► That £85,810, 523bhp 7-Series you’ve been waiting for…
► All-wheel-drive, V8 version of the facelifted 7-series tested
► Chassis tweaks, revised engines, aesthetic workover
Time waits for no man, and no car, either. And so BMW’s deliciously conservative and capable flagship saloon, the 7-series, gets a working over, four years after it launched.
You won’t have missed the 7’s polarising exterior design changes, particularly the full-width rear lights and higher prow, with its vast kidney grilles. But they’re the aesthetically challenging tip of an iceberg that runs to cabin-hushing acoustic work, chassis revisions and an evolved engine line-up.
Of particular note on the engine front are the gutsier plug-in hybrid, the 745e (which ditches the old 740e’s over-worked inline four for a six) and the 750i, powered by a heavily revised petrol V8. We’re driving that V8 here, complete with mandatory (with this engine) xDrive all-wheel drive and optional M Sport specification.
I don’t know why you’re showing me this – don’t you know what’s happening to our planet?
Yep, well aware; rising sea levels, Greta Thunburg, rainforests disappearing at a rate of several football pitches a second. Got it. But this is perhaps the zenith of the petrol-engined luxury performance car as we know and love it. For that reason alone it deserves a moment of your time.
We were big fans of this generation of BMW’s flagship saloon in its initial form, particularly in almost affordable and laudably efficient 730d guise. The facelift does nothing to change the remit: this is still a hugely refined conveyance that, while targeting Merc’s imperious S-class, weighs in with a subtly different personality. True to their respective brands, the BMW enjoys a good road. The S-class less so.
Not a monstrous liability on the road, then?
Far from it. Climb in, wake the V8, get moving and the ease and swiftness with which your confidence builds is impressive. The driving position is perfect, with huge adjustability to the supportive, cosseting seats. The steering, while horrendously complex – speed-sensitive, variable ratio and linked to rear-wheel steering – is accurate, sweetly-weighted and intuitive. Only the throttle response, which is painfully lethargic in the default Comfort drive mode, threatens to spoil the serenity. So jump into the drive modes and configure your own settings.
Do so and the 750i becomes a sublime machine in which to travel. Because you can place it on the road so effortlessly its size is almost inconsequential, while the tangibly rigid bodyshell – reinforced with carbonfibre – and epic powertrain breed a smug and mile-devouring sense of capability and composure.
The chassis has the lot, from optimised double-wishbone front and multi-link rear suspension through adaptive dampers with self-levelling air springs to Executive Drive Pro, BMW’s electric anti-roll control. The two pre-set drive modes cover both sides of the 7’s character nicely, with Comfort giving a lush, lump-smothering ride quality (helped, no doubt, by the car’s substantial kerb weight…) and Sport tightening the 7’s body control and responses to a quite unlikely degree. It’s this ability to suddenly bristle with agility, responsiveness and real dynamic feedback that sets the 7 apart from its Mercedes rival. The 750i is a blast to drive quickly, and feels entirely at ease doing so.
Best of both worlds, then?
Well, yes and no. Sadly the 7’s most luxurious settings can’t match the Merc for ride quality. More vicious ridges and broken tarmac aren’t smothered particularly convincingly, perhaps because of our car’s combination of run-flat rubber and 20-inch wheels. Maybe the £1995 M Sport package is to blame, though its upgraded brakes feel like a must-have given the V8’s turn of speed.
Moving to super-soft Comfort Plus doesn’t solve the ride problem, either. Instead the BMW simply abandons every shred of body control to become a heaving, quite unpleasant bouncy castle on wheels. If outright comfort is paramount, the Mercedes is still king.
That said, the 7-Series is every bit as hushed as you’d hope. That acoustic glass in particular contributes to real peace and quiet on the move – a rare thing in 2019, and particularly appreciated when you’ve a long shift to put in.
And under the hood?
You can’t criticise BMW for a lack of choice on this front, even if Mercedes will be first to deliver a battery-electric flagship, the fairly imminent EQS. The revised 7-series is offered with petrol and diesel engines with six-, eight- and twelve cylinders, as well as the plug-in hybrid 745e.
The petrol engines feel the full force of BMW’s century-plus of expertise in the field: all-aluminium construction, twin-scroll turbos, precision fuel injection, variable valve timing and variable camshaft control.
Yes there’s the V12, for absolute excess, but there’s also the hugely overhauled V8. More powerful and 74lb ft twistier than the engine it replaces, it’s closely related to the unit in the 850i, with its distinctive hot-in-vee turbo plumbing for endless cooling fan action whenever you park up. It’s a fantastic engine to live with, so long as you can afford the bills. Economy hovered around the mid-20s in our long-term test 850i, and the 750i returns similar numbers.
Helping sugar the pill is serious performance, particularly when accelerating from low speed thanks to the absolute traction of xDrive, crisp response and mighty grunt. There’s a beguiling soundtrack, too, one that runs the full spectrum, from sophisticated burble at idle to meaty roar as you work the car harder. ZF’s brilliant eight-speed does nothing to ruin the moment, with uncannily intelligent mapping, buttery shifts and zero-delay response to the paddles.
Knock back the stability control, push harder and xDrive refuses to feel four-wheel drive or numb, preferring instead to tighten your line under power. The 7-series feels rear-wheel drive, primarily because it is almost all of the time, only resorting to driving the front wheels when you’re clumsy or the weather’s poor. Since you have to have xDrive on anything meatier than the 730d, it’s a relief that the system’s wholly convincing.
Gesture control working properly yet?
It’s undoubtedly been evolved but it’s still not good enough to become your norm. it frustrates too often, as does voice control. Fortunately the combination of touchscreen, iDrive and wireless CarPlay is a pretty formidable one. Wireless phone charging is a thing of beauty, as are the aforementioned seats, and the BMW’s interior design. Too traditional for some, it undoubtedly lacks the flair of the S-Class’s cockpit, which manages to feel more hotel lounge than car. The 7-series is very definitely a car interior, just an immaculately finished one in which time seems to hold no meaning.
Beautiful though the 750i’s V8 is to drive, it’s tough to recommend it over the more affordable, far more efficient and barely any less refined 730d. But the big petrol is worth a test drive, and don’t go blaming us if, regardless of all the disadvantages, you decide you simply must have it…
Many can’t get past the new 7’s nostrils. They’re not elegant, agreed, but to dismiss a car this capable and charming on grounds of aesthetic detail would be churlish. Choose your spec and paint carefully and they can be rendered all but invisible. Then you’re left with a car of remarkable talents, even if it feels like a swansong of sorts. Hugely refined, spacious and easy to use, the 750i has the powertrain, performance, driver appeal and sophistication to make every drive, however ordinary, a privilege.
You’re probably expecting this road test to open with a remark about the vast grille now attached to the front of the facelifted BMW 7 Series – that it looks like a cross between Daddy Pig and a towel rail or something similar – but you would be wrong.
In fact what we’re chiefly interested in here is what’s behind the vast edifice, the engines which push that 50mm taller front end through the air. And its good news all round, particularly in the form of the pumped up V8 in the 750i xDrive.