- The Washington Times - Friday, August 1, 2008

MUNICH | Next month, the fifth generation of BMW’s 7 Series will celebrate its world premiere at the Paris auto show with a slew of innovations, technical improvements and an elegant-sporty body. The fifth generation is 121 pounds lighter than its predecessor, but it is just over an inch longer and nearly half an inch lower. The front overhand is somewhat shorter, while in the rear it remains the same. By positioning the front axle further forward, the wheelbase increased by 3.1 inches. This made it possible to build the engine behind the front axle, and pace it deeper, lowering also the center of gravity and thus improving handling.

The new lines of the hood give the impression of a sports car. It is purely optical, as the hood has the same height as that of the current 7 Series, because of pedestrian regulations in Europe which prescribe a certain distance between the hood and the engine.

The new body looks sleeker than the current one with a long sharp line all over the side and the sharp crease on top of the fenders. The latter was not only a styling element, but a necessity as room had to be created for the suspension components. BMW now uses LED lights for the rear lamps and the direction lamps in the headlights as will in the interior and the door handles. The latter illuminate when the driver walks up to the car with the key in his or her pocket. The 7 gets two brand new gas engines, a 326 horsepower 3.0-liter V-8 and a 407 horsepower strong 4.4-liter V-8, both with twin turbo technology. Also a new 3.0-liter inline six diesel engine with 245 horsepower and 398 pounds-feet will be available for Europe and several other markets. All engines will be teamed to a 6-speed automatic transmission. A new ZF 8-speed transmission is expected by the end of 2009.

We drove the first prototypes of the new 7 Series on BMW’s Miramas test facilities in the south of France. There, it soon became clear that the optional Integral Active Steering (IAS) has its advantage. IAS varies the steering angle of both the front and (for the first time) the rear wheels. At low speeds (up to 37 mph), the rear wheels are turned against the steering angle on the front wheels to a maximum of 3 degrees; at higher speeds the steering angle of the rear wheels follows the movement of the front wheels in the same direction. In a lane change the 7 Series feels in control and follows exactly the direction the driver intends. Another advantage is the up to 2.7 inch shorter turning circle (depending on the speed), which also makes parking along the curb much easier.

On the wet part of the track, we tested the standard Dynamic Damping Control and Dynamic Driving Control that offers the driver a choice for Normal, Comfort, Sport and Sport+ for the suspension and traction. Here the large BMW was easy to control and even when in Sport+ the rear end of the car breaks out, it is easy to correct. Optionally, the system can be completed with Dynamic Drive for less body roll. It’s an extra that will be especially of interest for owners who take the seat in the rear instead of behind the steering wheel.

In the slalom, the large car acts like it is built for such maneuvers and on higher speeds the stability is really good. Bumps and holes in the road are being ‘ironed’ away and you do not much feel of the changes in road surface. Customers with a driver will mostly choose the long version of the 7 that features air suspension at the rear as standard.

BMW renewed the iDrive system and equipped the 7 Series with a high resolution LCD screen. With preset buttons the iDrive is now much more user-friendly and has new features and functions as well. Under the flowing lines of the newly designed dashboard there is an instrument panel with black panel technology for a relaxed look when not in use, while the large 10.2 inch control display (with a resolution of 1,280 x 480 pixels) offers a good view at the chosen function or the navigation system.

The Bavarian manufacturer is also the first to offer continuous internet access on board its flag ship.

New is also the cruise control with ‘stop & go’, lane departure warning including speed limit indicator (the camera recognizes the speed limit on the signs along the roads) and lane change warning. The speed limit indicator is only available for the European markets, where speed limits often differ from road to road and from country to country. But BMW officials say that it would not be unlikely this feature will be available for the North American market in the future.

Options are HUD (head-up display), high-beam assistant and night vision with the detection of persons. In case the heat sensing camera detects a person at the road side, that is walking toward the road, a warning sign will be visible in the monitor and in the HUD. The system also recognizes if a person walks parallel with the road, but in that case there is no warning. Side view cameras and a back-up camera also belong to the dynamic safety system. The side view camera ‘sees’ cars behind the ‘7’ in the other lane. If the driver of the 7 Series turns on his signal in order to change lanes, and the camera recognizes a car in the dead angle, a light vibration will be felt in the steering wheel, besides the warning light in the housing of the rear view mirror. This works both on the left and right side of the car.

The new 7 Series will arrive in March 2009 in North America.

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