What is it?:
It’s BMW’s new flagship model, and one that is looking to derail the sizeable market share that Mercedes has accumulated with its undeniably impressive S-Class. More than that, the 7 Series seems to be out to steal some of the limelight the S-Class enjoys as a known benchmark for cutting-edge technology and safety.
BMW has really gone to town. Not only has it used carbonfibre in the 7 Series’ construction but it has also included a wirelessly chargeable key with a 2.2in screen that acts as a remote for various functions as standard – including, eventually, remotely driving the car from the outside. Its exterior cameras will also recognise traffic jams and roadworks, then beam them back to a central hub before warning other BMW drivers. For relatively little extra, you can have a tablet included in the back, too.
Maybe the biggest hint that it’s out to ruffle the S-Class’s feathers is the Executive Drive Pro option, which acts like Mercedes’ Magic Ride by studying the road ahead and slackening the suspension to glide over large bumps. BMW is keen to point out, though, that unlike with the Mercedes, it can be fitted to both diesel and petrol models and works in the dark and rain.
Oh, and while the Mercedes provides four perfume choices to be pumped one at a time into its S-Class’s interior, BMW has developed eight, two of which you can flick between at your leisure. Now that’s progress.
Here we drive what’s likely to be the best seller, the 30d diesel, in what should be the similarly popular long-wheelbase form. It’s a compelling package, being closely priced to the equivalent S-Class, but quicker, and officially cleaner and more frugal.
What’s it like?:
A noticeably better prospect than that which went before in terms of interior quality, ride comfort and technology. Its engine, though, remains as good as it ever was. Although revised from the old 30d unit, there’s the similarly smooth punch of torque just a flex of the foot away. Speed builds extremely quickly and linearly, with the eight-speed automatic gearbox exploiting the engine’s torque band superbly well.
The previous 7 was always as concerned with agility as it was with ride comfort, hence a greater front-end urgency than its biggest rivals possess and also a firmer ride. However, BMW has fitted adjustable air suspension as standard to both of the new car’s axles, to ensure a better blend of work and play.
The result is certainly a more comfortable prospect than before; the way the 7 Series sponges away sleeping policemen and cushions undulating roads in its most compliant Comfort mode is an improvement. Unfortunately, though, as the roads on our route back to the UK changed from French to English, there was still a fidget to the secondary ride at low speeds from which an S-Class just doesn’t seem to suffer.
Dial it to Sport, and while the 7 Series is far from a properly engaging driver’s car, there’s certainly some fun to be had. Its steering is a little artificially weighted and just a touch vague off centre, but there’s enough precision, grip and willingness from the chassis for it to feel light on its feet.
The front passengers get a suitably massive range of seat adjustment and enough room to literally stretch out. Likewise, It’s almost impossible to be uncomfortable – or bored – in our long-wheelbase model’s executive seating, complete with heated, massaging seats, twin screens and snap-in tablet computer.
BMW’s iDrive has been turned up a notch for the new 7 Series. Its screen can now be controlled by both the rotary dial and touch, which makes hitting larger buttons quickly that little bit easier. Its sharp and colourful 10.3in screen looks fantastic, too, while for a further £160 it’s possible to control various functions by performing different hand gestures in front of the dashboard.
Cabin quality is a step up from BMW’s previous attempt, with the standard leather upgraded, a greater use and choice of different wood veneers and more advanced interior lighting options. Our car’s Bowers & Wilkins sound system is expensive at £4675, but it sounds superb and thanks to its intricate construction and soft backlighting, looks it, too.
Okay, so there’s ample opportunity to spend serious cash on options, but the standard equipment list is long. Even on the entry-level short-wheelbase 730d at £64,530, you can expect 18in wheels, leather seats heated front and rear, that Smart Display key, four-zone climate control, BMW’s highest level of iDrive with Bluetooth, DAB radio and sat-nav, keyless entry and drive and adaptive cruise control.
Should I buy one?:
There are many reasons why the 7 Series is a much better car than it was. It’s still one of the better luxury saloons to drive spiritedly, its cabin quality has been boosted to a far more competitive level and its combination of performance and efficiency in 30d form will appeal to private, company and fleet buyers alike.
There are still question marks over its low-speed ride, though, even if it never actually reaches uncomfortable levels. For those buying the 7 Series as much to drive as to be driven in, it’ll be a trade-off worth putting up with, but for luxury car buyers in search of the most pillowy progress, an S-Class still manages to keep its nose in front.