BMW cabins stick to a familiar template and unfortunately that’s something that holds true in the new 7-series too. The basic dashboard design just doesn’t look distinct enough from the older Seven’s and, for that matter, the lesser BMWs in the range. But that’s pretty much all you can fault this cabin for, which is clearly BMW’s best yet. The lacquered wood, double-stitched leather and aluminium that make up the cabin finally elevate quality to Merc S-class levels, which is a massive compliment. Detailing is incredible and you can tell BMW has given the new Seven its all. The buttons finished in aluminium look exquisite, and where there are no buttons, you’ll find a touchscreen. There’s a brilliant touch panel for the climate control setting lower down on the dash and if you poke around the cabin, you’ll also find another temperature control panel just below the air-con vents.
That’s not all. You can now also operate the central screen atop the dash with touch inputs and even hand gestures (See box)! All this is in addition to the traditional rotary controller for the infotainment system. The top surface of the iDrive controller is a touchpad too and can read scribbled text; helpful when you have to feed navigation instructions or search through your phone book contacts on the go.
That the central touchscreen is positioned high up and the dash cowl is low set also make life that little bit easier for the driver. Outside visibility is good and there’s also a brilliant 360-degree camera that comes handy when parking in tight spots. It shows the surroundings in respect to a 3D image of the car on the central screen which is incredibly cool. The fully digital instruments are no less techy with a different theme for each of the driving modes. As expected, the front seats are also immensely comfy though some of us did find the cushioning a touch soft over long drives. Sadly, the front seats on the locally assembled 730d don’t get ventilation and massage functions; there’s only a seat heater. There’s no heads-up display either, and is something solely offered as an option on the imported version.
However, BMW has gone to town to pamper the all-important rear seat passengers. Individual 10-inch screens are standard for the rear passengers but the real talking point is a detachable 7-inch Samsung tablet that’s housed in the centre armrest. Via the tablet, those seated in the back can control the climate settings, entertainment system, sunroof, blinds, ambient lighting, navigation system and can even choose between two fragrances for the cabin! Oh, and the tablet can also be used to browse the internet. It really is the ultimate gizmo for backseat drivers.
The rear seats themselves are no less incredible. The throne-like seats are ventilated, can be adjusted for shoulder support, backrest and seat base angle and include as many as eight types of massages. There’s even a Vitality Programme that features exercises for the back and shoulders to relieve muscular strain over long journeys. Sensors in the seats score occupants to ensure these exercises are done in an optimum manner, and it actually works well. For now, the Seven doesn’t get the option for an extendable leg rest for rear passengers à la the Audi A8 but BMW has confirmed this will be offered later in the year. Still, the front passenger seat can be moved forward from the back to free up even more legroom. Not that there’s a real need for it because space is abundant as is.
Middle-seat passengers do get a raw deal though with limited headroom and a hard perch. To be honest, the rear seat is designed to provide armchair comfort for two and that’s what it does best.
The cabin has enough cubbys for small items but irritatingly, a bulk of the space in the glovebox is taken up by the fragrance charges for the ventilation system. Where the 7-series also loses points is for its small boot – owners going on a long holiday may need a second car for airport trips. BMW has thankfully provided a space-saver spare tyre with its own recess this time around but as a result, the boot floor is high and luggage room is quite limited for what is a large car.