BMW’s new 7 series, due to make its world debut at September’s Frankfurt Motor Show, has a steering column stalk-controlled six-speed automatic gearbox and a new single knob i-Drive control system for items such as the stereo and air conditioning.

BMW says that iDrive separates the cabin into two distinct areas, the ‘comfort area’ and the ‘driving area’.

The majority of secondary functions are now operated by a single central ‘controller’ which greatly reduces the number of dashboard buttons and switches.

Similar to satellite navigation controls, the rotary dial in front of the central armrest is said to be ‘intuitive’ in operation but, it must be said, German and Japanese ideas of ‘intuitive’ vary greatly.

By rotating and pressing the ‘controller’ and moving it laterally, the driver is able to select and control functions including the climate control, the audio and entertainment system, navigation and telematics applications.

A central computer monitor displays the various functions and the chosen settings.

The new 7 Series also offers internet access through an individually configured WAP-supported BMW internet portal incorporated in the car – claimed as a world first.

All the functions in the ‘comfort area’ can be operated by both the driver and the passenger.

The absence of a central gearlever and traditional ignition key are the first things you notice once settled behind the wheel of the new Seven.

Instead, all primary controls are located in and around the steering wheel, the centre of the ‘driving area’.

Gear selection is controlled via a stalk on the steering column, the ignition switch is controlled by a new electronic key and the engine is started and stopped using a button.

A choice of two V8 engines will be available initially.

The 735i will be powered by a 272bhp, 3.6 litre engine with 360 Nm (266lb ft) of torque whilst the more powerful 745i will have a 333bhp, 4.4 litre engine, with 450 Nm (332lb ft) of torque.

The new 7 series is claimed to set a new benchmark in fuel consumption and performance compared to other cars in its class. Its new generation V8 engine reduces fuel consumption by 14 per cent whilst increasing maximum power output by the same amount when compared to the outgoing engines.

This has been achieved by combining the double VANOS variable valve timing system with Valvetronic technology which varies the degree of valve lift to control engine breathing, eliminating the throttle butterfly. Valvetronic appeared earlier this year in the four cylinder engines produced at Hams Hall.

For the first time, these V8 engines both feature DIVA, a new fully variable intake manifold system. The three variable systems combine to provide the power and fuel consumption advantages of the new car with EU fuel consumption figures reaching a new low benchmark for a luxury car of this class – the 735i recording 26.4 mpg on the combined cycle and the 745i, 25.9 mpg.

The new 7 series also features the world’s first six-speed automatic transmission with integrated shift-by-wire technology. Operated by a selector lever alongside the steering wheel and Steptronic buttons on the steering wheel rim, this new transmission also helps to deliver impressive performance figures.

The sprint from standstill to 100km/h (62mph) takes just 6.3 seconds in the 745i and 7.5 seconds in the 735i. Top speed in both models is electronically limited, as usual, to 155mph.

The new 7 series features a number of safety innovations including improved head airbags, new active head restraints and a new airbag safety control system called ISIS.

Via its network of sensors, ISIS decides which safety system to deploy, and when, in the event of an accident. This system is faster and more precise than the previous sensor system.

Ride quality has also been enhanced making the drive smoother and more comfortable.

Continuously variable electronic damper control, pneumatic suspension with automatic self-levelling for the rear axle and a new active all aluminium ‘dynamic drive’ chassis with active roll stabilisation are all key developments.