What's New for 2002
Completely and controversially redesigned, the 2002 BMW 7 Series arrives chock-full of innovative technology and luxury trimmings.
Leaves change colors, birds fly south, and every few years, BMW must make changes to its cars. We didn't feel that the previous 7 Series was getting long in the tooth by any stretch of the imagination, but the wizards of Bavaria needed to showcase all the latest hoopla gadgetry in some form, so they chose their flagship sedan.
The new 7 will be available as a regular-wheelbase 745i or a long-wheelbase 745iL. Powering each model is a 4.4-liter V8 with bi-VANOS dual variable valve timing. This V8 makes 325 horsepower and 325 pound-feet of torque, and BMW says fuel economy is improved by 14 percent. A six-speed automatic transmission, the world's first, utilizes shift-by-wire technology and is controlled using a selector lever on the steering wheel. Initially, automanual shifting (Steptronic) will not be offered in the U.S. Acceleration to 60 mph is expected to take just over 6 seconds for the full-size 745i. About a year after the 745 debuts, a 760iL will land on our shores, sporting a 6.0-liter V-12 making 408 horsepower and 442 pound-feet of torque.
An all-aluminum suspension with Automatic Ride Stabilization (ARS) and continuously adjustable Electronic Damper Control (EDC) is standard. Both work to keep the car's cornering stance flat and control body roll as tightly as a girdle. The rear suspension features automatic load leveling. The driver may choose between comfort and sport settings. Safety is ensured by numerous airbags, including a head protection system for front and rear passengers. Front seats feature active headrests.
Optionally available is an Active Cruise Control (ACC) system. ACC works similarly to intelligent cruise control systems offered by Mercedes-Benz and Infiniti; it monitors the distance between the 7 Series and the car ahead and adjusts speed accordingly to maintain a safe distance.
While this is all well and good, the most important innovation contained in the new 7 is the iDrive system. All critical elements needed for driving are arranged on and around the steering wheel. iDrive controls the remainder of the new 7's gadgets, such as on-board telematics (including GPS navigation, Internet access and the new ASSIST emergency notification system), as well as climate and stereo functions. A stubby rotary push-button dial (dubbed The Controller) mounted in the center console and a control display screen mounted to the top-center of the dash allegedly allow the driver to operate these functions without taking his or her eyes away from the road. That remains to be seen, as we have not conducted a test drive of the new 7 Series yet.
According to BMW, iDrive will allow the development of a system called ConnectedDrive. What is ConnectedDrive? BMW says it "uses and links innovative technologies in the three areas of telematics, online services and driver assistance systems." By networking all of the new Seven's electronics systems together, BMW aims to provide as serene and safe a driving experience as is possible in a modern automobile by offering technologies that come very close to doing the driving for you.
Examples of what BMW has in the pipeline include the following: Adaptive Light Control (by consulting the navigation system, the headlights track curves before you see them), Active Steering Wheel (again using navigation, steering will help keep the car on the intended path, but the driver will easily be able to overcome the "assistance") and Active Gas Pedal (the accelerator will exert force against the driver's foot when the car determines that it would be prudent to slow down. Navigation mapping and road conditions would determine when this system engaged, but the driver could easily defeat it). Also coming is Bluetooth linking technology, allowing the new Seven to communicate with PDAs, computers and mobile phones.
There are too many technological details to go in-depth here; needless to say, the new 7 Series will be an interesting barometer to see where the future of driving is headed. Is it merely a means through which to be shuttled to and fro in a high-tech mobile office? Or will BMW stay true to its Ultimate Driving Machine heritage and not forego the qualities that made BMW an enthusiast's dream? Time will tell.