It's called the BMW Display Key, it's a $250 option, and it's basically a typical remote-control key with a baby iPhone-like touch screen on which can be displayed information such as fuel level, estimated range, service details, and whether the car is locked. A gimmick? Possibly. But it doesn't really matter. What matters is people will talk about it: A simple 15sec video posted to the Motor Trend Instagram feed showing the Display Key in action garnered more than 7,500 likes and 2,000 comments in less than a day. People will talk about the key, and by extension they will be talking about BMW's high-tech new flagship sedan.
From the launch of the first generation in 1977, BMW's 7 Series has been hunting big game, namely the Mercedes-Benz S-class. The S-class dominates the large luxury sedan segment - has done for decades - and while it's come close at times in recent years, the 7 Series has never quite managed to wrest segment leadership from the three-pointed star. Over the years BMW's tried 12-cylinder engines, unconventional styling, sporty chassis tuning; this time, it's betting heavily on advanced technology and ride comfort to take the fight to Mercedes.
In addition to the Display Key, the 2016 7 Series features a lot of surface-level technology that makes for great driveway theatre. The iDrive 5.0 system now features touch screen control in addition to the familiar rotary controller - you can pinch and zoom the map on the screen, or swipe between menu options, for example - as well as gesture control for functions such as audio volume control or answering phone calls. The optional Luxury Rear Seating Package includes a 7-inch touch screen tablet in the rear seat center console that controls functions such as seat adjustment, interior lighting and air conditioning, as well as the infotainment, navigation and communications systems. The tablet can play audio and video files, or connect to the internet via a WiFi hotspot built into the car.
But the cutting-edge technology goes to the very core of this car - literally. The 7 Series' body-in-white is made from a revolutionary mix of aluminum, ultra-high-tensile steels, and, for the first time ever in a high volume production car, carbon fiber. Manufactured using processes pioneered on the BMW i3 and i8 models, and using carbon fiber made at BMW's new plant in Moses Lake, Washington, the Carbon Core body has contributed to a 190-lb reduction in overall mass compared with the previous generation 7 Series. Crucially, many of the carbon fiber structural elements are used in the roof, helping lower the car's center of gravity.
The all-aluminum, twin-scroll single turbo 3.0-liter B58 straight six in the 740i models is a member of BMW's new family of modular inline engines, and develops 320hp at 5,200 rpm to 6,500 rpm, and 330 lb-ft of torque at just 1,380 rpm. The twin-turbo 4.4-liter V-8 in the 750i models now features two twin-scroll turbochargers mounted in the vee, and a compression ratio bumped to 10.5:1, both of which help boost power to 445 hp at 5,500 rpm-6,000 rpm, and torque to 480 lb-ft from 1,800rpm to 4,500rpm. Both engines drive through an eight-speed automatic transmission with a control system that among other things allows it to communicate with the sat-nav and adjust shift strategies on the fly to match the topography of the road ahead with the driver's current driving style. It's a development of the system pioneered on the Rolls-Royce Wraith.
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