No best seller, just the best of its kind

The BMW 7 Series isn’t always the most obvious choice when shopping for a luxury car. This might seem an odd statement given that the line has been around since 1977 and is the receptacle into which BMW pours everything it knows about the automobile, but it’s nevertheless a fact. And it’s a fact underscored by sales, the big BMW being easily outsold in this country by the Jaguar XJ and the Mercedes S Class. The 7 Series has the Audi A8 and the Lexus LS covered but it’s by no means the big mover and shaker in its sector.

Sunday, 23rd September 2012, 7:59 am

BMW major on drivers’ cars, and the luxury sector is one where dynamic excellence is often nudged down the priorities list by fit and finish, dealer experience, image and styling. The latest 7 Series aims to improve the customer proposition with sharper styling, better efficiency and an interesting hybrid option.

The 7 Series has long been the sharpest steer in the executive sector and BMW hasn’t been able to resist tweaking the suspension of this car a little. Modified rubber bearings, ball joints, stiffer dampers and retuned kinematics aim to offer an even better ride/handling compromise while self-levelling air suspension on the rear axle is now standard across the range. An electronically controlled damping system separates compression and rebound settings at each corner, enhancing the car’s appeal to drivers.

All models other than the range-topping 760Li get electric power assistance for the steering, while Integral Active Steering is available as an option (and standard on 760Li), which combines the Active Steering system with a rear axle that also plays its part. The steering angle and power assistance at front and rear is controlled with electric motors. The most popular engine choice for UK buyers is the 258PS 3.0-litre 730d diesel while at the other extreme of the range is the 5,972cc 760Li V12, which features TwinPower turbo technology and delivers 544PS, taking it to 62mph in just 4.6secs.

The BMW ActiveHybrid7 uses a 320PS 3.0-litre petrol engine borrowed from the 740i and mates it to a synchronous electric motor, driven from a lithium-ion battery. Combined, the motor and engine can rustle up 354PS and 500Nm of torque. Other highlights include the 449PS 750i with its 4.4 V8 and the more mainstream 320PS 740i, a car that’s a little overshadowed by its 740d diesel sibling, which manages 313PS and a rippling 630Nm of torque. 7 Series buyers might be spoiled for choice when it comes to engines, but there’s no choice when it comes to transmissions. All models get an eight-speed automatic gearbox.

The latest 7 Series is one of those cars that looks indisputably more modern than before but it’s hard to figure out quite why at first. That’s because BMW has been deliberately subtle about the exterior styling updates. The main exterior changes are to the front and rear of the car, but in addition, the 8mm drop in the overall height of the vehicle has given it a more purposeful stance.

At the front, adaptive LED headlights can also be specified. Turn indicators on the lower part of the door mirrors, a redesigned rear light cluster, and a splash more chrome on the back end complete the look.

The interior Dakota or Exclusive Nappa leather is finished with real attention to detail. There’s additional soundproofing in the window pillars to reduce wind rustle at speed, and BMW has also added more in the sills and boot areas. Variable colour ambient lighting is a classy touch. The seats have been redesigned for better comfort and support while “Comfort” seats can also be ordered, fitted with either folding tables or a rear seat entertainment system that features 9.2-inch colour screens which appear to be “floating” thanks to their new slim design.

Individual electrically adjustable rear Comfort seats are bound to be a popular option, while for real back seat indulgence, try the long wheelbase version of the new 7 Series, with an extra 140mm in the wheelbase devoted to rear seat legroom and an extra 10mm of rear seat headroom as well.

The 730d – the model which has accounted for well over half of all UK 7 Series sales since its introduction – remains the focus of BMW dealer attention, and it’s still a real winner when compared to many of its peers.

It looks extremely strong value with a moderately optioned model weighing in at around £60,000. There are some boxes you really do need to tick when ordering your Seven, many of which take advantage of the more powerful operating system governing the central Control Display. This makes entertainment programs simpler to operate, optimises office and online services and makes using the telephone that much easier.

The BMW Professional Navigation system is now more powerful and features sharper map graphics and a 3D city mode, while passengers can take advantage of the full range of in-journey entertainment offered by BMW Online, all the office functions and BMW Mobile app preparation. Although many of us like to use the car to get away from the office, access to all of this information and communications kit is hugely empowering for business users on the go.

There’s a whole host of clever safety features available too, although I’m not sure how many customers will be willing to put their hand in their pocket for features like BMW Night Vision featuring Dynamic Light Spot with pedestrian recognition technology, anti-dazzle LED High-Beam Assistant and Driving Assistant Plus with Stop & Go function and Speed Limit Display.

Fitted as standard is Dynamic Safety with attention assistant. This initiates protective measures for the occupants if an accident situation is imminent. It includes seat belt tensioning, closure of any open windows, closure of sliding sunroof (if fitted), repositioning of passenger seat and automatic braking after impact. Reassuring. Perhaps the 7 Series’ most interesting rival is one from within – the four-door BMW 6 Series Gran Coupe. It’ll be interesting to see how many sales this car will scavenge.

The good news for existing 7 Series buyers is that the exterior changes to this model are subtle enough not to punch a big hole in the residual value of their car, which should hold firm at around 38 per cent after three years for a 730d which reflects its position in the market. In other words, it’s not quite as good as a Jaguar XJ or a Mercedes S-Class but better than an Audi A8.

Few can touch the 7 Series when it comes to efficiency though, with the 730d returning 50.4mpg and emitting just 148g/km of CO2. The punchier 740d isn’t far behind, with 49.6mpg and 149g/km, while petrol buyers will like the 740i’s 35.8mpg and 184g/km. Of particular interest here is the ActiveHybrid7 which, if driven responsibly, will eke 41.5 miles from a gallon of petrol and emit just 158g/km.

The 7 Series’ ECO PRO mode modifies the powertrain management and programming of the heating and air conditioning, heated seats and exterior mirror heating, to operate at optimum efficiency. It also encourages an economical driving style.

The BMW 7 Series has done excellent business for its Munich manufacturer but has never carved out a big slice of the pie in the UK. Since it was launched, a number of very talented rivals have arrived on the scene to further complicate its task, but a policy of continuous incremental improvement has seen it maintain its position as the best of the luxury saloons to drive.

It remains a hard car to love but one that demands respect. It’s a towering technical achievement and one that does everything you’d expect from a flagship BMW. The 3.0-litre diesel engine is the most relevant and, with abundant torque, it never feels as if you’ve taken the low cost option. If you do prefer the response of a petrol engine, don’t overlook the clever ActiveHybrid7 model.

CAR BMW 7 Series

PRICE £57,430-£102,555

PERFORMANCE Max speed 
155 mph; 0-62 mph 4.6-7.3 secs

MPG 21.7-50.4 combined

CO2 EMISSIONS 148-303g/km