Bentley Continental GT V8 S Concours Series Black 2015 review
Ewan Kennedy road tests and reviews the Bentley Continental GT V8 S Concours Series Black with specs, fuel consumption and verdict.
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The drivers have regained control at BMW.
I can see it and feel it in the new Seven, a completely fresh flagship which still has more than enough luxury and technology - including iDrive 5.0 and gesture controls like the latest smart TVs - to bamboozle yourself and impress your mates.
After a diversion into style-driven 7 Series, the sixth-generation car emerges with the focus back on the person behind the wheel. That means everything from the dashboard layout to much simpler switches, torque-first turbocharged engines and taut suspension settings.
Pricing is likely to start from $240,000 when the first of the new 7 Series models - the 730d, 740i and 740iL - land in Australia in the last week of October, finally with the strengths to threaten the dominance of the Mercedes-Benz S-Class and the potential to lift sales from a paltry 120 cars a year.
BMW typically spends more than $1 billion to develop a new 7 Series and, even though there is no confirmation at the global press preview in New York, the cash attack is obvious in the technology.
BMW is claiming 13 world firsts for the car and, first and foremost, there is carbon fibre in the basic body that picks up the knowledge from the i-car models, the battery-powered i3 and i8 hybrid sporty, to give extra strength with lightness. BMW is not going full carbon because of the cost and the downsides in noise-vibration-harshness, but uses a 'carbon core' with 13 individual pieces in strength-first spots including the A pillars and side sills.
The end result is a weight saving of close to 90 kilograms, despite a lot more equipment in the car.
On the equipment front, a giant 'smart' key is a good idea - allowing the driver to check the car remotely, not just lock and unlock - and iDrive 5.0 is easier to use with more features as well as being linked to a touch screen in the centre of the dash that's big but does not dominate like some cars.
There is also the gesture-control system, similar to top-end televisions, which allows you to swipe your hand through space instead of touching a button or trying for voice control for a range of things including volume on the sound system and telephone calls to your favourites.
There is a removable tablet to control the trickery in the back seats - from massage seats and privacy screens to a system that allows the front passenger seat to be cranked forward for first-class legroom and an extendible footrest.
The drive towards autonomous cars is reflected in the safety systems
In the front, just touching the seat control buttons brings up a display in iDrive to adjust the various - also including massage - settings.
The drive towards autonomous cars is reflected in the safety systems, but BMW has deliberately downsized the cameras and sensors so they slide into the background instead of dominating the driver's view. It's available with full LED lighting, night vision, automatic safety braking a 3D surround-view system and so much more.
There is also a self-parking system, which we cannot test in America, that allows the driver to move the car in or out of tight garage spots while standing outside their Seven.
Although pricing and specifications are, says BMW Australia, not completely finalised, it is confirming - their capitals - the Touch Command Tablet, Display Key, Gesture Control and Front touch screen.
And, for final proof of the driver-first approach, an M Sport suspension package is a no-cost option for Australia.
Even so, chief interior designer Oliver Heilmer says his team's work began in the back.
"We were starting with the long-wheelbase car for the first time. And we started in the rear," he tells CarsGuide.
"We know we can do a driver's car, but this time we wanted truly luxury and not just premium. It's not the high-end materials and good design, that is expected. So there must be something beyond that, and that's what we tried to figure out."
He points straight to the removable rear tablet as proof.
"In a car, for the rear-seat passengers especially, it's much easier. And this is just a little thing."
Nobody does blah-blah and bulldust better than BMW, but this is a time when it's best to just keep quiet and let the car speak for itself.
Which BMW does, by rolling it onto the testing Monticello Park racetrack in the lush countryside north of New York. It's the first time I can remember any luxury brand putting their flagship at risk this way and yet, even on a course which exposed weaknesses in the Lexus RC coupe last year, the 7 Series impresses as a top drive. Hitting the Sport button drops the air suspension by 10 millimetres at both ends and stiffens it to the point where the handling is neutral and responsive in any corner at speeds up to 140km/h.
There is also a rolling road loop where I get more driving, more chance to interact with the technology, and more impressed by the car. That means everything from the quietness and brilliant Bowers & Wilkins sound to the support and comfort in the Nappa leather-wrapped seats and the way the suspension can alternatively cope with track action and go fully supple for the road.
But, and it's a big one, the only cars available to drive and passenger at the preview - where an off-duty New York fireman chauffeurs me for 30 minutes - are the fully-loaded 750Li with XDrive. I would much prefer some time with the basic 730d. And some bumpier, Aussie-style roads.
I'm also wondering a little about the preparation of the cars for New York, as the track Sevens are rolling on 21-inch tyres with special brake pads while the road cars are closer to Australia with 19-inch alloys and standard pads. And there is also the question of short-term quality, as one of the cars has a total air-conditioning failure and insists on blowing heated air over me on a day when the outside temperature is above 30 degrees.
The adjustable suspension can go from track taut to cushy comfort with the touch of a single button
Still, we should have the 7 Series in Australia for local driving in just over a month and ready for a comparison with the benchmark S Class Benz in December. We're expecting a five-star ANCAP safety rating, if the car is actually crashed in Europe, but waiting for the technical details on things like the engine outputs and performance.
Getting back to the BMW, I'm hugely impressed with the way the adjustable suspension can go from track taut to cushy comfort with the touch of a single button. And there is none of the crashing or banging we've criticised in lesser BMWs in recent years. The 750 will also dash to 100km/h in around 4.5 seconds, thanks to 335kW/650Nm and an eight-speed automatic gearbox.
It's also a car which seems to shrink around me, which is the result of everything from an expansion view in all directions to the tactile feedback from the steering and the instant response from the engine room.
This is a great car, no doubt, and I'm already wondering how it will be received in Australia. It should be judged not just for the technology - which makes the back seat seem as if you're browsing in an Apple store - but for its return to the basics of driving enjoyment which always set BMW apart from Audi and Benz and even Lexus and Infiniti.
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