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First drive 2009 BMW 7 series


The hulking 7 Series flagship, which set the tone and direction for a whole new generation of edgy BMW bodies from 2001, has been replaced by an all-new car which is more caring, engaging and politically correct.

The fifth-generation Seven still has unquestioned impact, from the way it stands on the road to the way it cuts through curves, but is much more friendly and welcoming. Predictably, it makes more power and torque in every case while using less fuel and producing less CO2.

It is a step back to the days before the Chris Bangle-driven heavyweight Seven, returning the BMW headliner to the top of a range of driver's cars.

The newcome will hit Australia next March, priced from a little under $200,000, and comes with the promise of more performance and luxury, as well as all the technology the German maker can load.

That means everything from four-wheel steering to infra-red night vision, lane-departure and blind-spot warnings, and even a camera which recognises speed signs and reminds the driver of the limit.

No-one knows yet what will be standard for Australia, but there will be two engines at first - an inline six with 240 kiloWatts for the 740 and a twin-turbo V8 for the 750 with 300 kiloWatts - with both short and long-wheelbase bodies. A diesel will follow before the end of 2009 and could easily become the showroom favourite.

The design of the new Seven is softer and smoother, both inside and out, but it is the focus on people's needs which will ignite a tight fight with the Mercedes S-Class for top-end bragging rights. There is plenty of surprise and delight stuff.

But the approach is really just a return to the basics which worked so well through the first four generations of the Seven, from a roomy luxury cabin to a dashboard focussed on the driver, a huge boot, lots of toys, and leather-and-wood luxury.

The Seven is new from the road upwards and that means everything from a new chassis and body - with a weight saving bonnet-doors-boot combo in aluminium - to a new diesel inline six with 180kW and 540Nm, double-wishbone front suspension, and a vastly improved version of the hated iDrive system.

A first drive in Germany, over a wide range of roads near the city of Dresden in the former East of the country, proved the Seven is back to its best. It is refined and comfortable, and a car which is keen to go and gives plenty of feedback and enjoyment to the driver.