First Drive – BMW 750i

First Drive - BMW 750i

The 7-series has always baffled me. BMW’s 5-series is large enough for most uses and yet still cossets and indulges its driver and passengers.

Whereas the 7-series always felt a little too large for comfort on British roads and therefore less fun.

So I was rather concerned when I was told that the new F01 7-series represented the pinnacle of BMWs automotive philosophy – the very essence of BMW. I’m not sure that reflects my own experience of owning BMWs and should personal transportation ever be outlawed and BMW produce their last ever car, I for one hope it will be one of their M-Division models.

This is the fifth-generation of 7-series, replacing the E65 model which, although the best selling 7-series to date, was widely considered to be the least visually appealing – despite its facelift in 2005. Gone is the tacked-on slab of a bootlid, and the depressed front-end and bulky styling of its predecessor, to be replaced by what I and many others think is a much more cohesive and appealing design.

There are four things you need to know about the 7-series, three of them are class leading and one of them is not.

First the engines. BMW offered us a choice of two of the five new models available in the 7-series range; the 730d fitted with BMWs new all-aluminium 3-litre diesel and the flagship 750iL fitted with BMWs innovative new twin-turbo 4-litre V8. There is also a 740i which uses a slightly more powerful version of the twin turbo straight six from the 335i. The vitals rise from 306hp to 326hp and 295lb/ft (400Nm) to 332lb/ft (450Nm).

So what’s it like? Well the 730d and 750i appeal but for entirely different reasons. The 750i produces 407hp and 442 lb/ft (600Nm) of torque which gives a zero to 62mph time of 5.2 seconds, but it’s the way it forces you back in your seat in the mid-range that really impresses. This is a seriously quick saloon and would be in its element storming down the outside lane of an Autobahn. There’s just the right amount of subdued, sophisticated V8 induction noise under load, but otherwise it just maintains silent and imperious progress. The one noticeable issue is a slight hesitation on take-off from roundabouts or junctions; almost a form of turbo lag, but this is only a momentary lapse in an otherwise impressive powertrain.

The 730d though is more likely to exceed expectations than the 750i. Its new all-aluminium diesel is virtually undetectable as an oil burner, pulling away from rest smoothly and under most everyday road situations it feels as quick as the 750i. If ever there was a car that underlines how far diesel technology has come then the 7-series provides the perfect illustration. With 245hp and 398lb/ft (540Nm) of torque the really important statistic is what the BMW engineers have achieved in terms of efficiency, a combined figure of 39.2mpg and 192g/km of CO2 are some 5mpg and 30g/km better than the equivalent A8 has to offer.

Full marks to BMW then, their competitors must be growing weary of this Efficient Dynamics philosophy. We averaged just 21mpg in the 750i and 33mpg for the 730d on our test route, so given how well the diesel performs, that gives the 730d a convincing advantage.

The chassis is the area where BMW would clearly like to be seen as class leading, but whilst the chassis is dynamically up with the best its ride comfort and serenity are noticeably behind rivals such as the Mercedes S-Class and Lexus LS. That’s right, the dreaded run-flat tyre has made its appearance on another new BMW, this time the one for which ride comfort is arguably the most important characteristic.

Despite running relatively high-profile 18 wheels the ride on our test car felt fidgety and unsettled.

The 7-series gets four position adjustable dampers as standard (comfort, normal, sport and sport+) and even comfort isn’t very comfortable. The situation improved slightly in the 750iL we drove which came with rear air-suspension, in which case normal seemed to offer the best balance between ride quality and body control, but overall this was where the 7-series experience was at its least impressive.

Interestingly the Drive Dynamic Control, which incorporates the adjustable dampers, is an integrated system that coordinates dampers, degree of power steering assistance, throttle response and the auto gear changes. Sport + offers the driver the most dynamic and sporting mode including the engagement of Dynamic Traction Control (DTC), which allows a degree of wheel slip. Via iDrive the driver is able to mix and match some of these settings, for example choosing a sporting damper setting but opting for a slower, smoother gearshift map.

The other issue we noticed was a tendency to hunt at slow speeds, driving at 20mph the transmission would select 1st gear running up to 2000 rpm before changing in to 2nd. It behaved this way not just in sport but also in the comfort setting, so it seems an inherent part of the new 7-series character and less than ideal in a luxury saloon.

I’ve left the two best aspects to last. The 7-series is one of those cars you might just choose for the technology it offers, not technology for geeks, but really useful features that had me quizzing the product managers about retrofitting them to my X6. The answer by the way, was no.

The 7-series is the first car to be offered with a system that is capable of reading road signs and displaying the corresponding current speed limit to the driver. It uses a camera located in the rear view mirror and cross-references the road signs against a database stored in the cars hard drive. Unfortunately it only reads speed limit signs with a red border, so on a particular section of road works we encountered it spotted the drop in speed limit within a few yards but failed to recognise the national speed limit sign as we exited the speed limited section. Still, it works well most of the time and I’m sure will prove a useful option.

Despite running relatively high-profile 18 wheels the ride on our test car felt fidgety and unsettled.

The 7-series gets four position adjustable dampers as standard (comfort, normal, sport and sport+) and even comfort isn’t very comfortable. The situation improved slightly in the 750iL we drove which came with rear air-suspension, in which case normal seemed to offer the best balance between ride quality and body control, but overall this was where the 7-series experience was at its least impressive.

Interestingly the Drive Dynamic Control, which incorporates the adjustable dampers, is an integrated system that coordinates dampers, degree of power steering assistance, throttle response and the auto gear changes. Sport + offers the driver the most dynamic and sporting mode including the engagement of Dynamic Traction Control (DTC), which allows a degree of wheel slip. Via iDrive the driver is able to mix and match some of these settings, for example choosing a sporting damper setting but opting for a slower, smoother gearshift map.

The other issue we noticed was a tendency to hunt at slow speeds, driving at 20mph the transmission would select 1st gear running up to 2000 rpm before changing in to 2nd. It behaved this way not just in sport but also in the comfort setting, so it seems an inherent part of the new 7-series character and less than ideal in a luxury saloon.

I’ve left the two best aspects to last. The 7-series is one of those cars you might just choose for the technology it offers, not technology for geeks, but really useful features that had me quizzing the product managers about retrofitting them to my X6. The answer by the way, was no.

The 7-series is the first car to be offered with a system that is capable of reading road signs and displaying the corresponding current speed limit to the driver. It uses a camera located in the rear view mirror and cross-references the road signs against a database stored in the cars hard drive. Unfortunately it only reads speed limit signs with a red border, so on a particular section of road works we encountered it spotted the drop in speed limit within a few yards but failed to recognise the national speed limit sign as we exited the speed limited section. Still, it works well most of the time and I’m sure will prove a useful option.

Other highlights include a lane departure system, night vision with pedestrian warning, plus active cruise control. There’s BMWs new iDrive system which is a huge improvement over the last version and will be fitted to all new BMWs except the X3 over the next year or so. It’s also possible to spec side view cameras which use cameras located in the bumpers to provide an extra degree of comfort when pulling out onto main roads or squeezing through narrow openings.

But what stood out to most people who came into contact with this new 7-series is how much better it looked. We’d certainly choose it over an A8, but given the compromised ride comfort, we’ll have to wait until we drive it back-to-back with an S-Class for a definitive verdict.