Each week our team of experienced senior road testers pick out a new model from the world of innovative, premium and performance badges, and put it through its paces.
Although the history of the 7-series can be traced back through six distinct generations to 1977, its actual lineage is older still, dating from 1968 and the introduction of BMW’s first full-sized saloon. This was the so-called ‘New Six’ because of the new family of six-cylinder engines that, like the four-headlight grille, would form part of BMW’s design and engineering language for decades to come.
The first generation of 7-series was also exclusively powered by six-cylinder engines though in some left-hand drive markets, a turbo version, the 745i, was offered. It was only with the second generation introduced in 1986 that, for the first time in almost 20 years, BMW offered something other than a six-cylinder motor in its largest saloon, with a V8 for the 730i and 740i and a new V12 for the 750i. The third generation appeared in 1995, with the 750i proudly boasting more computing power than that required to put man on the moon. Perhaps more importantly, this was also the first 7-series to use diesel engines.
Development of the 7-series since this time has majored on improving refinement and widening the powertrain choice to include four-wheel drive and even a 6-litre V12 developing 537bhp. The most recent 7-series also provided the platform for the Rolls-Royce Ghost, Wraith and Dawn.
For better or worse, BMW continues to style its flagship limousine for those intent on not standing out from the crowd. Its surface is contemporary but not avant garde, its demeanour discreet. This is BMW recognising it has plenty of cars in its portfolio from the X6 to the i8 that cater very well for those of more extrovert character: the 7-series is for hard-working executives with jobs to do and the need for a fast, comfortable and clinically effective environment in which to do it.
Beneath that sober skin however is a car bristling with technology, be it designed-in, like the carbonfibre reinforced polymer material that blends with the predominated steel and aluminium structure to cut weight and add strength – or added on like a satnav system so sophisticated it can react to mere gestures made by your fingers in the air, and the removable tablet between the rear seat that allows your passengers to control the entertainment and surf the internet.
Ten years ago, a 0-62mph time of 6.1sec and top speed of 155mph would be the proud performance claims of a very fast sports car. Twenty years ago, you’d need something closer to a supercar. Now these figures belong to the standard, entry level 730d, the cheapest, slowest 7-series you can buy.
Which would be remarkable enough on its own, even if you didn’t know about the silken shifts of its eight-speed automatic gearbox and engine noise so muted you really only know it’s a diesel if you open the windows while parked at traffic lights. In fact, the 730d can do all this while delivering a claimed 60.1mpg Combined fuel consumption. And even if you are now rightly suspicious of all such claims from every manufacturer, there is no denying the savings in company and car tax brought by the stunningly low 124g/km CO2 figure. The forthcoming hybrid version, powered by a 2-litre petrol engines, will lower these costs further.
By the standards of other full-sized saloons, the 730d is still enjoyable to drive and so it should be because that has been this car’s USP in the class for almost four decades. But there has been a shift of focus here too. Too often in the past the 7-series’ unlikely agility has come at the price of ride comfort, leading many commentators to observe it lacks one of the key qualities of a true luxury car. No longer: BMW has traded just a touch of that handling verve that, in the real world, few owners would use, for a substantial upgrade in suspension compliance that will benefit everyone who travels in the car every time they climb aboard. And while the result is perhaps a fraction less involving to drive, the 7-series has now been armed with the full array of talents necessary to make it big in the fiercely competitive world of mainstream limousines.
Cost of our car – £58,275
Photography courtesy of BMW