The first generation of the BMW 7 Series hit the streets in 1977. At the time‚ technology was all about the mechanics and infotainment was the ability to turn a knob to tune the radio.
In the same year‚ Commodore released its Personal Electronic Transactor‚ or PET to those of us who ever actually transacted with what today seems like a positively medieval computer. It had a minuscule 8kb of memory but‚ like the Beemer‚ it had a built-in cassette slot.
Times have advanced rapidly to a point where we can carry in our hand the kind of computing power the developers at Commodore could only dream of in 1977.
Back then there was no such thing as an infotainment specialist at BMW‚ the term infotainment had not even been coined.
But today‚ the 7 Series has become as much about tech as it was about comfort and dynamics back in the 1970s. And there is a lot of tech. So much so in fact that I came to the conclusion the most important component of the new 7 Series is the handbook.
Yes‚ that thick‚ printed book in the glove box that hardly anyone reads is now essential fireside winter reading. You can of course also read it online through the ConnectedDrive system, while ensconced in heated seats if you are more tech inclined.
BMW has firmly beaten Mercedes-Benz at its own game. Where once they competed on luxury and dynamics‚ Merc took the lead in technology and gadgets but now its BMW’s turn to lead the way.
From the digital dashboard to gesture control for adjusting the volume‚ from massaging seats to the fully connected and removable tablet in the rear armrest‚ the new 7 Series is Silicon Valley on wheels.
I suspect that hardly anyone will use all of the tech available. Once you have chosen from a multitude of interior ambient light settings‚ you probably won’t change it.
The digital dash will only change if you switch from comfort to uber comfort to sport.
You will forget about the massaging function and remember it weeks later like a child rediscovering a toy.
And it is probably the kids who will get the most out of the tablet in the rear, as they fight for control, before settling in to watch movies on the screens mounted on the back of the front seat headrests.
Before you even get to all that though‚ there is the key. Can we even still call it a key? Not really.
Instead you have a mini-computer in the palm of your hand that has a full colour touchscreen so you can swipe through menus.
You can lock or unlock the car‚ switch on the aircon‚ check how much range you have left and‚ shortly‚ you will be able to pull the car out of the garage while sitting in the kitchen eating your cornflakes.
Yes‚ the 7 Series can park itself‚ provided it is in a straight line. This piece of wizardry has been slightly delayed due to regulations but now it is about to become available and having seen it in action‚ it is rather cool.
Yes‚ you could look like a bit of a lazy prat standing in the supermarket car park waiting for your car to remove itself from the space‚ but if you aren’t in a hurry and there isn’t an impatient mommy in a Fortuner, then chances are people will be impressed.
You are also likely to find yourself feeling a bit silly while trying to operate the gesture control.
Perhaps it just takes getting used to‚ but after a week with the car‚ I still could not always find the right place beneath the roof-mounted sensor to waggle my finger to raise and lower the volume.
I also found myself swiping wildly in front of the screen with my hand‚ unsure which menus the swipe function worked on.
Again‚ I refer you back to that essential component‚ the handbook.
So the new 7 Series is full of tech and more connected than Hlaudi Motsoeneng.
It can read your e-mails‚ your tweets and your Facebook posts (again‚ probably like the chief operating officer of the SABC).
It can stream radio stations from around the world (so you don’t have to listen to the SABC) and you can even download the Pokemon Go app to the tablet in the rear so the kids can interrupt the journey every few minutes with a new sighting.
This is a BMW though‚ so what if there are no kids and you simply want to relish the drive.
There is that issue of the lightweight steering‚ but aside from that the new 7 floats like a butterfly and stings like a bee. It wafts over uneven South African roads and hunkers down when it eagerly spots a corner.
The diesel engine has a slight element of lag but nothing that is going to bother most people and it gets on with the job in hand with zest. Put it into Sport mode and while it does not feel as though it is as dynamic as a 3 Series‚ believe me‚ it can hustle an executive through the corners faster than Donald Trump can escape a Mexican take-away.