The new BMW 7-Series may just be the most technologically advanced production car ever to go on sale. From the perspective of in-car tech, it definitely is. The sheer amount of gadgetry on offer – in terms of driver-assist systems and the latest-gen iDrive system’s capabilities – is on the point of bewildering.
It’s a massive statement of intent from BMW, which has all too often been on the technological back foot to Mercedes and its S-class. Nearly every piece of tech you’ll find in the 7-series –including its Carbon Core chassis, which mixes carbon-fibre components with steel and aluminium parts to help reduce weight – will make its way down to other models in the company’s line-up, too.
Let’s look at the revamped iDrive. Touchscreen technology has been added to the 10.2” high-resolution display in the centre of the dash, making for a more intuitive, user-friendly experience than you would get operating the click-wheel on the transmission tunnel.
Things don’t stop there, however, as you can now use gesture control to carry out basic iDrive commands. For example, rotating your finger clockwise in front of the display will raise the volume. Even better, one of the five gestures recognised by the system can be given a custom function, so you can quickly call home or find directions with a simple hand movement. And, while some gesture-control systems may struggle to recognise commands properly, this one appears to work every time.
For rear-seat passengers, it’s possible to option two 9.2” HD displays, both of which give access to the core iDrive functions. The screens themselves boast vivid colours and pin-sharp visuals that are a step above what the competition offers. Integrated into the central armrest between the rear seats is a seven-inch tablet that can control such things as the climate control and infotainment system.
One place where you don’t normally see a screen is on a car’s key, but that’s what you’ll find on BMW’s Display Key, which comes standard with the new 7-series. This nifty little device enables you to remain connected with the car even when you’re away from it, so you can remotely operate the climate control, and check the fuel level and range, and current servicing requirements. A wireless charger built into the car’s storage cubby keeps the key’s battery topped up and will charge compatible Android phones, or iPhones wearing an optional BMW case.
The key’s real party piece, though, is how it allows you to remotely park the 7-series. Line up the car facing a parking space, then step out and you can slowly move it forwards or backwards using the key. Handy, perhaps, if you have a garage large enough to accommodate a 7-series, but not quite wide enough for you to open the car’s doors once inside.
While the various new features of this 7-series are undeniably impressive, you might, of course, question how many of them you actually need. Perhaps more useful than remote parking would be further simplifying how the functions are accessed. Click-wheels, touchscreens and gestures are all well and good, but a truly honed voice-control system that reliably understands natural speech would be a real step forward, and something we’ve yet to see in a production car.
Perhaps one for the next 7-series, BMW?
Now and then: Paddleshift transmissions
You’re flat out, right foot pinning pedal to bulkhead, right fingertips poised to click the paddle behind the steering wheel to engage the next gear. If you weren’t driving 51 kW worth of growling Toyota Aygo with its ‘X-shift’ automated manual transmission, it might even be quite exciting…
The Aygo illustrates just how widely such transmissions are now available. On road cars, the trend started with the Ferrari F355 in 1997 and the ‘F1’ gearshift. But steering-wheel-mounted gearshift devices were used by French engineer Amedé Bollée in his vehicles as early as 1901.
In modern cars, shift speeds and dual-clutch transmissions have been by far the biggest advancements. By the Ferrari 599 GTO of 2011, changes took only 0.06 sec, while DSG (which was introduced by VW in the German-market Golf Mk4 R32 in 2003) made them effectively instantaneous. Which is more than can be said of the Aygo’s automated manual…
On or off?
Many cars let you turn this feature off, but James Rock, writing on our Facebook page, would keep it on. ‘It’s great for retaining visibility at night,’ he says. Even more useful when paired with auto-dimming side mirrors, too.