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BMW 7-series

BMW

Review

BMW’S big 7-series never had it easy. Launched three years ago to spearhead BMW chief designer Chris Bangle’s bold new styling philosophy, it was pilloried for its awkward styling, complex iDrive system and uninviting cabin architecture.

Its opinion-dividing styling also impacted on sales. Worldwide, it may be the best-selling 7-series ever, but last year BMW UK only sold 1,437 7-series models – less than half that of Jaguar’s 2,855 XJ sales, remarkable given the lack of diesel in the XJ line-up.

The 7-series was also soundly beaten by the ageing Mercedes S-class, which accounted for 2,268 sales. It was even out-sold by the far more expensive Bentley Continental, which found 1,841 buyers.

Speak to any of the key BMW designers about the facelifted 7-series and they talk, naturally, of refreshing and updating the big saloon – now halfway through its lifecycle.

But read between the lines and the alterations are all about toning down the car’s controversial design and bringing it into line with its less aggressive 3 and 5-series stablemates.

So, what’s changed? The double-kidney grille is new, as are the front and rear bumpers.

The bonnet has a more aggressive slope and now has what BMW calls a ‘Powerdome’ – heavy scallops that run from grille to A-pillar.

The side sills have been reprofiled and the boot and rear lights have been modified – the brake lamps are now two-stage to differentiate between normal and heavy braking. The changes are subtle but they do improve the looks of the big BMW – up to a point.

The 7-series now looks less bulbous and less uncomfortable. But it still lacks the grace and proportions of the Mercedes S-class, Jaguar XJ and Audi A8. It’s either striking and individual or ugly and gauche, depending on your point of view.

Inside, the cabin is much the same, but now with a wider choice of leathers and woods. The controversial iDrive has, at long last, been simplified with more push-button controls and fewer sub-menus. But for all its advanced technology, it’s still a cabin that curiously lacks a real sense of occasion.

The list of standard specification is now long and impressive – the all new 7-series is equipped with climate control, bi-xenon headlamps, electric seat, mirror and wheel adjustment, leather upholstery, cruise and park distance controls and active and passive safety measures.

The exterior changes may be restrained, but there has been a significant work beneath the sheetmetal. There’s lots to take on board. All engines, bar the flagship V12 760i have undergone major revisions to boost power, torque and economy. The 745i is replaced the new 750i – a reflection of the V8 petrol engine’s growth in capacity from 4,398cc to 4,799cc.

Now fitted with Valvtronic and Double Vanos valve timing, power climbs by 34bhp to 367bhp and torque is up 29lb ft to 361lb ft, but combined fuel economy and CO2 levels remain unchanged at 24.8mpg and 276g/km.

Likewise, the 735i is succeeded by the 740i, and it too is fitted with Valvtronic and Double Vanos valve timing. The capacity of the V8 petrol grows 400cc to 4,000cc, with power and torque climbing 34bhp and 20lb-ft to 306bhp and 287lb-ft. Combined fuel economy drops marginally from 25.4mpg to 25.2mpg while its 268g/km CO2 figure remains unchanged.

The entry-level 730i gets the new lightweight all-alloy straight 3.0-litre six we first saw in the 630i.

It develops 258bhp and 221lb-ft, returns 28mpg on the combined cycle and has a CO2 rating of 241g/km. All petrol models are available in long wheelbase guise too, which inserts a further 14cm between the B and C pillars to boost rear passenger legroom.

The 730d – the most popular model of the line-up which should account for just under 70% of sales – gets a new piezo fuel injection system, a particulate trap and an all-aluminium crankcase that trims 25kg off the engine’s weight.

It’s now Euro IV-compliant too. Capacity remains the same but there are useful 13bhp and 14lb-ft performance increases, bringing peak power and torque up to 231bhp and 383lb-ft. Economy and CO2 emissions are also better – it returns 34.4mpg on the combined cycle and 216g/km – better than the outgoing unit’s figures of 33.2mpg and 227g/km.

And at the end of the year a long wheelbase version of the 730d will join the line-up, but the mighty 300bhp 745d V8 turbodiesel will remain a European model only – the marketing men at BMW UK reckon the sales wouldn’t justify the conversion to right-hand drive. Pity.

Prices have climbed by around 4% to reflect these changes – the range now starts at £48,925 for the base 730i and climbs to a hefty £80,975 for the long wheelbase 760iL. To complement this uprated performance, the 7-series gets more powerful brakes, a 14mm wider rear track to enhance high-speed stability and the choice of factory-fit adaptive and sports suspension.

This myriad of cosmetic and engineering improvements goes some way to enhancing the 7-series’ appeal.

It’s now better looking, better equipped and offers more performance without any significant economy penalty.

But for many buyers in this traditionally conservative market sector, the BMW’s individual styling, technologically-laden cabin and overtly sporting characteristics will put it behind more conservative rivals from Jaguar, Mercedes and Audi.

Behind the wheel

THE cabin of the 7-series still, after three years on the market, takes some getting used to. Drivers are confronted by a dashboard unlike any other.

Gone is the familiar BMW cockpit geography, replaced by a double-barrelled instrument binnacle – one for traditional instruments, the other to control secondary functions and BMW’s iDrive station.

Many of the iDrive’s hundreds of functions will be set once and rarely touched again, but those that require some knob twirling and pressing require a deft bit of hand-eye co-ordination. The iDrive is easier to use now, but it still takes some time to grow accustomed to its intricate workings, and is a far cry from the intuitive touch-screen system used in the Jaguar XJ or the cleaner MMI system in the A8.

Despite the sales success of the 730d in the UK, we only got to drive the 750i, the company’s global bestseller. Power from the free-revving V8 is abundant, delivered in a smooth, linear flow that makes whipping through the gears a delight.

This is a four-seat limousine that’s quicker to 62mph than a Porsche Boxster. But extend the engine towards peak power and the serrated exhaust note really fills the cabin. Enthusiastic drivers will love it, but rear seat fatcats might find it intrusive.

On the motorway, the big 750i feels indomitable. It tracks with the high-speed accuracy of a laser-guided missile, eating up the miles and flattening inclines with disdain – anything less from a car designed to eat up autobahns would be a disappointment.

But push harder over fast rolling roads and no amount of suspension and steering trickery can mask the weight and size of this car: this is a big 1,910kg limousine and even given BMW’s emphasis on the 7-series sporting credentials, it should be driven as such.

The suspension is very firm – firmer than I remember it in the pre-facelift model – and over anything but carpet smooth roads it feels a touch brittle. While switching it to Sports mode heightens body controls and sharpens throttle and gearshift responses, the ride deteriorates further.

Nor is the six-speed gearbox as smooth as I recall. In slow urban traffic there’s a noticeable thump when coming on and off the power, and kickdown at speed results in an equally loud and abrupt jerk form the automatic box. Surprising, and given BMW’s normally excellent drivetrain, out of character.

Driving verdict

DRIVING the 750i is a lesson in efficient transportation. It feels clinical, aloof and, for such an emotive design, lacking any real emotion. If you want a fast, civilised and efficient means of getting from here to there with plenty of presence, then you’ll love the 750i. But if you want something with more character, more emotion and personality, best you look elsewhere.

Fact file

Engine: 4,799cc
Max power (bhp/rpm): 367/6300
Max torque (lb-ft/rpm): 361/3400
Max speed (mph): 155mph (limited)
0-62mph (secs): 5.9
Fuel consumption (mpg): 24.8
CO2 emissions (g/km): 271
Fuel tanks capacity (l/gal): 88/19.4
Service intervals (miles): 20,000
On sale: April 21
Price (OTR): £59,700, £63,330 for Sport model

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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