2016 BMW 7 Series review: BMW’s luxury limo is rammed with tech
Driving assistance and parking: 4.5/5
More impressive than the slightly frivolous gesture system, however, is the range and quality of BMW’s driver-assistance technologies. These cover the full gamut of what’s currently available, including blind-spot monitoring, lane departure warnings, adaptive cruise control, auto-high beam control and autonomous emergency braking (AEB).
There’s also a decent helping of semi-autonomous and fully autonomous driving and parking features, enabled by a selection of five radar sensors and a front-facing stereo camera. And although the 7 Series can’t quite compete with the Tesla Model S’ Autopilot offering, it’s darned good all the same.
BMW gives this series of technologies a number of different names. Traffic Jam Assistant, Active Cruise Control with Stop & Go, Steering and lane-control assistant, Active Protection, and Driving Assistant to name but a few – but what these essentially boil down to is that the BMW 7 Series is a car designed almost to think for itself.
My personal favourite, being a London resident and thoroughly fed up with driving in walking-pace traffic, is the traffic-jam assistant. This will take control of the vehicle in slow-moving or “monotonous” traffic conditions to help keep you safe. It works at speeds of up to 130mph and will steer, accelerate and brake for you, even to the point of coming to a complete standstill, then restart for you, all the while keeping a safe distance between you and the car in front.
It’s so impressive you could kick back, go hands-free and take your feet off the pedals entirely if it wasn’t for the 7 Series’ insistent warning to put them back, and (of course) the legal requirement of keeping your hands on the wheel at all times.
I’m also a fan of the road-sign recognition facility. With this enabled, the BMW 7 Series recognises speed limits as you pass them on the road and displays them on the dashboard. Better still, if you have adaptive cruise control switched on, the car will then reduce its speed automatically to match the legal limit. If that isn’t brilliant, I don’t know what is.
But wait, it doesn’t stop there. The car is able to use its selection of radar sensors to detect if you’re about to be hit from the side, while the Night Vision mode provides a visual alert – both on the HUD and on the dash between the dials – if it spots people or large animals on the road up to 300 metres away.
This being 2016 and the 7 Series being a flagship car, there’s also a broad range of automatic and semi-automatic parking facilities. If you prefer to park manually, a series of cameras provides a helpful top-down surround view so you don’t clip the car in the bay next to you.
For those with a little more patience, the 7 Series will park entirely automatically, detecting the type of bay, and operating the brake, throttle and steering. All you have to do is hold the park button down – the 7 Series does it all – although activating parking mode via the iDrive menu system is a little more fiddly than it needs to be.
Its James Bond-style party piece, however, is that you can step out and use the car’s touchscreen-enabled key to park while you watch from a safe distance. Handy if you don’t fancy squeezing out of the doors while parking in a particularly narrow space.
Satnav and audio: 4.5/5
Behind the headlines, the car’s core systems are all up to scratch. The satnav system is second to none, delivering its audio and visual instructions with clarity and in good time before junctions, and through a huge variety of display methods. There’s a 3D map on the centre screen; lane assistance, junction display and a speedometer on the excellent HUD; and next-turn instructions on the dashboard between the dials as well.
It offers plenty of address-input methods, whether through the car’s highly effective voice recognition system, the touchpad on top of the iDrive dial (although this right-handed journalist found it tricky scrawling characters left-handed), and the touchscreen. You can even send the destination to the satnav from your phone if you want.
And, once your route is entered, route planning is equally strong. In our quickfire tests, the system didn’t put a foot wrong, matching Google Maps blow for blow on our cross-London route, London to Sheffield route and cross-border London to Grenoble itinerary.
As for audio quality, the model we tested was fitted with the premium Bowers & Wilkins Diamond surround audio system, which sounds as if it ought to be brilliant, but for once, I found myself slightly disappointed.
I put it through my usual set of tests, playing back a selection of different types of music and audio test files, and found sound quality oddly patchy. For the most part I was absolutely fine. Music was packed with detail and body, and there was plenty of power, as you’d expect.
Some tracks, however, including my audiobook and jazz track tests exposed a slightly unpleasant harshness as well as a slight boominess. I didn’t have the chance to test the standard audio system, but my experience with the B&W system suggests it might be worth having a careful listen before you spend the enormous upgrade price on it. On our test vehicle, it was the most expensive option of the lot, adding a huge £4,765 to the price.
BMW’s 7 Series is a tour de force in technological terms. From its James Bond-style key fob parking system to its phalanx of driving-assistance tools, and its avalanche of screens, sensors and cameras, it’s truly a car for the connected age. Next to the Volvo XC90 and the Tesla Model S, it’s among the most advanced cars on the road, and a good deal more modern than its main rival, the Mercedes S Class.
However, there’s still some work to be done here. BMW’s iDrive system is so jammed with features and options that it’s a little overwhelming at times, while the lack of Android Auto and Apple CarPlay in a car this expensive grates a little. Even if I’m not going to use a feature, it doesn’t mean I don’t want it as an option. The car does pretty much everything bar make your breakfast, so what’s the harm in throwing in the options so the driver can choose?
And, since all this technology is squeezed into BMW’s flagship, it certainly doesn’t come cheap. The starting price for the 703Ld saloon we tested is £67,700, and with all the various technology packs and audio upgrades, that price soon rises to something closer to £90,000. Admittedly, they’re different types of vehicle, but if you’re interested in getting a taste of the future, the Tesla Model S complete with Autopilot can be had for considerably less, as can a fully tricked-out Volvo XC90.
Still, there’s something genuinely impressive about what BMW has achieved with the 7 Series. I only hope that the technology trickles down to more affordable cars soon, because this is what every car ought to look like in 2020.