redesigned from the pavement up with a new 4.4 liter V8 engine, the world'sfirst six-speed automatic transmission and anall-aluminum suspension with an optional Dynamic Drive system that provides for active suspension control. And that barely scratches the surface. The wizards at BMW have completely rethought the way a driver should interact with acar, resulting in what they call IDRIVE which encompasses a number of novel innovations for the human-machineinterface.
Where to begin. Well, people who would consider a Bimmer aregenerally more technically astute than the average car shopper, so I will get a bitmore technical than usual for this article and begin with the marvelous new V8 engine.
ENGINE: This all-new design features fully variable,computerized management of the intake system. The camshaft timing iscontrolled through bi-VANOS, a method ofadjusting the intake and exhaust cam timing in infinitely variable increments throughout theentire engine speed range. But the real news here is Valvetronic,a BMW patented design that regulates the adjustment of the intake valvelift from fully closed to fully opened. This, says BMW, is a quantum leaprivaling the industryswitch from carburetors to fuel injection or the jump from points and condenserto electronic ignition.
What makes this so earthshaking is that when you step on the gas pedal, youare no longer controlling the throttle plate. Instead, engine speed iscontrolled by the Valvetronic system directly by varying the amount of intakevalve lift based on how hard you step on the gas. There is still athrottle plate, but it is only used as a failsafe or for certain diagnosticfunctions. Under normal operation, the throttle plate is held wide open, whichmeans that there is no longer any vacuum in the intake manifold. Tocompensate, they have added an engine-driven pump to provide vacuum for the brake booster.
Under normal driving conditions, this system allows the intake valves to open as little as half a millimeter,causing the fuel/air mixture to enter the combustion chamber through an almostpaper-thin valve opening. This lets the fuel vaporize more fully, significantly increasing combustion efficiency. Another advantage is that controllingthe air flow right at the combustion chamber instead of way up at the throttleplate, makes throttle response virtually instantaneous because there is no lagbetween stepping on the gas and engine response.
Another significant engineering advance is the use of the first fullyvariable intake manifold. Setting the intake runners to a specific lengthoptimizesengine efficiency at a specific rpm range. By altering the length instages, (many modern engines have two stages, some have three) you can improve performance atmore than one rpm range, but that gives you peaks and dips in the power curve. This engineeliminates the steps and varies the lengthsmoothly between full long and full short, promoting optimalefficiency and smooth power delivery throughout the full rpm range.
TRANSMISSION: The automatic transmission in the new 7 Seriesboasts a number of industry firsts. It is the world'sfirst six-speed automatic transmission and the first with shift-by-wiretechnology. There are no mechanical connections between the shift lever andthe transmission. The unit is coupled to an unusual torque converter that disconnects the engine from the transmission when the vehicle comes to astop, thus improving fuel economy and eliminatingany undesirable creep
Operating this transmission is a model ofsimplicity. Instead of the usual floor shifter, there is a column shift lever behind the wheel. Well, sort of. The lever isreally an electricalcontrol with a small display in it. Simply lift the lever up for reverse,push it down for drive or push it in towards the steering column to engage park. Sportsminded drivers will have to wait for the full, manual shift control . The Steptronicsystem adds an EPA mileage penalty due to the way that the test has to beconducted. In the real world, there is no such disadvantage, but alas, thebureaucracy is the bureaucracy. For now, there is a "limitingmode" where you will be able to control the top gear the unit will shift toby using thumb buttons on the steering wheel rim in order to select L5, L4, L3,L2,or L1.
SUSPENSION: The newsuspension system confirms BMWs leadership position as builder ofthe ultimate driving machine. If this car feels as good as it looks onpaper, and there's no doubt in my mind that it will, then this automobile willbe the benchmark for the foreseeable future.
The suspension system isall-aluminum in order to reduce unsprung weight to a minimum. Unsprungweight includes the wheel and tire, brake rotor and caliper, and the suspensionarms: in other words, all the components that move up and down with the road surface and are not supported by the springs. The lighter weightof thesecomponents keeps the tires in better contact with the road by lessening the inertia thatcreates a bouncing action on rough surfaces. By avoiding this tendency ofheavy suspension components to bounce, the BMW maintains more consistent tire grip.
Air suspension is available on the rear axle as an option and serves to keepthe car level regardless of load. Another suspension feature, Active RollStabilization, compensates for body sway by adding active suspension control to themix. A third system, EDC-C provides variable shock damping under computercontrol for no-compromise ride and handling over a variety of road conditions. EDC is available as part of an optional Adaptive Ride Package and offers "stepless"control of the shock absorbers from full soft to full firm.
The most interesting of these suspension goodies has to be the Active RollStabilization systemwhich consists of front and rear active anti-roll bars. These are sway bars that are cut in half and attached atthe center to a control unit that uses hydraulic pressure to apply areverse-twist to the bar under computer control, in order to compensate for body lean during turns. Thisproduces near flat cornering up to about half a G with no compromise to thesuperb ride. Beyond that, the system allows some lean to creep in so youcan feel the feedback and realize that you are approachingcornering limits. Yes, there are still limits. Sorry folks, BMW hasnot yet found a way to disobey thelaws of physics.
INSIDE: The interior of the 7 is downright sumptuous as you would expect in a sedanselling for upwards of $70,000. Two different types of wood are available: silk matte cherry and optional high-gloss ash. Eachwood is available in a light or dark finish depending on interior color.
