Big sports saloon or limo? Actually, the long-wheelbase BMW 7-series aims towards the genuine limo class. And it's huge. Huge enough to make you wonder if a 3.0-litre turbodiesel could ever be enough to shift you in VIP-style haste.
So is the BMW 7-series a great limo to spend time in?
From the driving seat you'll soon forget the 'L' on the boot badge. It's all standard 7-series up-front, and that means supportive seats, a great driving position and the expectation that you're going to enjoy yourself. Get in the back, however, and you’re treated to more legroom than a basketball player could reasonably need.
Problem is, the 7-series is getting on a bit now. An all-new car – that will also spawn a baby Rolls-Royce – will be launched at the 2008 Paris show this autumn. That means we've all had long enough to get used to the way this cars looks (it was the first Bangle Beemer to be launched) and, while you wouldn't say it's dated outside, the dashboard is feeling its age.
Ergonomically it's a mess. The i-Drive system is cumbersome. The arrangement of column stalks is confusing, so much so that you're bound to try and turn the wipers on with the transmission selector and the indicators with the cruise control. And the slot for the cartridge key with its accompanying Start button looks like the tacky afterthought it is.
Material quality ain't so hot either, with some distinctly ordinary plastic surfaces to be found surrounding the glossy veneers. And the twang when you slam the doors is a surprise, and a detail that the competition from Ingolstadt would never get wrong.
Okay, but what about the drive?
If you can forget all that, then you'll enjoy punting the big Beemer along. It certainly doesn't lack poke, and the straight six diesel growls encouragingly too. The automatic gearbox is pretty lazy in Comfort mode but much more eager in Sport, or you can select Manual and shift yourself with the (slightly awkward) steering wheel buttons.
The steering is quick and precise but utterly numb, and there's great fluency as you pile through a series of bends. Yet there's a 'but' coming.
Who buys a limo to go hunting out the best backroads? This car should be all about cosseting its passengers, and that's where it goes wrong. Yes, there's an acreage of lounging room in the back but your rear seat guests are going to get queasy. Put simply, the ride just isn't up to scratch. It thumps with much greater resolve than it should over surface lumps, and wallows over the longer-wavelength stuff too. You'd accept some firmness to the ride in a standard-wheelbase car because it's the BMW of big saloons, the kind of car a captain of industry would choose to drive himself. But, unless you've got some seriously lanky kids to cart about, you're not going to choose the Ld as your own personal wheels.
BMW must be aiming at a tiny niche with the 730Ld. A £55k limo needs to ride better and just forget any pretensions to being a sporting saloon. Make your mind up, BMW.