7th Deadly Pleasure

Weeks ahead of its regional launch, CHARGED magazine drives the future of BMW, the new 7 Series. Dubbed "the cultured aesthetic" by its designer, this car boasts over 70 innovations never seen before in the BMW flagship.

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By  Justin Etheridge Published  April 28, 2002

Introduction|~||~||~|There comes a time in every man’s life when his life will flash before his eyes, and the question will surface: did I make it? Trust us. That moment will pass far more easily if when it happens you’re at the wheel of the new 745i.

Eyebrows raised the world over when BMW announced the launch of its ultimate luxury saloon. This renowned manufacturer, after all, has set the benchmark in comfort, safety and sheer driveability for years, standing toe-to-toe with giants like Mercedes in the process.

The original 7 Series, for example, brought us unprecedented refinement: consider ABS assisted braking and the first onboard computers. But that was many moons ago, 1980, in fact. Would a new 7 Series prove anything more than a marketing stunt?

Yes, is the emphatic answer. In an exclusive interview with CHARGED magazine, Adrian van Hooydonk, president of strategic design consultancy Designworks, USA, and exterior designer of the new 7 Series, explained: “My brief was not to bring about evolution, but to inspire a revolution.” Nothing less would do.

But the car, of course, is the star, and you need look no further than the exterior styling to realise a new era has dawned in Munich. With the new 7 Series, BMW has done much more than reaffirm the uniqueness of its various models.

Instead, the provocative bodywork proclaims a new design language, one that Adrian van Hooydonk terms ‘the cultured aesthetic.’ Purposefully bold, the 7 Series challenges our previous notions of sporting performance and luxury.

That trade-off is by no means an easy one. Rather, it has haunted high-end manufacturers the world over: how to deliver ultimate comfort without engineering the driving experience out of the equation.

Three technologies operate alongside each other to answer this dilemma. First, Dynamic Drive, designed to absorb the effect of uneven road surfaces and reduce body roll to minimal levels. Secondly, pneumatic suspension assesses the ride height of the car and works to maintain constant levels, regardless of how you vary its load. Finally, Electronic Damper Control – Continuous (EDC-C) empowers your driving style by monitoring vibrations and countering them accordingly.

||**||"Cultured Aesthetic"|~||~||~| Do you prefer to select ‘comfort mode’ during the week, whilst a chauffeur takes the wheel? No problem. But you’d rather select ‘sport’ when tackling the highway by yourself on the weekend? Done. This car delivers options within options, without losing sight of man’s primary need: to enjoy the ride.

Power exudes from the 745i, and not merely due to its somewhat bulky size. A purifying design approach to its lines has left a clean, dynamic finish, from the no-nonsense wheels to the uniquely reworked rear end.

The arched roof line complements strong shoulders, now integrating the door handles previously held by a bodyside crease line. In each of these examples, as with the distinctive grille and dual headlights, BMW trademarks have been retained but emboldened.

In fact, controversy currently stalks the rear-end design in the German press. Whilst most reviewers have praised the dynamic ties between upper cabin form and rear of the car, others have frowned upon its complexities. One self-confessed purist saw fit to suggest it had been rammed in the rear by a following BMW.

So was the design too ambitious? “Not at all,” laughs van Hooydonk. “My design philosophy has never been to look backwards and worry about what might have been, but not everyone understands that BMW must set an agenda. This 7 Series will forge a new path, shaping BMW cars for generations to come.”

Expect tongues to wag — and loll — for some time yet.

||**||I think therefore iDrive|~||~||~| No single innovation on board the 7 Series will stir the soul of a CHARGED reader more than the iDrive, the ultimate in-car control system.

Numerous functions like climate control, audio and navigation can be manipulated with a few swift taps of a single force-feedback controller. This eight-way system can be pushed along each compass-point, namely up/down, left/right, and the diagonals in between.

Force feedback ensures that the disc can only be pushed so far — the further you go, the harder it resists. Each instruction is also menu-sensitive, so, turning the controller will allow you to scroll through information appropriate to the particular context.

All the relevant data is then displayed on a backlit screen, well inside your line of vision and set deep within the dashboard to ensure crisp and clear visibility regardless of the light outside. You no longer need to glance at your knobs with furtive eyes before focusing again on the road.

Indeed, BMW claims that up to two-hundred and seventy functions can be accessed via voice control, including logging on to the internet.

In Germany, that online support extends to a proprietary WAP gateway, which automatically contacts the emergency services in case of an accident. No date as yet has been put upon a similar service in the Middle East, but rumour suggests BMW has already opened negotiations with regional telcos.

Potential rewards are staggering, from an online shopping service to an automated car-doctor, diagnosing weakened parts of the car before they fail or become critical.

Whilst the PC-centric iDrive, however, breaks new technological ground, the 7 Series interior testifies to more subtle changes too. A fresh look at ergonomics sees all driving functions realigned around the steering wheel, with basic comfort functions left within the instrument panel and controlled by conventional switches.

Even non-critical functions have been engineered within reach. The air-bag enhanced steering wheel includes volume and skip functions for your in-car hi-fi and a ‘push-to-talk’ switch (PTT), which allows you to access the navigation system by voice, or simply make hands-free calls. Finally, the automatic transmission stalk steps easily through Park, Neutral and Drive without you ever taking your hands of the wheel.

||**||Middle East hot seat|~||~||~| In an exclusive interview ahead of the BMW 7 Series regional launch, Robert Bailey-McEwan, general manager, BMW Middle East, talks to CHARGED magazine.

It’s clear that the new 7 Series will spearhead your marketing push in Asia. But what about the Middle East? How important is this flagship model to the region?

The ‘chauffered driver’ has always been a key customer, but he is particularly important to us in the Middle East. Just because business takes you from Dubai to Abu Dhabi, for example, you can’t afford to be out of the loop.

The new long wheelbase 7 Series, like never before, answers those business needs. It is simply the ultimate car: in terms of communication, with mobile internet and multiple GSM handsets; in terms of navigation, with the iDrive system replicated in the rear centre armrest, plus BMW’s unique digital map; and in terms of comfort, with its lavish interior.

You can be more productive in this car than in your own office.

Is there a danger that cars can become too comfortable? That technology will one day phase out the manual driving experience?

It’s an issue that the industry perhaps faces, but not one that concerns BMW. Our strength, first and foremost, is how the car handles, how it drives and how it feels.
The 7 Series is also a car with options. Consider the multiple suspension modes. You can feel the car’s response stiffen in ‘sport’ mode almost instantaneously, if the car is absorbing the feel of the road. It’s your choice.

Or take A/C as an example. Yes, the comprehensive iDrive system can fine-tune your A/C settings, but you can always use the basic knobs if you can prefer.

As with all technologies, consumers exposed to something new for the first time wonder if it’s really needed. They have no frame of reference. But having driven a BMW, having used the iDrive, there is no going back.

The 7 Series appears to be enjoying mixed reports. Whilst most early consumers are swooning at the thought of a test-drive, the car is not without its detractors. Should you be worried?

We have set out to raise the bar of what a luxury car should be. Of what a BMW should be. Any debate taking place now about the 7 Series is perfect. It proves that this car is ahead of its time. Interest will last throughout its life cycle.
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