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Wheels of the Week – BMW i7 is from another planet

Many brands like to claim the last word in luxury, but none can match the luxurious tech of the i7, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

If you’re invited to a luxurious executive lounge, you would assume you’ve arrived at an airport. But you don’t need planes landing or departing anywhere near to experience one of the most startling luxury experiences in the world of travel. You could simply have climbed into the back seat of the new BMW i7.

This is where you would encounter the first Executive Lounge option in a car. Toyota has subsequently launched a Vellfire model in India that claims an executive lounge trim, but it is a pale shadow of the i7 offering.

A clue to just how far the rear seat luxury goes lies in the smartphone-style touchscreens in both rear doors. They allow the passenger to control seat heating, ventilation, and a wide variety of massage settings. That’s just the start. In normal driving circumstances, with a front passenger in the car, the rear sear can be reclined up to 42 degrees, with comfort helped along by built-in footrests and a fold-down tray table.

There is no eject button, but if you can do away with the front passenger, a remarkable option unfolds. Or rather, folds up. A lie-flat setting folds the front passenger seat forward, while the rear seat goes flat, and foot rests extend from the rear seat as well as the back of the front seat.

You can make your bed and sleep on it. The one shortfall here is that you can no longer use the seatbelts in this mode, meaning it is not the safest nap on the road. But wait, as they say, there’s more. Much more.

The most important feature of the i7 is, of course, that it is an electric vehicle. We’ll leave the driving experience to a separate review but, in the context of the passenger experience, it means an incredibly quiet ride. If you need that backseat nap, there is no engine noise to disturb you.

The control panel in the rear passenger door allows one to summon, from the ceiling, the BMW Theater Screen. This is a 31-inch 4K touchscreen that folds down from the roof, for watching movies, Netflix or Showmax shows, YouTube, and the like, or playing games – using the car’s optional cellular data connection. 

Information overload? The driver’s view in the BMW i7. Photo by ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK

The screen has built-in speakers, providing surround sound without the need for headphones. The sound system includes 18 speakers and a 1,400-watt amplifier, delivering a rich, immersive sound. It almost felt like being at the movies, but I did miss my popcorn.

The passenger or the driver can control Ambient Lighting, which can be customised to create a variety of moods in the cabin, with more than 200 different colours to choose from, and a setting that changes the colour in time with music in the car. No, I didn’t count the colours, but did find pleasing shades of blue and green to suit my various moods while in the back.

All of this presupposes that you have a driver who is not likely to be distracted by your backseat pleasures.

However, the driver has enough to deal with: the iDrive 8 infotainment system features a 14.9-inch touchscreen display, a 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster, and a powerful processor that pulls it all together. And there is plenty to pull together:

  • The 14.9-inch touchscreen display is large and easy to read and, most important, easily visible in bright sunlight. 
  • The display is responsive and quick, making it easy to navigate through the menus, compared to previous versions of iDrive 8.
  • Voice commands can be used to control the main functions of the car, which proved incredibly useful in keeping my eyes on the road while trying to navigate the menu.
  • The built-in navigation system still can’t be compared to smartphone options like Waze and Google Maps, but has improved vastly over previous versions. A 3D mapping option is not only deeply attractive, but also remarkably true-to-life in matching the map to surroundings
  • The iDrive 8 media players is comfortable with most sources, and shares the rich, immersive audio of the main sound system.
  • iDrive 8 system connects to phones via Bluetooth, USB or wireless Android Auto and Apple Car Play

On the i7, the iDrive 8 operating system goes a step further with the BMW Interaction Bar, a new feature that runs across the dashboard. It controls various functions, and does a better job of managing the climate control system than does the regular infotainment system. It provides a quick way of adjusting not only aircon, but also fan speed, and the direction of air vents.

The Interaction Bar is made up of a series of LED lights that display information like time, temperature, and driving mode. It can be controlled by touch or gestures, and can also control the volume of music and source of the audio, along with changing driving mode from Eco to Comfort to Sport.

The i7’s Surround View Camera System produces a 360-degree view of the car’s surroundings, as well as a bird’s-eye view, and is more helpful than most such systems for maneuvering in tight spaces.

Finally, the i7’s Active Driving Assistant Pro is the last word in suites of driver assistance features, and brings the car very close to fully autonomous driving.

Forget about lane departure warnings, lane keeping assistance, front collision warning and adaptive cruise control – those are all expected in a high-end vehicle.

The i7 starts entering the realms of autonomous driving with its Traffic Jam Assistant, which automatically controls the speed and steering of the car in slow-moving traffic, and Extended Traffic Jam Assistant, which allows the car to drive itself in stop-and-go traffic. 

I’ve experienced this tech in other high-end BMW vehicles, so it was not startling, but when combined with the astonishing array of high-tech elements and innovations in the i7, it feels like a car from another planet.

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