With careful attention to the layout of the controls and readouts, the 7challenges some established conventions of driver-vehicle interaction. Yes, the steering wheel,the gas pedal, the brake pedal and the directional switch are exactly where you would expectthem to be. So, what is different? For one thing, you can drive this car without a key. Well, I should say, without removing the "Electronic key" from your pocket. Once you configure the 7 with "Comfort Access," you can simply walk up to the car and touch one of the outer door handles. This action sets off a wireless dialog between the car and the key in your pocket. Assuming you have the correct key, you can then just open the door, sit behind the wheel and press the Start/Stop button to start up; then tap the transmission selector down once to engage "Drive" and off you go.
Glancing around the cockpit, the first thing you are apt to notice is the large display panel in the center of the dash. This, combined with a joystick-like"Controller" mounted just ahead of the center armrest is the IDRIVE Control Center which can control hundreds of functions withsurprising intuitiveness. Moving the controller forward, back, right, left,or in one of four diagonal positions will select one of 8 function areas. Bear in mind that I am describing a European spec model and the US car mayhave differences, but the concept should be the same.
The first 4functions are the most commonly used and are available by moving the controllerNorth, South, East or West. The remaining functions are accessed by movingthe controller diagonally. The 8 function areasare:
Communication phone functions
Navigation GPS Navigation on-board trip computer
Entertainment radio and CD/tape player
Climate Control air distribution, heated seats
BMW ASSIST similar to GM's OnStar system
Vehicle maintenance schedules, checks & warnings
Help some hand-holding on how to use the iDrive system
Configuration controls for various customizing preferences like language, date & time English or metric, etc.
Once you have selected a function, the display switches to the appropriate screenfor that section. You then rotate the knob and pressit as necessary to perform a task. Wait, it gets better. TheController knob uses Force Feedback technology similar to the more expensivecomputer game joysticks that let you experience feedback in the stick. Forexample, if yougo into a barrel-roll while flying Flight Simulator; you feel vibrations andincreased resistance on the stick until you crash into the barn,at which time the stick feels like it will shake out of your hands. Yeah, that kind of Force Feedback. In this case, it allows the controller to have a differentfeel depending on the function that you choose. For instance, if youselect the sound system balance control, you will feel a detent in the centerposition and increased resistance as you rotate the knob to either end of therange. This technology cansimulate many different kinds of controls with a distinctive touch for each,allowing you to perform tasks by feel while keeping your eyes on the road.
In typical BMW fashion, you can select from an assortment of seating options for the new 7. For the front, you can choose the "basic" 14 way driver with memory and 12 way passenger seats, or you can opt for the multifunction comfort seat (standard on the 745iL) with power adjustments for the side bolsters as well as the angle for the top half of the seatback. For the rear passengers, you have the basic unit or the comfort rear seats with memory function and power adjustments. Two other features that are available for the seats are active ventilation and seat heating with rapid heating and balance control.
The cruise control system has an interesting new feature. You canpre-select common speeds in advance (like 30, 55 or 75 mph), then just press a button to have the carreach and hold that speed.
Some other new features that are notable include:
a pushbutton parking brake that electrically applies the mechanical parking brakes when the engine is off, or the normal hydraulic brakes when the engine is running.
hydraulic door checks that keep an open door stationary at any point along its path, not just at a couple of preset positions.
powered sunblinds in the rear doors
anultrasonic distance measurement for parking assistance.
Safety: No self-respectingcar company will introduce a top-of-the-line model without some new safetyfeature to crow about, and BMW is no exception. Theirs is called TheIntelligent Safety Integrated System (ISIS) and is an all-new bus system for theintelligent activation of airbags, belt latch tensioners and active headrests. The system is designed to activate the rightairbag with the right intensity at the right time. And there are plenty ofairbags to control, from the tubular head air bag that has been refined with theaddition of a curtain that will protect occupants from flying glass and debris,to front and rear side airbags and the world's first knee airbag for the driver. Other safety featuresinclude: adaptive belt force limiters, active headrests to protect againstwhiplash and a new seat structure to improve side impact protection.
Of course BMW has not neglected the all-important sound system. They will use state-of-the-art digital audio signal processing based on theLOGIC7 concept and operated completely through the Control Center. TheLOGIC7 HiFi Professional speaker system consists of a midrange speaker atthe center of the instrument panel, six midrange speakers in the four doors andon the package shelf at the rear and two central woofers beneath the frontseats. These two woofers have a 1.1" stroke and are acousticallyconnected to the hollow frame rails.
Sure, these cars are out of reachfor most working stiffs, so why should the general public beinterested? Just so they can eat their hearts out? Of coursenot. The average person can consider this a look into the future to a time when thetechnology introduced on these luxuryyachts filters down to more affordable cars. Remember: air conditioning, powermirrors, heated seats, automatic headlights, ABS brakes and traction control wereonce available only on high-end models that were beyond the reach of middle-classfolks. Now, these features are offered on so-called economy carsand, in some cases, are standard equipment.
Okay Mercedes, theS-Class is due for a freshening soon. Let's see what you can come up with totop this new Bimmer. Ever go whale watching? It's great fun to watchas each whale tries to outdo his companions at jumping the highest or making the biggest splash when comingdown. What a great time to be a car nut.