BMW has long billed itself the maker of "the ultimate driving machine." Models like the new M3 performance sedan certainly live up to that expectation. But what to do in an era when autonomous cars are migrating from science fiction to everyday reality? Could the Bavarian maker eventually build the "ultimate self-driving machine"?
While the completely redesigned 2016 BMW 7-Series won't let you take your hands off the wheel and pick up your iPad or Wall Street Journal, it does come tantalizingly close. This year's iteration is as much a tech junkie's dream machine as a car for those who consider performance the ultimate high. In developing the 2016 7-Series, BMW engineers intentionally set out to one-up the Mercedes-Benz S-Class, until now the high-tech automotive benchmark. And, at least in terms of the number and range of new features the 7-Series offers, it would seem they've succeeded.
Visually, the new 7-Series hasn't undergone many changes. From the twin-kidney grille to the high-deck trunk, you might confuse the 2016 model for the big sedan it replaces. But slip behind the wheel and you'll quickly notice the differences, signaled by the new 12.3-inch reconfigurable gauge cluster and the huge LCD screen atop the center stack.
Trying to run through all the new features on this sixth-generation 7-Series (starting at $81,300) is near impossible. Grille shutters automatically open and close to improve fuel economy. All-wheel steering improves handling at high speeds and parking at low speeds. Stereo cameras hidden behind the rearview mirror predict potholes and bumps to adjust the suspension. And the big Beemer will even access navigation data to automatically adjust its steering boost and transmission shifts.
You can take your hands off the wheel on a well-marked roadway for up to 15 seconds—and it would be even longer if not for regulatory restrictions. The new 7-Series not only offers forward collision warning with autobraking—and pedestrian detection—but will even begin to steer itself around an obstacle if necessary.
There is, of course, the requisite audiophile system, in this case a 1,400-watt, 16-speaker package from Bowers & Wilkens. You can adjust volume, as well as take or reject incoming phone calls with the auto industry's first-ever gesture control system. It allows you to program one gesture of your own using two fingers—not the one finger salute you might be tempted to use if all this gets the better of you. The good news is that BMW will now schedule an appointment with 7-Series buyers a couple weeks after they take delivery to meet and explain features they're not likely to have yet even discovered.
For traditional BMW fans who might feel a bit deflated by all the emphasis on technology, the good news is that the 750i's 4.4-liter V-8 makes a solid 445 horsepower with plenty of low-end grunt. And despite its size, the sedan is delightfully nimble when you take full manual control. The 2016 remake successfully blends both traditional and new elements of luxury while maintaining the performance and handling characteristics behind the BMW brand's familiar catchphrase.