MUNICH, Germany — It has been six years since BMW rocked the luxury-car establishment with its bold fourth-generation 7 Series. Now the German carmaker has unveiled a high-tech replacement that ushers in a new design lineage, a revised range of gasoline and diesel engines, and substantive chassis and in-car entertainment innovations — all of which promise to see it more closely challenge the likes of the Audi A8, the Lexus LS and the Mercedes-Benz S-Class.
Code-named F1, the new 7 Series is planned to make its public debut at the Paris Auto Show in October. No exact time frame has been placed on North American sales, although officials at BMW's headquarters in Germany point toward a March introduction for the U.S.
Slightly longer and lower than its predecessor and with longer front and rear tracks, the fifth-generation 2009 7 Series also rides on a wheelbase that has been increased by a considerable 3.3 inches. BMW is making much of the new car's complex construction, pointing to the extensive use of high-strength steel in its floorpan and inner structure. The body is fashioned primarily from aluminum, which is used for the hood, roof, doors and fenders.
In engine options, there are 326-horsepower twin-turbo 3.0-liter gasoline and 245-hp 3.0-liter diesel versions of its traditional inline six-cylinder engine, in the 740i and 730d respectively — neither of which is planned to figure in the initial North American lineup. U.S. customers will be offered just one engine, the 400-hp twin-turbocharged V8 first unveiled in the X6 xDrive50i. With 442 pound-feet of torque, it is claimed to propel the top-of-the-line 750i from zero to 60 mph in less than 5.2 seconds and up to a top speed of 155 mph.
EPA-certified fuel figures are yet to be released, but going on those announced for European versions of the big new BMW, expect average consumption to be around 20 mpg.
There is no official word on what other engines BMW is planning for its new flagship sedan, but insiders confirm plans are progressing on a gasoline/electric hybrid version. Details are scarce, though it is said to draw on the two-mode hybrid technology developed by BMW in cooperation with General Motors and Mercedes-Benz's parent company, Daimler.
BMW has thoroughly reworked the 7 Series' underpinnings, which instead of the traditional MacPherson-strut setup has a new double-wishbone arrangement up front and multilinks at the rear. Other highlights include an advanced damping control system that alters the compression and rebound characteristics independently — a process BMW claims has led to vastly improved ride quality.
The biggest chassis development, however, concerns the steering. As well as receiving the latest incarnation of BMW's Active Front Steering, the new 7 Series also receives an optional rear-wheel-steering system called Integral Active Steer. The speed-sensitive system is capable of altering the angle of the rear wheels by up to three degrees. It is claimed to provide the new 7 Series with improved maneuverability at low speeds around town while enhancing its reaction at high speeds for improved handling.
Hoping the 7 Series will gain ground with business-minded buyers, BMW has provided it with a new second-generation iDrive system that can be used to gain access to the car's on-demand Internet function. Driver-assist systems on the new car include active cruise control with a new stop-and-go capability, lane departure warning, blind spot detection, head-up display, night vision with pedestrian detection and sideview and reversing cameras.
What this means to you: Sales of the outgoing 7 Series never lived up to expectations. BMW hopes for more success — especially from multitasking business customers — with this one. — Andreas Stahl, Correspondent
Who says radio is dead?
On the verge of the 20th anniversary of his conservative talk show, Rush Limbaugh has re-upped with Clear Channel Communications and the deal worth some $400 million to rant on through 2016 -- that's the next three presidential elections and everything in between.
Word of this phenomenal payday -- almost certainly the richest in radio and rivaling even that of even network TV stars like David Letterman -- comes from the New York Times, which interviewed Limbaugh for an article for the Sunday magazine published online Wednesday.
The Times' Brian Stelter reports that Limbaugh's $50 million a year paycheck is a hefty raise from his $14.4 million annual salary in an eight-year contract that ends next year.