What is it?
The sixth-generation BMW 7 Series is a pivotal new luxury saloon that looks set to make quite an impact on the luxury car ranks when it goes sale here in November following a debut at next month’s Frankfurt motor show.
As befits its range-topping status, the new four-door comes loaded with a host of new technology. Among its highlights are intelligent lightweight carbonfibre construction solutions, new-generation six-cylinder petrol and diesel engines, a high-quality interior with the latest in internet-supported connectivity and gesture-based controls, stereo camera and radar-based autonomous driving and safety features and an optional smart key that allows you to monitor functions such as fuel range and interior temperature from the palm of your hand.
Also available with an autonomous parking function that enables you to step out and park the car it at the press of a button, it aims to launch a serious challenge to the sales dominance of the Mercedes-Benz S-Class while providing stiffer competition to the Audi A8, Jaguar XJ and Lexus LS than the seven-year-old model it replaces.
The new 7 Series, which is available in both standard and long-wheelbase guises, receives an evolutionary design that helps provide it with visual continuality. But despite flaunting a bolder face than before, it lacks the outright presence of some rivals.
Its slightly sleeker form provides it with a class-leading drag co-efficient of just 0.24. In combination with a new turbocharged 3.0-litre in-line six-cylinder diesel engine in the rear-wheel-drive 730d driven here, the slippery shape contributes to exceptional combined fuel consumption of 62.8mpg and average CO2 emissions of just 119g/km.
The evolutionary approach evident in the styling is also reflected in the dimensions. At 5098mm long, 1902mm wide and 1478mm high, the new 7 Series is just 19mm longer, the same width and 7mm higher than its predecessor in standard-wheelbase guise. The long-wheelbase variant is a further 139mm longer – 18mm longer than the model it replaces – at 5238mm. Both the standard and long-wheelbase variants share the same wheelbase measurements as those of the outgoing models, at 3070mm and 3210mm respectively.
Yet while the overall appearance and size of the new 7 Series are clearly similar to the old model, its construction and engineering introduces new processes and materials that are set to revolutionise the next generation of BMW models.
Drawing on methods first explored in the development of BMW’s i models, it incorporates a number of load-bearing carbonfibre-reinforced plastic components. The lightweight material, which can be found within the header rails, sills, B-pillar, centre tunnel and C-pillar, combines with additional aluminium elements to bring a 40kg reduction in weight over its predecessor. Further weight savings have been achieved with changes to the bodyshell, which receives newly designed aluminium doors (weighing 12kg less than before) as well as an aluminium roof panel.
The new 730d as tested tips the scales at 85kg under that of the outgoing 730d, at 1755kg, making it 25kg lighter than the Audi A8 3.0 TDI and Mercedes-Benz S350 CDI. It’s also 200kg lighter than the Jaguar XJ 3.0D.
When it hits UK showrooms, the new 7 Series will be offered with the choice of two new six-cylinder engines, both mated to a standard eight-speed automatic gearbox that uses a longer final drive ratio and a shift strategy that operates in conjunction with the satellite navigation system for greater efficiency. Buyers can choose a Steptronic variant of the ZF-produced gearbox with shift paddles on the steering wheel as an option.
The B57 engine used by the 730d develops 7bhp and 45lb ft more than the N57 engine it replaces, with 261bhp and 457lb ft. Along with the aforementioned consumption and CO2 emission figures that better the old 730d by a staggering 12.4mpg and 29g/km, it endows the most affordable of the new 7 Series models with the same 0-62mph time of 6.1sec and 155mph top speed as its predecessor.
Also included in the line-up is BMW’s new B58 petrol unit in the 740i. The turbocharged 3.0-litre engine delivers 6bhp more than the old N55 powerplant it replaces, at 321bhp. Torque remains the same at 332lb ft, endowing it with a 0-62mph time of 5.5sec and 155mph top speed, along with combined fuel consumption of 42.8mpg and CO2 emissions of 154g/km.
What’s it like?
BMW has always endeavoured to make the 7 Series the most engaging car in its class to drive, often at the expense of outright comfort. For this sixth-generation model, however, the focus has shifted.
The agility and sportiness inherent in the previous versions remain at the core of the new model, and in certain cases is improved upon by the inclusion of a rear-wheel steer function in combination with the BMW’s xDrive four-wheel drive system. But it is now supported by additional levels of primary and secondary comfort, making this latest 7 Series more limousine-like in character than any of its predecessors.
This impression is apparent the moment you sit on the new seats, which are more softly cushioned and more substantial than those used by the fifth-generation 7 Series, both up front and in the rear. They are just one example of BMW’s efforts to instil greater levels of comfort. Another is its newly developed suspension system, which now boasts air springs front and rear, rather than just at the rear as before.
As a result, the new model adopts continuously variable damping control, automatic self-levelling and an ability to alter the 135mm ride height on the go. The driver can raise ground clearance by 20mm at speeds below 22mph, while in Sport mode the ride height is automatically reduced by 10mm at certain speeds.
