Rory Reid hops behind the wheel of the new BMW 7 Series to see how it stacks up against its rivals.
The BMW 7 Series is the company’s flagship model, serving as the best means of showcasing the firm’s capabilities where technology and luxury are concerned – two key metrics for the brand’s effectiveness.
The latest BMW 7 Series, model year 2016, is probably more important than ever, considering the fact the previous model had lost significant ground to its rivals, most notably the Mercedes-Benz S-Class. BMW aims to redress the balance with an entirely new, carbon fibre-based platform, a suite of never-before-seen technology, off-the-charts comfort and top-tier driving dynamics.
We hopped behind the wheel of the car likely to be the most popular, the £63,750 730d, to see if it’s been worth the wait.
BMW has played things safe with the overall exterior design of the new 7 Series, but that’s unsurprising as its target market consists of sensible business types. As such, there’s little to speak of about on the exterior, barring the thousands of number 7s etched into the headlight reflector on the optional laser headlight package, heavy use of aluminium detailing, and those sporty-looking twin exhausts at the rear.
There are significant changes beneath the surface. The new 7 Series uses a Carbon Core, meaining you’ll find a good amount of strong, light carbon fibre mated to aluminium and steel in other parts of the vehicle. In all, the new materials help reduce weight by as much as 130kg compared to the previous vehicle.
The new 7 series’ interior seems simple yet elegant. There are no individual elements that particularly stand out, yet the whole is cohesive, it’s immaculately well put together, and there are plenty of small but impressive flourishes. These include the optional satin finish on the controls, giving them a very premium feel, a customisable interior lighting system that bathes the cabin in a colour of your choice and optional star-effect LED lights in the panoramic glass roof.
The new 7 Series is a big car, so there’s plenty of space to play with, most of it used intelligently. There are four large cupholders (front and rear), large door bins all around, a good-sized central storage compartment with wireless charging for the smart key and your mobile phone, enormous amounts of leg and headroom for all passengers and a sizeable boot.
There’s even an optional refrigerator between the two rear seats, which can be used to store a couple of bottles of wine and a set of glasses, although this robs roughly one backpack’s worth of boot space.
The long-wheelbase version of the 7 Series, denoted by the addition of an L in the product name (e.g. 730Ld), gets even more legroom (140mm) thanks to the longest wheelbase in its class, though even the standard car has more legroom than the average NBA Basketball player would require. It does have unique quirks, however, such as the aforementioned interior light system, large atmospheric lights on the b pillars and the sky lounge panoramic glass roof, which is designed to mimic a starry sky. It fails in that last pursuit, but it looks good in its own right.
Bottom line: buy the long-wheelbase car if you want more luxury, but not necessarily if all you need is more space – the standard car is plenty big.
Performance & handling
There are several driving modes available in the BMW 7 Series, each of which vastly affects the way the car feels beneath you. In the default comfort mode, the car’s air suspension system (fitted as standard to both the front and rear axels) offers an adequate blend of comfort and driving stability. It doesn’t feel markedly more luxurious in this mode than, say, the brilliant Skoda Superb, but we do have to remind ourselves that the Superb was exactly that.
A second comfort mode, designed to soften the suspension further, gives the car a noticeably more wafty feel, which you’ll likely want to engage when carrying rear passengers. The rear seats, as versatile as they are (with electric reclining, position adjustment, heating, cooling and built-in massaging) are slightly too firm for what we’d expect in a luxury car, and don’t feel quite as comfortable as the seats in the front, and the softer suspension setting helps dial this out.
BMW hasn’t neglected its ‘Ultimate Driving Machine’ philosophy for the 7 Series. Yes, it’s a luxury car best enjoyed when cruising slowly, but flick it into sport mode and its character changes noticeably. The suspension firms up, reducing body roll to a minimum, the 8-speed transmission holds onto gears longer, and the accelerator becomes more responsive to inputs.
It’s not the last word in sportiness, of course – it’s an enormous limousine – but it’s good fun to drive fast.
Regardless of mode, the steering is light – probably too light in the sport setting. The gears changes, meanwhile, are effortless and barely perceptible in auto mode, yet fast, responsive and aggressive in sport mode.
Of course, if you’d rather not drive at all, the 7 Series will accommodate. It has an active steering system that keeps the car between lane markings, as well as adaptive cruise control to help you keep a set pace, accelerating and braking to match the vehicle in front.
The 730d and 730Ld we tested use a 3.0-litre, six-cylinder in-line diesel engine with 265hp at 4,000rpm. Torque is a very impressive 620Nm, helping it achieve a 0-62mph sprint of 6.1 seconds for the standard car, or 6.2 for the long-wheelbase. Top speed is electronically limited to 155mph.
Economy & environment
Our 730d test car manages impressive economy, despite its solid performance and imposing size. BMW claims average fuel consumption of between 57mpg and 62.8mpg for the standard car (depending on wheel size) and between 56.5mpg and 61.4mpg in the long-wheelbase model. Expect CO2 emissions of 129g/km and 119g/km depending on the size of wheel fitted (132-122g/km for the long-wheelbase).
Equipment & value
The new BMW 7 Series doesn’t come cheap, but it is packed to the rafters with a good array of standard tech. It pretty much comes with everything you’d want – including four-zone climate control, navigation, BMW Online services, DAB radio, wireless charging for your gadgets, Napa leather and more.
As far as options go, we’d spend money on the ceramic finish for the controls (£450) and surround view, which gives you a total 360-degree view othe car in real time (£400). We’d also splash cash on the £4,000 Bowers & Wilkins audio system – but only if you can spare the money. It’s an incredible sound system, but even the standard speakers sound fantastic – arguably as good as the middle upgrade Harmon Kardon setup in some respects.
The remote in the 7 Series is very impressive. Known as Display Key, it takes the form of an enormous smart key with a touchscreen display, showing key vehicle information such as whether the car is locked, whether the lights are on, windows open, how much fuel remains etc. It can also be used to activate the climate control system according to a timer or immediately should you want to pre-cool the car. From November 2015, the key can also be used to park the car remotely, without the driver being inside.
Also worth mentioning is the gesture control system. A camera looks down at the centre console, where your arm would rest, and watches for specific gestures. Rotating an index finger clockwise or anti-clockwise in mid-air adjusts the volume, swiping a hand left or right takes or rejects phone calls, while jabbing two fingers towards the dashboard causes a user-defined action to take place – either skipping or pausing tracks or navigating to your home address.
It’s big, so whatever you hit in the new 7 Series had better be made of strong stuff. It has head-protection airbags front and rear, a crash sensor that activates the hazard lights, cuts the fuel and activates the interior lights, as well as an SOS button that lets you call for help should the worst happen.
Most interesting of all, perhaps, is the inclusion of so-called deformation zones at the front and rear, with door reinforcements and bumpers that regenerate to their original shape in impacts of up to 2.5 mph.
The BMW 7 Series is, in a word, fantastic. It provides an inspiring glimpse of what luxuries and technologies will become commonplace in vehicles over the next few years. It would have been all too easy for BMW to throw together a hodgepodge of ill-conceived new tech in an attempt to outshine its rivals, but it’s succeeded in delivering a cohesive, comfortable and impressive overall package that few – if any – can match.
For the record, it doesn’t feel quite as luxurious as the Mercedes-Benz S-Class in terms of outright ride comfort – at least not by default. But by selecting the softest drive mode it comes pretty damn close. Where it beats the S-Class is in the fact it’s noticeably more enjoyable to drive in addition to being a great passenger car, making it the best all-rounder in the segment.
All things considered, it’s arguably the best luxury car on the market right now.