König Diesel: Driving the New BMW 7er Series

By Jonathan Spira on 23 November 2009
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The 7er Series, as BMW’s flagship, may cocoon its driver and passengers in Teutonic luxury and is clearly automotive royalty.  Meer 221While I was somewhat ambivalent about the exterior of its predecessor, the new 7er is a true blue blood, and not just because of its Bavarian heritage.

To me, it looks aggressive, somewhat avant garde, but unlike the previous generation E65/66 7er, all the pieces seem to fit together perfectly.

Invited to drive one of the first production cars, a 730d, I then had to plan a trip befitting what I had already started to call König Diesel (King Diesel).  I chose as my destination the city of Portorož in Istria (Slovenia).  At the turn of the last century, Portorož was one of the most important European seaside resorts and was frequented by royalty and the aristocracy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.  Portoroz 018

I left Munich early the day after I arrived, looking forward to a 600 km drive that would take me south through Austria and then past Llubjana (the capital of Slovenia), then west towards Portorož and the Adriatic.  The car came equipped with winter tires and a warning label to not exceed 240 km/h.  Unfortunately, given traffic and speed limits in Germany, Austria, and Slovenia, I had less than one hour of time to actually drive at that speed.

Despite lots of snow in the days preceding my trip, the Autobahnen were clear and dry and the König clearly enjoyed the trip as did his driver.Portoroz 023

As I entered Slovenia, I found its highway system to be excellent, as were the secondary roads that eventually led to my destination.  Indeed, the roads in Slovenia (I drove to Lipica and Grad Socerb one day, and to Trieste the next) had sufficient twists to keep us entertained.


BMW has a history of firsts: the first automaker to offer satellite navigation systems in all vehicles, the first to offer built-in Bluetooth connectivity for mobile phones, the first to offer Apple iPod integration,

The 2009 7er continues this tradition with more luxury and more electronic advancements than any BMW before it, the better to keep me infotained.

The car’s interior is the first new BMW in years to sport a cockpit tilted towards the driver (although not as much tilt as my E21 320iS, but all tilt was welcome).  Despite a host of new and useful electronics, the interior keeps its Teutonic cool with few knobs and switches, vastly improved ergonomics, and materials of the highest quality, comparable to the Mercedes-Benz and Lexus flagships (both of which I recently drove).  In case one needed help, an online multi-media manual (with videos and slide shows) is just one iDrive click away.DSC_0525

Inside, a high-resolution (1280 x 480 pixels), 10.2” display that dominates the cockpit yet doesn’t wash out in sunlight greets the driver  New, more intuitive menu structures, improved menu navigation, and an ergonomic controller with shortcut buttons all contribute to greater Freude am Fahren.

During my drive, I found that the new fourth generation iDrive, formally called the Car Infotainment Computer (CIC), did indeed live up to this lofty title.

The new iDrive was simple to figure out. Entering a destination using the controller or voice command is fast and easy (and faster and easier when compared to earlier iDrive systems).  Once a destination is selected, the system displays a preview for several routes, including an “efficient” route that should use less fuel. The map can be full screen (previously not possible), and it can display two different map types in two different scales in split-screen mode.  Graphics are amazing (the mountains look almost real) and European models can surf any Web site on the Net.DSC_0078

You can also display far more information in the smaller Assist window than in earlier systems, something that takes a very useful feature and increases its utility (and something the competition hasn’t caught on to – the assist window remains unique to BMW and iDrive).

Inserting a CD or music DVD into the drive slot starts the process of copying the music to the car’s hard disk (the car asks permission before it starts to copy and the process of copying does not slow down other CIC processes). Separate from the iPhone/USB option in the center console, a USB port in the glove box facilitates transferring music to the CIC.

BMW uses elegant Black Panel technology in the climate-control area as well as the dashboard display.  With the engine switched off, the driver only sees the elegant chrome rings and the climate controls are dark.  Once the car is turned on, the numbers and needles glow from under the surface.  The effect is stunning.

A “magic” button on the MFL (Multifunktionslenkrad or steering wheel) controls radio and telephone functions, displaying information on the panel.  These functions are also controllable via the newly-enhanced iDrive controller,, but the magic button is far more convenient for simple functions.  The controller’s direct selection buttons provide one-button access to CD, radio, telephone and navigation, plus there’s a back button that works similar to a Web browser’s back button.  Unlike Audi’s MMI buttons, I didn’t have to look down to select one because each is shaped differently.  Voice command functionality has been enhanced and you can use the iDrive controller in conjunction with Voice Command (previously, turning the controller would stop Voice Command dead in its tracks.)DSC_0323


New safety features abound. Night Vision now offers Pedestrian Detection, which recognizes living objects up to 1600 feet in front of the car and displays an icon of a person on the display (no word if there are separate icons for deer or moose).  Sideview cameras mounted in the front fenders provide visibility forward of the front seat.  The Active Blind Spot Detection and Lane Change Warning system warn the driver of incursions into the car’s blind spot while Lane Departure Warning alerts the driver should the car wander.

A Europe-only option (for now) recognizes and displays speed limit signs in the Heads-up Display.  As the speed limits changed, the HUD kept me informed of the current limit.  Because speed limit signs in most of Europe are uniform, unlike in the U.S., this feature was easier to implement but, as a result, it probably won’t make it to the U.S.  It only took a second or two for the HUD to update once we passed a new sign (yes, we timed it).DSC_0551

You’re probably wondering how it drives and the answer is, brilliantly.  After 1500 km (930 miles) in weather conditions ranging from snow and ice to warm Adriatic sunshine, the verdict is clear: the new King of the Hill is the 2009 BMW 7er Series.  From the driver’s seat, the 7er drove like a much smaller car, perhaps somewhere between a 3er and a 5er.  The superb handling doesn’t adversely impact ride quality, which was soft over bumps but always completely under the driver’s control.  And the ride was smoother and more composed than any car in its class (including the Lexus and Mercedes I drove recently).

And I saved the best for last.  The 730d, despite its heft, managed an incredible 7.4 l/100 km (32 mpg) at an average speed of 113 km/h (70 mph).  As of now, BMW of North America only plans to bring in the gasoline-powered 750i (expect 21 mpg) to the U.S. but, with 70% of BMWs sold in Germany and other BMW diesels starting to arrive in the U.S., it’s only a matter of time until BMW adds this one to the roster.