/ 16 March 2009

The fat cat’s whiskers

‘How could they? It’s such a horribly expensive car. Who do they think is going to spend a million bucks on a car when the world is in financial meltdown mode?”

These are some of the questions I’ve been asked when I tell people that BMW launched a new 7-Series range of über-luxury sedans.

I think the questions are shortsighted because those who are rolling in it aren’t feeling the pinch the way the rest of us are.

If you throw your whiskey-soaked reminiscences back to when the banking industry spontaneously combusted, you’ll realise that the chief executives of practically all those financial institutions had built up healthy nest eggs over the years with company shares and exorbitant bonuses. So the economic downturn would’ve affected the larnies as much as it would’ve affected the average dung beetle rolling his loot down a hill in the Kruger Park.

Unfortunately, hundreds of thousands of blue-collar workers across the globe were the worst affected and, while car sales have hit all-time lows, expensive cars such as the 7-Series are still being bought because the people who buy them have more than enough moolah to go around.

The new 7-Series — like any car in this class — is a barge and there’s only so much you can do to make a barge pretty. There’s just no hiding its overwhelming two-ton presence, but fat cats like fat cars and as far as juggernauts go, this one is a great deal more alluring than its predecessor.

The driving dynamics have definitely been improved on this all-new model, but don’t believe over-enthusiastic petrolheads who say this car drives like a 3-Series because it doesn’t.

Yes, it’s engaging, it’s tenacious and it’s focused on rewarding the driver as much as the passengers, but you’re not going to be able to throw it around Franschhoek Pass the way you would a 335i.

And when you get over those unrealistic expectations and you put foot in the twin-turbo V8-powered 750i (with 300kW and 600Nm), you won’t be thrust back into your seat with the power surge of a small sedan, but you will feel the immense power pushing this lovely beast to highly illegal speeds. A 0 to 100kph sprint time of 5.2s is not to be sneezed at.

There are three engines on offer — two petrol and one diesel, which was understandably lacklustre in comparison with the instantly gratifying V6 and V8 petrol units.

The flagship Beemer comes with a host of technological innovations, some of which aren’t available to South Africans because of our broadband problems, and others are a bit too clever for me I’m afraid.

Almost every car these days comes with Bluetooth compatibility, but the 7-series does one better, allegedly. We’re told that when you ‘pair” your cellphone to the car, it will copy your address book temporarily into the car’s hard drive.

After 30 minutes of trying to do this with my Nokia N82 smartphone, I gave up because I’d reached my destination. And no, I’m not that much of a stupidhead and I did successfully link my phone to the car, but unfortunately it didn’t give me access to my address book.

My co-driver and I thought we’d consult the owner’s manual, but an electronic version of the manual has cleverly been stored on the car’s hard drive and is no longer in old-fashioned paper format.

The manual was easy to access and use, but it’s not so easy when you read the detailed instructions and then have to get out of the owner’s manual program and back to the Bluetooth program only to realise that you’ve forgotten the first instruction.

I don’t mind driving a car that’s smarter than I am, but I’m not so sure about a car that’s smarter than itself. BMW executives tell me that few owners read the manual and by pioneering an electronic book they’re hoping owners will be able to use (and be excited about) a manual that’s accessible and is always in the car.

Circular logic aside, the 7-Series is an exceptionally opulent, exceedingly capable sedan, which will have the moneyed sort feeling like the fat cat’s whiskers.

The 7-Series comes with an impressive array of safety and comfort aids and ranges in price from R928 000 for the base model 730d to R1 368 500 for the long-wheel base 750Li.