Fleet News

BMW 7-Series

BMW

Review

DESPITE all the doom and gloom about recession, it is a great time to be managing director or chairman of the board.

While the rest of the company argues with fleet managers about whether they can get alloy wheels and a CD player on their repmobiles, the top men and women can relax between boardroom feuds by casting an eye over some stunning machinery.

Will it be the awesome competence of the Mercedes-Benz S-class, the brilliant and cool new Range Rover or the bold and imaginative new BMW 7-series? It's tough at the top. BMW has taken a leap with the 7-series, looking for drivers who want distinctive, slightly avant-garde, opulence.

And it expects to find 1,400 such homes for the 7-series this year in the UK, with a full year of sales seeing 3,000 sold, making Britain the third largest market for the car in the world.

BMW has set out its stall to attract fleet customers with 70 demonstrator cars available, and BMW Financial Services has already released contract hire rates of £799 a month with £3,886 up front for the 735i, and £999 per month with an initial payment of £3,173 for the 745i, based on three years and 60,000 miles.

The five-year/75,000-mile fully comprehensive Concours service and maintenance package is included in that lease rate. Costing just £500, BMW reckons Concours will save customers about £2,000 over the five-year period, based on service intervals averaging 18,750 miles.

BMW is forecasting three- year/60,000-mile residual values of 45% for the two models, although CAP at the moment is suggesting a less impressive 37% and 38%, due to the car's shape not being universally adored and the new on-board technology being greeted with some scepticism.

The new Seven is, however, a massive improvement over the outgoing model, whose RVs have been languishing in the late 20 per cents for a while.

At launch the car comes with two fantastic Valvetronic V8 engines: the £52,750 735i and the £56,950 745i, which, from a tax point of view emit 259 and 263g/km of CO2 respectively, putting them in the 33% and 34% company car tax brackets from April. But as the old adage says, if you need to ask how much it is going to cost, you can't afford it. For the record though, it's a tax bill of £6,880 and £7,660 a year, respectively, for a 40% taxpayer. You'd have to be one fat cat.

From every angle, the Seven is a grower. Because it marks such a departure from the usual BMW silhouette, it takes a while to get your head round it, but following one on the car's launch, it all suddenly clicked into place. I promise, the pictures here cannot do the bold lines justice.

It actually looks rather American, but not in a burger joint, Las Vegas way - more Rockefeller Plaza, New York. It's not surprising. BMW wants to sell a staggering 25,000 7-series in the US each year.

The high rear in particular has art deco echoes in the mix of sharp lines and dynamic curves: the seam that hoops around the light clusters and the knife-like brake lights in the boot are very distinctive.

And that is part of its point. BMW people were keen to point out that it wanted the car to be instantly recognisable from the cheaper cars in the stable, and that each should have its own identit. It is a welcome but ironic shift, seeing that BMW has cleverly perfected this corporate family gene pooling over the years.

With an aluminium bonnet and front wings which make the car only 20kgs heavier than its predecessor, the 735i and 745i are 13.3% and 14.6% more fuel efficient than the outgoing equivalents respectively, at 26.4mpg and 25.9mpg on the combined cycle. Those are pretty impressive figures and trounce its nemesis, the S-class.

If the exterior has attracted a fair amount of critical debate, the cabin, and the i-Drive system in particular, has seen that and raised the stakes by a factor of 10.

BMW believes it has 'rewritten the rulebook on interior automotive design', and while that may be a slightly exaggerated claim, it has taken the process forward a number of steps. The idea is that modern luxury cars have so many buttons they are beginning to look like the flight deck of the space shuttle, and by grouping functions in two areas - steering wheel and iDrive - the interior can regain some composure again.

However, there are still a lot of buttons, mostly for the climate control, on the dash and with a high central armrest and lots of cubby holes, it hardly has a zen-like ambience. Think very high quality Scandinavian hi-fi system and you're pretty much there. Behind the wheel Getting into the 7-series, the first impression is what a step forward it represents. The familiar tidy little buttons have gone to be replaced by wood and four brushed aluminium stalks around the steering wheel.

There is no doubt that first time users will need instruction on getting it going and how to use the various controls. The combination of electronic key, electronic parking brake, starter button and fiddly wheel-mounted gear selector need a quick run through. The iDrive also needs some concentration to start with. I can hardly claim the award of 'Bill Gates PC anorak of the year' especially as I used to struggle just to load Graham Gooch's Test Cricket on my Acorn Electron, so I didn't hold out much hope for being able to master it.

At first I flapped around, struggling to get the silver knob to call up what I wanted, but it is just a case of perseverance, reading what the screen tells you and soon it becomes second nature. The iDrive is more visual, and requires less learning than other, more traditional button based systems. It is just a case of adapting your approach.

The seats are sofa comfortable and glide electrically into all the positions you would expect. At tickover, the engine noise is non-existent, and in the 333bhp 745i mostly stays that way. A heavy push on the accelerator results in a seemingly unstoppable forward rush like an airliner taking off. But the creamy engine stays whisper quiet, and apparently the car does 0-62mph in 6.3 seconds, although it is so composed you would never know.

The 735i pushes out 272 bhp, and 0-62mph in 7.5 seconds. For the MD or chairman who likes driving themselves, this is the better option. Not only is it cheaper, but it feels barely slower, and has a throaty roar when kicked into life.

The steering is direct, especially in Sports mode when the wheel becomes noticeably heavier, and the six speed automatic gearbox, which BMW claims is a world first, just keeps the power coming. The great thing about the 7-series is that it is a BMW for the 22nd century, and the 21st century models were pretty good already.

Driving verdict

The new 7-series is a brilliant car. It has an arty feel about it, inside and out, allied to technology that it cutting edge and well conceived. Should I manage to make it about 20 rungs up the corporate ladder, I'll have one.

  • Will the new 7-Series find a place on your fleet? Email your views to fleetnews@emap.com

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  • CO2 emissions and fuel consumption data correct at time of writing. The latest figures are available in the Fleet News fuel cost calculator and the company car tax calculator.

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