BMW 7 Series review
The BMW 7 Series has always been in the shadow of the Mercedes S-Class, but can this new ultra hi-tech model finally challenge it for the title of best luxury car?
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Luxury cars have a tougher job than most when it comes to styling. Buyers want them to be discreet enough to go unnoticed, but also to convey their wealth and status and demand respect. Brands want their flagship models to represent the entire range, which is why the rest of the Audi and Mercedes line-up all look a lot like either the A8 or the S-Class. That’s the trap that BMW has fallen into with the 7 Series. From afar it looks too similar to the smaller 5 Series, with large kidney grilles, the same bluff front-end and a rising shoulder line.
Every model comes with 18-inch alloys and twin-exhausts as standard, but you can specify up to 20-inch rims should you so desire. Entry-level cars look distinctive thanks to a stylish chrome blade that runs along either side and contrasts with the paintwork. Choose an M Sport model, though, and this detail is finished in dark chrome, which is a lot harder to see if you pair it with a dark exterior colour. The M Sport model also has a subtle body kit but the incredible looking BMW ‘Laserlights’ are optional on every single trim level. The hybrid 740e looks pretty much identical to the other models in the range, but with 'eDrive' badges on the C-pillars, blue details in the grille and the BMW 'i' logo on the front side panels
The designer of the 7 Series claimed that there is no black plastic visible anywhere in the cabin, and it’s difficult not to be impressed by the quality and detail on show. The switches are all finished in a classy metallic sheen, and all the surfaces are covered in beautifully stitched leather, or polished wood. Build quality really is top-notch. What's more, the standard electrically adjustable, massaging seats are wonderfully supportive, and make it easy to find a suitable driving position. Visibility is ok, although there is a blind-spot over your shoulder created by the thick C-pillars. The infotainment system is the latest version on BMW’s excellent iDrive, but for the first time in a BMW, it’s linked to a touch-screen. That means you can pinch and swipe maps, quickly enter addresses and so on, but we think the standard rotary controller is easier and less distracting to use while driving.
The latest 7 Series is the biggest yet, with the longest wheelbase of any car in this class, and that makes it the perfect tool for any chauffeur. Things feel very spacious inside, with plenty of room to stretch out in comfort, whether you’re sitting in the front or the back. If you are struggling for legroom, though, there is also a longer wheelbase version which is downright vast. The rear seats recline as standard – a feature you have to pay for on some rivals – and there are enough door bins, deep cubbies, pockets and cupholders to carry anything you could possibly need. There is even the option of fitting a fridge to sit in between the rear seats, but the compressor unit robs you of room in the boot. Speaking of which, the standard powered tailgate gives you access to a usefully wide, flat load bay with enough space for several large suitcases. Space is competitive with its rival saloons and the only way to carry more while encased in luxury is by buying a Range Rover.
Ride and handling
Previous 7s have placed too much emphasis on driving fun, and not enough on passenger comfort. BMW appears to have learnt its lesson this time around, though, with standard self-levelling air suspension and three-stage adaptive dampers fitted across the range. The result is that, on most surfaces, the 7 Series wafts along with impressive sophistication, especially on the motorway, where it’s an assured and comfy cruiser. Ultimately, though, the 7 still isn’t quite as sophisticated as its big rival from Mercedes. Even with the suspension in its softest setting, the ride can still be a bit more abrupt than you might expect, and there’s more road noise than you’d want as well. That said, the 7 Series does handle very nicely, with decent grip and surprising agility for such a large car (part of that is down to the carbon fibre used in the chassis, which is lightweight and really stiff). However, the steering is rather remote and a little inconsistent, and as a result, isn’t as sharp as a Jaguar XJ’s.
The engine in the 730d is a smooth, quiet straight-six diesel, and has huge torque when you need it. If you opt for the four-wheel drive xDrive model, it’ll also cover the 0-62mph benchmark sprint in less than six seconds. Even so, this is not really supposed to be a performance car, so it’s the smoothness of the drivetrain you’ll notice most. That's largely thanks to the brilliant eight-speed automatic gearbox, which always seems to be in exactly the right gear for the situation, and delivers instant changes in manual mode via the paddles mounted to the steering wheel. The engine never sends any unpleasant vibration through the controls, either, and the 740i and 750i petrols are smoother still, and even quicker to accelerate. Likewise, despite its focus on low emissions, the plug-in hybrid 740le gives really strong performance, and it'll do the best part of 30 miles on electric power only. The only drawback is that, when the four-cylinder petrol engine kicks in, it's quite noisy.
