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On the Road: BMW's New 7 Series

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THE CHALLENGE To create the ultimate ultimate driving machine, a car whose design matches or even surpasses the great BMWs past.
THE COMPETITION Mercedes' top-of-the-line S-Class, on the road since '99.
WHAT'S NEW UNDER THE HOOD BMW's engineers, automotive Harry Potters, have worked wonders to boost the power and economy of the eight-cylinder engine, and they have produced the world's first six-speed automatic transmission with "shift by wire" technology for smoother shifting.
GRACE NOTE Wood on the dash, as light and as elegant as that in Danish furniture.
THE WAVE IT'S CATCHING A luxury-car trend—also seen in models from Lexus, Infiniti, and Jaguar—toward driver-friendly technology, including innovations like e-mail access.
THE GAMBLE The iDrive operating system is BMW's answer to electronic overload and distraction. It allows the driver to manipulate some 700 audio, navigation, and climate-control functions—from adjusting the fan on the heater to finding the nearest hotel—without taking his eyes too far off the road. Using a knob on the central console, which works like a computer mouse, one selects from options that appear on an eye-level screen, depressing the knob to make choices. European versions of the 7 Series come with Internet access (due in the United States later this year), allowing people to send e-mail, receive news, and even do banking from their cars. The question is, will drivers adapt to this brave new world?

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