BMW 7 series

It’s my first encounter with the city of Saint Petersburg and the new BMW 7 Series, yet the feeling I’m experiencing is one of familiarity with the spectacle taking place in front of me. The wide boulevards remind me of Moscow: you need half a day to cross them and another three to walk from one end to the other.

The road is framed by buildings that stretch endlessly into the horizon. Unlike the current capital of Russia, however, the old imperial city’s architecture is more elegant and more colourful. There are other moments when it brings back memories of Vienna too but on a larger, in fact, much larger scale.

The reason I can admire the view is because I’m testing a car comfortably seated on a back seat for the first time, and not behind the wheel. I’m in the long wheel base version of the 7 Series BMW, sitting on a seat with individual settings. My legs are comfortably stretched and my feet are sat on a light gray softly padded triangular support. I have just checked my emails on the multimedia screen in front of me and to my left I have the iDrive controls made available on the armrest. To my right I watch through the almost rectangular window the size of a family television the unhindered performance the city lays before me.

Bearing the television reference in mind, I find it not strange at all when from the sidewalk Bruce Willis enters this frame. He smiles at me from an advertising poster that promotes the services of a local bank. This association seems somewhat paradoxical since it’s hard to believe that the safety of the financial services has anything in common with the conflicting nature of John McClane in “Die Hard” or with the ghostly presence of Dr. Malcolm Crowe in “The Sixth Sense”.

The limousine floats gracefully through Saint Petersburg and I sense that there is no such conflict in the 7 Series, the hybrid version that combines the strength of the 320 hp 3.0-liter engine with the efficiency of a 40 kW electric one. The most important result of this combination is, in theory at least, its low fuel consumption. In practice though, the ultimate benefit is the level of comfort achieved and the sense of calmness that stems from knowing the car will patiently await its turn at the traffic lights with its thermal engine switched off. And when the city surprisingly throws its narrow streets in our path, the car will move using only the electric engine. It is indeed quiet.

Equally calm and discreet are the changes the 7 Series went through to get here more than three years after the launch of the current generation that is the fifth of its kind. It was now time for the BMW flagship to get a facelift. The passage of time could have been a good enough reason for a revision, but it’s not the not only one. Its eternal rival, the Mercedes-Benz S-Class is preparing to launch its latest weapons as soon as possible and will put up a fight with a new face and a different content. Not that the 7 Series is not putting up a fight, it’s just that its technological advances somewhat restrict the number of changes adopted and one needs patience and a care to notice of the novelties brought by the facelift.

In a corner of the Palace Square, waiting in line for the journalists present on a short tour of the Hermitage, dozens of 7 Series models allow you to admired them at leisure. At first glance nothing has changed and yet something is different; the features display more power and a stronger personality, and once the mind accepts this reality, the car’s features allow themselves to be revealed. The unmistakable grid has less vertical slats than before and each of the two openings has now nine blades instead of twelve that appear more prominent due to their chrome finish. I knew all these details before coming to Saint Petersburg, but only now the effect of this change becomes clear to me: the 7 Series acquired a certain ”manliness”. The lines that  appearantly narrowed like a bow the elongated mouth of the vent from the bottom half of the bumper highlight the new profile of the grid. BMW chief designer Karim Habib makes his contribution felt in this detail also present in his 2007 creation the BMW Concept CS that allowed us a glance of the contours that today were being toyed with by the midday sun.

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