FIRST DRIVE: 2016 BMW 7 Series Prototype

High expectations

Lighter, safer, more intelligent and more efficient are the qualities that help summarizing the new 2016 BMW 7 Series which will be launched before the end of the year. We were among the first to drive it in a development stage close to production, but still camouflaged, in the BMW top secret test track of Miramas, in the south of France. Should Mercedes and Audi be worried?

After an era when each single new car was bigger than its predecessor we have recently entered a different trend in the automotive industry in which almost every single new car is lighter than the one which is retiring. As emission regulations become globally more stringent less weight and more advanced propulsion systems are the way to do it while benefiting performances and overall handling/agility.

Lightweight Construction

The new BMW 7 Series is the first car to use industrially manufactured carbon fiber reinforced plastic (CFRP) in its body construction not as a visible material in the outer skin, but in combination with steel, aluminum and plastic. It is also the first car in which CFRP has been fully integrated into the production process, another indicator of how the large scale application of this light and stiff material, first developed for BMW i models, is also becoming useful for other model ranges, contributing to minimize weight while increasing the construction strength and body stiffness.

In practical terms, the next 7 Series will be up to 130 kilograms lighter than a previous-generation equipped with a comparable engine (one third of the reduction coming from the body alone), despite significant additions to the roster of comfort and safety equipment on board (actually the weight reduction measures added up to 200 kg loss but 70 of them were offset by the added content of the new car). Another contributor to this result, unsprung masses have been reduced by up to 15 percent thanks to the focus on lightweight design for the suspension, brakes and wheels. And it is not merely a question of how many kilos the 7 Series was able to reduce but also how they are distributed. In keeping with a good BMW tradition, the car’s center of gravity has been further lowered weight partition between the two axles was adjusted to an ideal 50:50 ratio.

Driving Impressions

At the Miramas race track we were given the chance to drive the 740i and the first impressions are highly positive. The engine responsive shows a lot of stamina from just above idle revs, as a result of the prompt torque availability and excellent cooperation with the revamped eight-speed automatic transmission, as well as the aforementioned weight reduction which not only helps the overall acceleration impression but also makes the car feel very nimble and definitely smaller than five meters long. Overall dimensions have also not been revealed, but the lead chassis engineer admitted the wheelbase has not changed (either in the standard or in the long versions) and the same can be said about the overall length.

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The standard-fitted air suspension with automatic self-leveling enhances the ride comfort. The springs are supplied with air by an electrically driven compressor with a pressure accumulator. The body clearance is adjusted depending on the load on board even when the engine is off and the fact that the supply of air for each wheel is individually regulated allows an unevenly loaded car to be balanced out. An additional function is manual activation of the self-levelling function: at the touch of a button, the ground clearance can be raised by 20 mm, a feature which is especially useful on uneven surfaces or in multistorey car parks with sharply-angled ramps. At speeds over 35 km/h (22 mph), the self-leveling function automatically restores the default setting. At high speeds and when Sport mode is activated, the body is automatically lowered by 10 mm.

Full review here