The striking – and controversial – front and rear end treatment of the original version, launched in 2001, have gone, replaced by more conventional light clusters at both ends. The boot ‘hump’ has been softened, the bootlid edges are tapered and the reworked light clusters no longer feature the continuous red strip connected to both sides, which has been replaced by chrome. Basically, it is more of the same, but less so.
Not that the looks blighted sales. It’s the most successful Seven ever with worldwide sales of 160,000, up 8% on the previous model. It takes about 20% of the UK luxury car market with 2,000 sales a year, about half that of Jaguar’s XJ and below the Mercedes-Benz S-class on 25%. The vast majority of this facelifted model, as with the old, will be business sales and two-thirds of buyers will opt for the 3.0-litre diesel version.
In its current line-up the 730d will account for 60% of sales. When the long-wheelbase version arrives in September, about 72% of its sales will be of diesel versions. Surprisingly, the next best-seller won’t be the 3.0-litre petrol but the 4.8-litre V8 in the 750i.
Apart from the six-cylinder 3.0-litre petrol, which has appeared elsewhere in BMW’s arsenal, and the 6.0-litre V12, the engine range is either new or updated. The diesel is lighter and power is increased by 10bhp to 231bhp, while the 4.0-litre V8, offering 306bhp, replaces the 3.5-litre. Whatever the engine choice, there is a six-speed automatic gearbox as standard, offering fully automatic or Steptronic semi-manual changes.
And because 75% of buyers drive themselves, rather than being chauffeured, suspension changes have honed its already impressive handling. Adaptive ride and sports suspension packages are available, while long-wheelbase versions will come with self-levelling suspension, an option on the standard model.
On the inside, little has changed apart from the i-Drive system which is now more user-friendly. The Seven is also MP3 compatible, and if you select a television it is the digital variant so it won’t be obsolete when analogue shuts down in 2012.
As you would expect from a model whose starting price is £47,500, there is a huge standard equipment list catering for pretty much everything, but there is also a large range of optional extras, from DVD players to larger alloy wheels.
Encouragingly, the diesel is more than £1,000 cheaper than the equivalent 3.0-litre petrol, which helps with company car tax, and its emissions aren’t bad at 216g/km, equivalent to a tax charge of 30%. If you achieve BMW’s claimed fuel economy figures, you should get 34.5mpg. With 0-62mph reached in 7.8 seconds and a top speed of 149mph, it matches the thirster 730i petrol in performance and offers lower tax bills. Opt for the 750i and you get a two-tonne luxury express which hits 62mph in 5.9 seconds, but you pay the maximum 35% tax and get just 24.8mpg.
Behind the wheel
ALTHOUGH BMW has made i-Drive simpler in this latest 7-series you still need time to get used to it, which is why two cars on the launch sat at the roadside for 10 minutes while the drivers tried to simply zero the trip. Being a typical bloke, I eventually gave up and consulted the handbook. Male pride swallowed, I steered the car down some winding roads, and it’s here where the Seven really impresses.
For such a big car it’s very agile, turning in sharply and filtering the driver’s demands through electronic systems to deliver exactly what he or she wants. No wonder so many owners prefer to sit in the driving seat rather than being chauffeured around.
Following back-to-back tests of the 3.0-litre diesel and the 5.0-litre V8 petrol, it’s hard to muster any argument for not taking the heavy-oil route. Both engines are almost silent at tickover, offer great mid-range punch, an ear-pleasing growl under hard acceleration and rev freely. The 730d is also the cheapest model in the range, undercutting the base 730i petrol by £1,425 and the 750i by a massive £12,200.
Head off the straight and narrow and the higher-end power of the 750i’s V8 is dwarfed by the mammoth mid-range grunt of the diesel. If you compare the smaller petrol engines, then the argument for the diesel only becomes stronger, so it deserves its dominance of 7-series sales. Comfort in both the front and rear is excellent with suspension which manages to combine limo-like luxury with a sporting edge for those winding roads.
And the new toned down design has mostly eliminated the quirky ‘love it or loathe it’ styling which caused such a rumpus when the original ‘flame surfaced’ Seven was launched in 2001.
ALTHOUGH the controversial aspects of the design have been toned down, the Seven still retains a unique look in the sector. Combined with keen pricing, excellent ride and handling characteristics, performance and economy if, like most customers, you opt for the diesel, there’s little to fault with BMW’s executive express.
|Max power (bhp/rpm)||258/6,600||231/4,000||306/6,300||367/6,300||445/6,000|
|Max torque (lb-ft/rpm)||221/2,500||384/2,000||288/3,500||362/3,400||443/3,950|
|Max speed (mph)||153||149||155||155||155|
|Comb fuel consumption (mpg)||28.0||34.5||25.2||24.8||21.1|
|CO2 emissions (g/km)||241||216||267||271||325|
Transmission: Six-speed automatic. Fuel tank capacity (l/gal): 88/19.4
On sale: Now Prices (OTR): £47,500–£78,850
Long wheelbase models: £51,525–£80,975