The new 7 Series also comes with optional electro-hydraulically operated roll bars as part of an optional Executive Drive Pro function on most models. They replace the previous hydraulically operated roll bars, bringing what BMW describes as faster damper reaction times for improved ride comfort, a more progressive build-up of lean and reduced body roll.
In 730d guise, the new BMW is reassuringly muscular and satisfyingly refined. Its six-cylinder diesel engine provides lively off-the line acceleration and gathers speed in a wonderfully nonchalant manner on a pegged throttle. It can get a little vocal when you switch into manual mode and hold on to lower gears longer than is absolutely necessary, but in automatic mode the revised gearbox shifts up well before engine noise threatens to become an issue.
Unsurprisingly, the 730d feels most at home at a steady cruise on the motorway. The long-legged gearing and relatively strong reserves of low-end torque make it every bit as impressive from the driver’s seat as it is with your legs stretched out in the back. There is some light buffeting of wind around the door mirrors, although only at very high speeds.
The 7 Series now offers four differing modes via an optional Driver Experience Control function, including a new Comfort Plus mode. You can also dial up Comfort, Sport and Adaptive modes, the last of which is also new and seems the most logical choice in everyday driving.
There’s a new subtlety to the way the new saloon gets along, both around town and on the open road. In Comfort Plus mode the new BMW is much quieter and noticeably smoother than its predecessor. The suspension is far less sensitive to surface coarseness and has greater ability to sponge away bumps, making it more relaxing and unruffled to travel in over longer distances.
Crucially, the softer-riding traits of the new car do not compromise its handling when you switch to Sport. Superb damper tuning provides excellent body control and truly impressive B-road ability for such a big car. There are also impressive levels of grip.
As part of BMW’s weight saving efforts some 40kg has been pared from the suspension, bringing a 10kg reduction at each corner. As before, it also claims a perfect 50/50 front-to-rear weight distribution, while the efforts to trim weight within the roof have resulted in the centre of gravity being lowered slightly.
Allied to the new suspension is a new electro-mechanical steering system. It reverts to a fixed-ratio rack in place of the variable-ratio rack of the old model. As fitted to our test car, the new 7 Series also comes with an optional rear-wheel steer function, providing up to 3deg of countersteer for added manoeuvrability in town, or 2deg of parallel steer for greater agility on the open road.
Having initially praising the new steering following a brief run in a prototype version of the 740i, we’ve got some reservations after trying it on the road. The weighting is lighter and more accommodating than before, but it lacked the consistency of the earlier example we drove when turning from dead centre. It is fine at lower speeds around town, but the combination of increasing assistance and weighting often proves more of a hindrance than a benefit at higher speeds.
The interior receives an evolutionary update with a new dashboard that is finished in higher-grade materials that help provide a more luxurious feel than at any time in the model’s 38-year history. Among the highlights are new digital instrument graphics that change colour depending on the driving mode, a redesigned multi-function steering wheel, touch-sensitive air conditioning controls and revised switchgear.
There’s also a fifth-generation iDrive system with a new touchpad and touchscreen functions as part of an optional Navigation System Professional, allowing you to operate various functions in a similar style to that of a smartphone with pinch, point and swipe commands, or alternatively via the rotary dial on the centre console.
Optional gesture control is also offered for the first time. It uses a three-dimensional sensor mounted within the headlining to detect hand movements that control functions including the volume of the stereo and the acceptance or rejection of calls. If that’s not enough, an upgraded speech control system is also available.
Despite only incremental increases in exterior dimensions, there is a feeling of greater accommodation whether sitting up front or in the rear – the latter of which feels truly expansive in long-wheelbase guise.
Should I buy one?
It is hard to see why not. The new 7 Series is a significantly better car than its predecessor. Its evolutionary styling may not move the game along in the way some BMW diehards may have hoped, but its classy interior, added interior space, high-tech underpinnings and dazzling range of options elevate it to a new level of excellence, making it a much more serious rival to the A8, XJ and S-class than the old model in terms of pure desirability.
In 730d guise, it delivers strong performance and impressive refinement along with outstanding economy. Most important, it still manages to provide an engaging driving experience while delivering much-improved ride comfort. It is equally as compelling from the driver’s seat as it is from the rear quarters. Be careful in choosing those options, though. From its attractive base price of £64,530, the new BMW quickly becomes a much pricier proposition.
Location Portugal; On sale November; Price £64,530; Engine 6 cyls, 2993cc, diesel; Power 261bhp at 4000rpm; Torque 457lb ft at 2000-2500rpm; Gearbox 8-spd automatic; Kerb weight 1755kg; 0-62mph 6.1sec; Top speed 155mph; Economy 62.8mpg (combined); CO2/tax band 119g/km, 21%
What is it?