The N222 is a delightfully twisty ribbon of tarmac that unfurls across the hills of Portugal’s Douro Valley, wrapping tightly again as it follows the contours of the terraced vineyards that bear the grapes which go into the country’s famous port wine.
The motoring cognoscenti have long considered this 27km-long scenic route a divine gift to mankind. But you don’t have take their unscientific word for it, for a quantum physicist, no less, has calculated this to be the world’s best driving road bar none.
Enlisting the help of his track-designer and roller-coaster specialist colleagues, he devised a set of equations that produces, for unequivocal maximum pleasure, the golden ratio of 10:1 as the amount of time you ought to split between the straight bits and the corners.
After crunching numbers for esoterica such as maximum velocity, lateral acceleration and centripetal force, he has determined that the N222’s 11:1 comes closest to this ideal anywhere on the globe.
My chauffeur today is clearly enjoying the fruit of this labour as he dishes out some additional ratios of his own in our vehicle. Exceeding the limits of sanity by two – maybe three – times, the fellow journalist and former go-kart champ chucks the 1,990kg beast around the hairpin bends, blithely squeezing past the lumbering trucks on one side and the sheer cliff walls on the other.
Naturally, unless they are the cop-evading Mafia after which we are fashioning ourselves today, the other 99.99 per cent of 7-series owners will never drive, or have their henchmen drive, in this manic manner. But taking things to the limit remains a trusty way to examine how competent BMW’s latest, sixth-generation flagship luxury sedan is. And the key metric for this vehicle is how well it balances ride comfort and driving dynamics.
After all, the Munich carmaker’s pithy marketing pitch for the car is “driving luxury”, and that means it must be as good to drive as it is to be driven in. So, in any other car, I’d be having trouble keeping my breakfast down, but instead I’m luxuriating in the creature comforts of the “executive lounge”, or what BMW calls the opulent rear cabin.
My legs are comfortably propped up on an ottoman unfolded from the rear of the chair in front of me. The seat’s massage function is cosseting my bum, while I peruse Facebook using the car’s tablet, which also operates the car’s amenities – from the window blinds to the two headrest-mounted TV screens. A calming, woody scent from one of eight fragrance options wafts from the air-con vents.
I can certainly feel the G-forces from all the cornering, accelerating and braking, but having said that, it is relatively serene back here. The disconnect is thanks to a host of chassis innovations. The traditional trade-off is between softer springs for a cushier ride or harder springs for sharper cornering. More modern air suspensions have made this selectable, but, still, you’re either in comfort mode or sport mode at any given time. Now, you can defenestrate all these, because there’s a third option that is rather clever: the adaptive mode.
Here, BMW’s boffins created a set-up where the car’s dual-axle air suspension, electronically controlled dampers and fourwheel steering work in tandem to respond to the pilot’s driving style and road conditions, while maximising comfort for passengers. This is how it pans out in practice. Let’s say we’re on a badly paved road heading into a tight bend. A front-mounted stereo camera reads the undulations on the tarmac and continuously adjusts the air pressure in the suspension to counteract the vibrations, when each individual wheel goes over a bump or a pothole.
As the car approaches the corner, sat-nav data will pre-empt the suspension and dampers to equalise roll forces. Simultaneously, the rear wheels turn with the front wheels to stabilise the manoeuvre. The bottom line: while its rivals are equally capable of serenely coasting or tearing down a road, the 7-series’ party trick is being able to do both at the same time. Along wide and sweeping highways, on the B-roads or over cobble-stoned streets, the car never feels out of sorts.
It helps that the car, despite having the most legroom, is one of the lightest in its class. The company’s investment in carbon fibre technology in the i3 and i7 has begun to filter down to its primary range; the new 7-series augments its steel and aluminium passenger cell with carbon fibre-reinforced plastic. The so-called “carbon core” is responsible for 40 of the 130kg of weight saved over the last model.
(RELATED: Read The Peak’s review on BMW’s i3)
And this is just one of a myriad of high-tech features in the 7-series. Take the gesture control that dials up the volume of the Bowers & Wilkins surround speakers, with the wave of the hand. Or the laser-assisted headlights that double the throw of the front lamps. Or the self-parking feature you can control from outside the vehicle, using the display on the key.
Yet, despite the technological bonanza, attention has also been paid to the craftsmanship. And this is where the car starts encroaching on Rolls-Royce territory. Many of the buttons and fascia plates are now machined out of real brushed aluminium – no chrome-plated plastic here. You can order your car with wood panelling that features beautiful inlays, a marquetry technique found in high-end furniture making.
The wow factor doesn’t end here. The panoramic sunroof is embedded with LEDs that mimic a starry sky at night, and a “welcome carpet” consisting of a graphically lit floor beckons you inside as you approach the car. Craving a steak? Push a button to speak to a real-life concierge to get a restaurant recommendation along your route, and have the destination remotely programmed into the sat-nav. We tried this and encountered one of our best filet mignons, for a village in a middle of nowhere at least.
While the expensive touches will probably still remain the 7-series’ domain, most of the car’s fancy technology will eventually filter down to the smaller cars over time. In fact, the last feature, called Connecteddrive, is already in the 5-series and other select models. But for the moment, the new flagship is truly a showcase car for BMW, and a harbinger of good things to come, even for those who opt for a smaller car.
01 CABLE-FREE MAGIC
02 LOOK MA, NO HANDS
Too many cars for your driveway? Squeezing into a tight space doesn’t result in dinging your partner’s convertible’s door, because you can get out before sliding in your 7-series remotely.
03 FIRST-CLASS SEAT
Opt for the executive lounge and the front passenger chair slides forward an extra 90mm, dipping its headrest and providing a flip-down ottoman to make the “throne” behind it the best seat in the house.
The BMW 7-series will be on sale locally from Nov 5, with the 740Li being the launch model. The model tested is the 750Li xDrive and some features mentioned above are options. Visit here for more details