About of COVID, my first, has made me even more splenetic than usual as I wheeze and splutter my way through this column. On the day I achieved my ‘passing out’ stripes (two red lines next to the letters C and T on a COVID test kit), I should have been heading for Epsom race course to drive limos with electric and hybrid power. Generally, ‘hyper’ vehicles aren’t really this magazine’s sphere of interest, or indeed mine, so I viewed the opportunity to experience them with pleasure and interest. I’d been invited by the chauffeuring bible otherwise known as Professional Driver magazine, which runs an annual car testing speed dating event at Epsom, where interested parties, including car hacks like me, try different limos and cars suitable for private hire duties, noting their strengths and demerits, scoring them, before moving on to the next driving seat.
Instead, I spent the day blearily flopped on a sagging sofa – hot, moist, cross and within lunging distance of a plastic washing up bowl in case incipient gut rot turned into something worse. So much for luxury and pampering.
For no particular reason, BMW’s gargantuan i7 electric four-door barged its way into my consciousness. I haven’t seen this car in the very solid flesh, so cannot tell whether the i7 looks as brutal in the metal as it does in publicity photos, but it’s surely intended to get the people travelling in it noticed. The car’s list of kit assumes that those travelling have limited attention spans, and the sheer quantity of gear has an arms race quality about it, as does the lengthy list of options, three of which stick in the mind for their non-essential characters.
The first is described as a panoramic cinema screen which descends from the roof lining to beat rear seat occupants into submission and further detach them from the outside world. The roof itself can be specified as a large lump of glazing festooned with high tech fairy lights that change colour, and anyone wishing to escape this piece of visual glitz might do well to tell the car to open one of its doors, Alexa-style, another optional party trick, although presumably not one it’s willing to perform in the outside lane of the M25 en route for Heathrow airport, a place where the i7 and its ilk will soon become familiar bits of street furniture.
The grump in me can’t help thinking ‘what’s the point?’ particularly when the novelty of this stuff wears off and you’re left with a sort of toy box on wheels for very rich adults. And, of course, there’s a penalty for lugging all this stuff around, and that comes by the fact that the i7 xDrive60 weighs 2.7 tonnes, requiring a pair of electric motors to produce 550lb ft of torque to motivate it. True, the claimed 387 miles range is pretty impressive, but I’m left with the uncomfortable sense that all the human and technical resources that have gone into creating what is probably a remarkable car, could have been better spent elsewhere. Generally I think that excess has been piled onto excess with vehicle specifications as technology evolves, and car makers look to innovate, create interest or commercial advantage. It’s gone on since the days of the Model T Ford, but the sheer quantity of stuff drivers are confronted with now has an indigestible feel to it.
I started writing about cars in the pre-history that was the 1980s, when Ford offered swivelling sun visors as an option, and I’ve always tried to apply an objective eye as to whether a given vehicle was good at its job. That job could involve depositing fractious children at the school gates or picking up a well upholstered potentate from the Dorchester Hotel, so I write about specifics rather than critiquing what sort of cars they actually are.