Who's the boss?
BMW's latest 7-Series seems to think for itself, a constant adviser to anyone who seeks a second opinion in the art of driving. Packed with advanced engineering, the 750Li is so intelligent it could probably even tell you how to handle every bend and straight, in any language, if it was allowed to speak.
Yet, the executive saloon's technology is a little over the top in some respects, making it a bit too smart for its own good. With the lane-changing warning system, an HK$8,000 option, the driver senses 'discreet and unmistakable vibration on the steering' when the electronics detect that the car is drifting away from a supposedly safe course, for example. The problem is, in typical Hong Kong city driving, where lane changing is a way of life, the discreet and unmistakable vibrating becomes all too unavoidable and it won't take the entire length of Connaught Road to find it a little irritating.
Of course, some buyers of the car 'with the longest body and wheelbase in its class' will be able to relax, particularly on long journeys over the border. The system may be a useful feature for drivers who doze off in the middle of four-lane highway cruising.
Cross-border industrialists might also find more use than most Hongkongers for the 7-Series' night vision. The HK$25,000 option uses a thermal imaging camera to detect pedestrians in the distance and alert the driver via the central control display. The device might seem unnecessary in Hong Kong's well-lit streets, but frequent drivers north of Lo Wu might be impressed by a feature that promises to pick out jaywalking country folk after dark.
Luckily the new 7-Series is not engineered to speak, for judging by the frequency of the lane-changing warnings and night vision pedestrian alerts, conversation or in-car entertainment wouldn't be possible.
The marque says it has added agility to the 750Li with integral active steering, an option that also puts steer into the rear wheels. But before you plead with your accountant for four-wheel-steering technology, bear in mind that they might refer you to the now-defunct Mazda 929 of the early 90s, and tell you that such gizmos are hardly new. Mind you, if you could find one second-hand example of the Mazda, it probably wouldn't cost more than the HK$20,000 option in the BMW 750Li.
This test car is equipped with that option and it negotiates the corners of Clear Water Bay Road like Michael Phelps in the Water Cube. Just how much this performance is down to the integral active steering remains to be seen.
The control layout in the outgoing 7-Series took a while to get used to, and newcomers to the car could be forgiven for feeling like a junior form student entering a chemistry laboratory for the first time. The new version's layout seems familiar, however. The gear selector is conventionally and conveniently located on the centre tunnel and the iDrive now comes with four direct selection buttons for its most frequently used menu options - CD, radio, telephone and navigation - in a way that's reminiscent of an interface unit from another Bavarian manufacturer. I have not perfected operating iDrive over the past six years, so I appreciate the change as much as I enjoy the new car's ride.
Despite its weight (2 tonnes unladen) and size (5.2 metres long and 1.9 metres wide), the 750Li never feels like a handful. It's rock steady even negotiating the most twisty roads around Sai Kung, thanks partly to the clever dynamic drive (HK$28,000) and anti-roll stability. The 7-Series can feel as nimble as a 3-Series at times. The damping and steering may be sophisticated, but they never feel too clinical, delivering the connection to the road you associate with more fun-oriented cars and rarely seen in other models in the 7's class.
The ride is not tough at all. The dampers absorb big bumps beautifully without much pitch and roll. And there is little wobble over small undulations in the road.
There are two petrol engines to choose from: a 3-litre straight-six and a 4.4-litre V8. If the engines seem short on cylinder count, their horsepower output is made up by BMW's twin-turbo technology with high-precision injection. The V8 unit in the test car is capable of producing 407hp from 5,500 to 6,400rpm, and the driver has a plateau of 600Nm torque available between 1,750 and 4,500rpm. The figures compare well with those of the outgoing 6-litre V12.
BMW would have you believe its twin-turbo technology and the positioning of the turbochargers in the V section between two banks of cylinders is an innovation in its own right. The engine offers 'unparalleled spontaneity and a perfect response to the gas pedal', the marque says. There is a hint of sluggishness off the lights, however. The engine doesn't get out of the bed below 1,300rpm and the initial pedal and acceleration connection is surprisingly detached.
However, once out of the clawing zone, the 4.4-litre V8 turbo's power delivery is sensational. The huge torque helps the new 7 keep pace with pretty much anything else on the road. It's big for Hong Kong, but excellent for thrashes over the border.
At A GLANCE: BMW 750Li
What drives it? A 4.4-litre, twin-turbo V8 capable of producing 407 horsepower with a six-speed automatic transmission.
How fast is it? It makes 100km/h in 5.3 seconds and has an electronically limited top speed of 250km/h.
How thirsty is it? It drinks 11.4 litres of fuel per 100km on a combined run.
How clean is it? The 750Li emits 266 grams of carbon dioxide per km, equivalent to 2.4 Toyota iQs.
Availability: HK$1.6 million at BMW Concessionaires (HK), tel: 2714 5271