A 14 percent power boost (with corresponding fuel economy improvement) and an increase in standard equipment are expected when a flagship luxury car like BMW#;s 7-series is complately redesigned. Less expected perhaps are the quite radical styling aimed at what is usually quite a conservative market sector and the quantum leap forward in the use of electronics for major driving controls, writes just-auto.com deputy editor Graeme Roberts.


BMW claims the non-evolutionary styling – from the prominent headlamp eyebrows to the huge wheels to the massive self-opening boot lid and segmented LED tail lamps – is deliberate to give their flagship a new-found road ‘presence#;. It certainly achieved that on Spain#;s Costa de Sol, venue for the British press launch, where the sample cars attracted considerable attention from other drivers, especially those in older 7-series models.


The reaction of potential owners to the 7-series cockpit should also be interesting and BMW is likening the step change to the introduction of the Airbus airliner#;s ‘glass cockpit#; and sidestick (a switch from analogue dials and conventional floor-mounted control column).


Certainly, a few running instructions come in handy before a first drive, as you are shown how to use the electronic ignition key and start-stop button (previously seen on the Merc S-class), the stubby right-hand automatic transmission lever (push the button on the tip for park) and the push-button handbrake (which also operates automatically in some circumstances).


All that will get you off down the road, no problem, and there are still enough conventional knobs lurking about to get the seats comfortable, the air-con set, and find a station on the radio.


The rest lurks under the control of iDrive, a large central knob between the front armrests linked to a TV screen which, operated something like a computer mouse (but unnaturally, for most, with the left hand in RHD cars), lets you work your way through a series of menus to operate the standard sat-nav, cruise control, hi-fi, trip computer and phone plus optional TV and, from next year, dedicated internet portal.


In four hours#; driving in two stints, I quickly absorbed the basics but found some aspects of iDrive and the multiple speed pre-set cruise control system confusing, so buyers should be prepared for a lengthy teaching session (or two) with the dealer and a thorough read of the two-inch-thick owner#;s manual.


Past experience suggests German systems such as this are incredibly feature-rich but require familiarisation time; the Japanese may leave out some of the finer details but design a more intuitive control system.