Driven: BMW 7 Series

Who needs British Airways when you’ve got a BMW 7 Series, your own private cross-continental cruiser?

The plan was to fly to the Frankfurt motor show with British Airways, but strike action by its pilots scuppered that idea. The solution was to abandon the cramped economy seats of an old Airbus and instead travel in what appears to be a business class lounge on wheels.

Let’s start with the most obvious change to the latest BMW 7 Series – the grille. Yes, it’s enormous, and yes, there’s a lot of chrome. While it certainly has a presence, it’s not exactly elegant, but the Chinese market likes it and they buy a lot of these cars. Where China leads, Europe will follow, and it won’t be that long before these oversized appendages appear normal.

Beyond that, the 7 is a classically proportioned saloon, oozing sophistication and reigning in BMW’s usual aggressive style. In long-wheelbase form, as this model is, there’s an extra 14cm in between the wheels that elongate the car and requires an extended rear door that leads to the most important seats in the car.

The rear seats in this particular car are fitted with the optional £6,000 comfort package. Granted, they’re already pretty comfortable, but this adds plusher seats with cushion-like headrests, heating and massage functions for both seats, TVs for each side, and an entertainment unit with wireless headphones. Using a tablet that can be popped out of the armrest (which is also heated so you don’t get cold elbows) a passenger can control the navigation, audio, window blinds and even lighting in the car, although for safety’s sake the driver can block some of that.

Adaptive air suspension keeps the ride smooth, especially when set to Comfort Plus. In this setting, it just glides over undulations as if they weren’t there, but you do pay the price if you find yourself facing a corner. Sport mode stiffens the car up, where it manages to be surprisingly agile despite its almost 5.3m length. Sure, it’s not going to worry a driver of a hot hatch, but it’ll surprise your passengers with its cross-country alacrity.

A 3.0-litre twin-turbo diesel engine provides the power, most of which arrives low down in the rev range. This is the entry to 7 Series propulsion but with a 0-62mph time of just 6.2 seconds and a limited maximum speed of 155mph, there’s little reason to move up from here. There’s no refinement penalty for running the diesel option either, as it’s virtually inaudible.

BMW has gone to great lengths to improve insulation in the latest 7, and it now feels like a match for the Mercedes S-Class. Extra thick windows and increased soundproofing insulation keeps the outside world at bay, with even autobahn speeds nudging 150mph still leaving the interior hushed.

Current BMW drivers will recognise most of the equipment in the front, although it’s been wrapped up in some thicker leather, finer wood and even more polished metal. It’s fundamentally the same as a 3 Series though, with the same infotainment system and near-identical layout of controls, which is a bit disappointing when you can easily hit a six-figure price tag with options. There are no complaints about what’s fitted though, with only the fitting of a head-up display as a pricey option being a jarring omission. That, and smartphone connectivity – if you want Apple CarPlay, you have to pay for a subscription beyond year one, while Android Auto is entirely absent. Given that both are standard fitment on a £9,000 Dacia Sandero, that’s just greedy.

Despite that, and having to rely on BMW navigation system (it actually worked well!) the BMW 7 Series proved itself to be supremely capable over the 1,035 miles to Frankfurt and back. It drank 115 litres of diesel in that time, which translates to an impressive 40.9mpg, but that was the most painful part of the journey.

For as long as anyone can remember, the luxury end of the market has been dominated by Mercedes and BMW; you bought the S-Class is you were going to be driven, or the BMW if you were going to drive. Now I’m not so sure that gap exists, as the latest 7 Series matches the best in class whichever seat you’re sat in.

Model Tested: BMW 730Ld
Price: £72,200
Range: £69,565 – £136,930
Top speed: 155 mph
0-62 mph: 6.2 seconds
Power: 265 PS (261 bhp)
Torque: 620 Nm (457 lb ft)
Monthly PCP*: £986
Official economy: 40.9 mpg
Road test economy: 40.7 mpg
CO2 Emissions: 142 g/km
Car Tax: £465
Insurance group: 49P
* Monthly PCP estimate based on 20% deposit, 36 month term, 5% APR, final payment of 40%.
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Phil is a motoring writer for print and web, failed racing driver, car hoarder and banger rally competitor. Nominated for the Headline Auto Rising Star award and a MGMW member, Phil freelances for outlets as diverse as Diesel Car magazine, and Cambridge Magazine, amongst many others. He also maintains a fleet of unloved motors, but spends most of his time driving an old Corvette.

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