BMW has announced plans for the 7 Series saloon to become its first car in Germany to offer level three hands-free driving.
The €6000 (£5245) optional extra will be fitted to 7 Series models in Germany from March 2024 and will allow drivers to remove their hands from the steering wheel and divert their attention away from the road. This is crucially different from Ford's BlueCruise system, which still requires drivers to look at the road ahead.
This equipment works at speeds of up to 60kph (37mph) on motorways with structurally separate carriageways. It controls the car's speed, distance to the vehicle in front and lane positioning. BMW says this is the only system of its kind that can do this in the dark too.
When activated, BMW drivers will be able to stream videos on the car's main central screen and edit emails on the go.
Confirmation of level three BMW cars hitting German roads comes after head of product for BMW's large models in the UK, Matt Bacon, told Autocar that the new 5 Series range, the BMW i7 large electric saloon and the iX electric SUV are planned to offer level two-plus autonomy in the UK next year.
BMW is taking advantage of new rules in the UK that allow drivers to take their hands off the wheel providing they are still paying attention to the road. Sometimes, this is called level two-plus on the autonomy categorisation scale and it includes Ford's BlueCruise system, found in the Ford Mustang Mach-E.
The main difference between level two (plus level two-plus) and level three is that with level two, the driver must watch what is happening at all times. Level three allows the driver to not concentrate on the road ahead.
The feature will be part of Driving Assistant Professional, which is available in the new 5 Series on top of Tech Pack Plus, which includes adaptive cruise control and lane centring. The firm plans to launch it here in 2024, but has yet to confirm a specific launch date.
BMW has yet to finalise whether the system will be available as a monthly subscription in the UK, as it is in the Ford Mustang Mach-E, or a one-off fee at purchase, as is the case in Germany. The extra cost is partly to pay for the licence fee for the higher-definition mapping needed to better locate the car, BMW said.
The exact roads the system will work on have yet to be determined, Bacon said, but the car will alert you if you drive onto a qualifying road.
The BMW will recognise whether you are paying attention to the road ahead via cameras positioned in front of the driver in the information screen. The level two-plus system will harness the car’s Active Lane Change Assistant to allow the driver to change lanes without needing to place their hands on the wheel. The car suggests a lane change, which the driver confirms by looking into the side mirror. The same driver monitoring cameras will track the driver’s line of sight, okaying the move.
BMW has said it will expand this autonomy to include “address-to-address” capability on its Neue Klasse EVs, due from 2025.
Meanwhile, Porsche is expected to offer level two-plus hands-off, eyes-on driving on its new electric Macan, arriving next year as part of the Supervision package supplied by Intel-owned Mobileye, which includes 11 cameras.
Additional reporting by Murray Scullion