The 7 Series is deliberately priced to undercut its main rival, the Mercedes S-Class, so it looks like decent value. Better still, because of the impressively light chassis, it’s also a lot more economical than the Mercedes. The rear-drive 730d, for example, returns an official 60.1mpg – almost 10mpg better than the equivalent Audi, Jaguar or Mercedes. It also emits just 124g/km on the standard 18-inch alloys, the kind of figure than medium-sized saloons were struggling to hit just a few years ago. That makes it cheaper to tax than its rivals, and a great company car, too. Those figures rise slightly if you add four-wheel drive, or opt for the heavier long wheelbase version, and the big petrols are much thirstier.
By far the most economical model is the plug-in hybrid 740e, with CO2 emissions of 49g/km (or 54 in the long-wheelbase version). This has considerable tax benefits for company car drivers, but even BMW will tell you that the hybrid makes most sense if you do a lot of town driving. If you spend a lot of time on motorways, the diesel will return much better fuel economy.
On the plus side, servicing costs are covered for the first five years or 50,000 miles of ownership, so the only major cost consideration is the depreciation. Luxury cars of this type simply don’t hold onto their value as well as large SUVs, or rarer models from the likes of Bentley and Maserati.
A brief inspection of the Warranty Direct Reliability Index makes fairly grim reading for BMW. The firm has two models in the bottom ten of the list, one of which is the previous 7 Series. The most common complaints concerned the engine and suspension, parts that aren’t exactly easy – or cheap - to fix. However, BMW can take some solace from the fact that none of the premium brands (apart from Lexus) perform especially well, either. In fact, as a manufacturer, BMW ranks higher than Mercedes, Audi, Jaguar and Bentley. The standard warranty cover is for three years, and has no mileage limit, which is a vote of confidence in the new car’s mechanical sturdiness.
The 7 Series is a rolling test bed for all kinds on new technology that will soon become the new industry standard, and safety is another area where BMW is pushing the boundaries. That doesn’t mean the 7 misses out on any of the obvious stuff, with front, side and head airbags for those in the front and the back. As standard, you also get several traction and stability systems, active headrests that minimise whiplash and a pre-collision warning system that prepares the cabin for a crash and takes action to mitigate personal injury. Autonomous emergency braking, though, is an optional extra, which seems like an odd omission given the price – and ethos – of the car. The 7 Series has not yet been crash tested by Euro NCAP, but the options list includes kit such as a night vision camera, head-up display, and something called ‘Driving Assistant Plus’, which essentially uses a variety of sensors to drive the car for you. It does still require you to have your hands on the wheel at all times – for now – as legislation prevents the car driving itself. But, the BMW 7 Series feels as if it’s already halfway there.
While the options on cars of this size and price are expensive, you might not actually need as many of them as you’d think with the 7 Series, no matter what spec you choose. Every model comes with metallic paint, heated front and rear seats, soft leather, climate control which can be individually tailored to each passenger, DAB radio, WiFi and cruise control. The huge key also doubles up as a remote control, allowing the owner to turn the lights on and off, programme the air-con and check how much fuel you have left from the comfort of your armchair. In time, you’ll also be able to hop out while the car parks itself. Long wheelbase versions get additional kit to improve passenger comfort, with a sunroof, rear sunblinds and smarter light fittings around the B-pillars. The options list is extensive, so you can personalise as much as you can afford, with a wide variety of paint, trim, wood and leather options for different surfaces. The optional Bowers & Wilkins stereo is superb, and you can even fit the car with a pack of its own carefully selected perfumes to waft through the cabin, or a tablet computer that sits in the rear armrest and lets those in the back control all the major functions. Technology and luxury working at their best, for a price of course.
If you want the ultimate luxury saloon, but also enjoy the occasional drive, then the BMW 7 Series should definitely be on your shopping list. The technology on show eclipses even the mighty S-Class, and the interior is almost as luxurious and palatial as the Merc’s.