Superb V8 power, or a well-integrated hybrid. And it’s – illogically – pretty brilliant to drive
Obviously it’s hilariously, unforgivably ugly. And the ride isn’t quite as pillowy as you’d expect
What is it?
Well, it used to be the ultimate BMW. A 7 Series was the undisputed flagship. But is that the case any more? Especially now that the X7 exists – a luxury limo in the (ghastly) shape of a seven-seat SUV. There’s the new 8 Series too, which will spawn a four-door saloon version – with an M badge. Certainly, there are other BMWs vying for the title of boss of the family.
Meanwhile, BMW’s been listening to what its customers wanted from the 7 to beat the likes of the Mercedes S-Class (traditionally the class-defining leader in the limo set) and the Audi A8. And, what they came up with was a triple-threat approach. “Make it more imposing, make it look more different to a 3 and 5 Series, and give us more novelty features,” said the customers.
Well, we can probably tick off tasks 1 & 2. The new 7 Series is a mildly terrifying looking object, thanks mostly to slimmer laser headlights framing a grille that’s 40 per cent bigger than the last version. No kidding. The whole bonnet is 50mm higher to squeeze in the mega grille, all in the name of giving the car more road presence. Lower down, the bumper now has cleaner, slipperier aero, diverting draughts into the front wheelarches and back out again by newly vertical ‘air breather’ vents, which reduce drag. Boy is it bluff to look at. A BMW caricature. In a hall of mirrors.
Round the back, the LED lights are now more angular and their lighting elements animate and ‘scroll’ across the car. Apparently the boss of BMW Korea hugged the designers when they demonstrated this, so grateful was he that this gimmick – sorry, novelty – had been built in. Oh, and there’s a full-width light bar at the back, like every other German car these days.
Are you not convinced? Are you wretching over your screen? Well frankly, unless you’re in China, BMW doesn’t give a monkey’s. In China, the 7 Series has a 40 per cent market share, and the big grilles and XXL chrome is bang-on for Asian tastes. BMW says it’s also had bags of positive feedback about how the car looks from American and European customers. They seem to be quite difficult to track down, though…
Inside, the 7 has been gifted a new centre console layout with flush glossy buttons from the 8 Series, and the new digital dials from right across the BMW range.
The highlight is the bodyshell. BMW made use of techniques and production methods devised for the i3 and i8 to trim 40kg from the 7’s chassis, which incorporates bits of carbon fibre (some as long as a normal-sized bloke is tall) for added stiffness, strength and lightness. All told, the new 7 is some 130kg lighter than the old car. A net 200 if you factor in all the added kit, which weighs 70kg by itself.
Powertrain wise, the biggest improvements come in the 740Le plug-in hybrid, which can now go up to 36 miles on a charge, thanks to a 40 per cent increase in battery capacity. There’s also an entirely new, and utterly glorious V8, in the 750i, which is great news for American customers but of little note in Britain, where it’ll incur more tax than a cross-channel ferry.
The M760Li V12 lives on, albeit dropping below 600bhp because of pesky new particulate filters strangling the power a touch. We doubt you’ll notice.
Now, onto the road in the 750i. The good news starts immediately…
What's the verdict?
The 7 Series is a difficult car to love, because, well... look at it. It screams ostentatiousness, and just a hint (okay, quite a lot) of visual insecurity.
That’s a pity, because under its criminal e-fit face, it’s a very talented limo, the best in its class to drive, in fact. Traditionally, in this class you default to a Mercedes S-Class, because it defines the big limo sector. But you really might pick a 7 Series on merit, instead of just to be different.
It drives with real accuracy and aplomb. The powertrains are magnificent. It’s beautifully put together. It’s too complicated to operate the infotainment (like most other cars of its ilk) and the ride should be more pillowy. That’s not enough to put us off. But the looks. Another matter entirely…