First drive review: BMW 7 Series 730Ld long wheelbase 2016
The 7 Series needed to be good and the 730Ld is arguably the best car BMW has ever built. Unashamedly aimed at drivers, it offers an engaging and entertaining drive.
If you’re after an uber-luxury car and can’t quite stretch to a Rolls-Royce, there’s only one option: the Mercedes S-Class. BMW disagrees though, and fancies its chances at taking on the establishment with the new 7 Series.
Loading the car with new technology that’s either never existed before or has been the domain of the supercar, the fightback starts before you even set foot in the car.
The key, if you can really call it that, operates as a perfectly normal remote central locking device, but it also encompasses a 2.2-inch touchscreen.
With that, you can check fuel levels, set the air conditioning and even, if you reckon you waste too much time reversing cars out of parking spaces, remotely drive the car.
Okay, you can only drive it forwards and backwards at very low speeds, but being blocked from accessing your car by an inconsiderate person parking too close to you won’t ever be a problem again.
Elsewhere, there are goodies such as a GPS-controlled automatic gearbox. It knows what’s coming up on the road ahead, so selects the right gear ahead of time. Furthermore, large swathes of the car are constructed from carbon fibre.
What’s it like to drive though?
Thankfully, none of the tech detracts from the driving experience. While the 7 Series is undoubtedly a comfortable luxury car, able to waft passengers across country with barely a ruffle, there is enough of a connection between man and machine that the driver can feel nicely engaged when wishing to press on.
Admittedly, it’s not the most agile car to grace the UK's roads, thanks to a kerb weight that’s just the right side of two tonnes. The carbon fibre bits might have shaved 130kg off the total, but it’s still no lightweight.
However, my test model was fitted with the Executive Drive Pro system, available for an extra £2,450. This uses that GPS gearbox to setup the car for each bit of road, pre-empting what’s coming up and stiffening the air suspension as you enter a corner. This gives extra feel when you need it, but still leaves the car soft and cosseting when cruising along straighter sections of the nation's roads.
It’s not quite a magic carpet ride though, with low-speed imperfections clunking through to the cabin more noticeably than they do in that ubiquitous S-Class.
Inside though, it also lacks the opulence of the Merc. Straight in front of the driver is a dashboard that looks all the world like that which you would find in a 3 Series, but enlarged by 15%. Quality is top notch, and it again includes some high tech wizardry, but it just lacks any sense of drama. BMW will tell you that buyers prefer subtlety over style, so the business-like interior of the 7 will appeal.
A large LCD screen dominates the centre stack, while BMW’s iDrive control system gets another useful update, but if you really can’t be bothered with pressing buttons or screens then simply waving at the car can control things. Want to turn the stereo up? Spin a finger in the air as if rotating an imaginary knob. Don’t want to answer an incoming phone call? Dismissively wave your hand across the cabin and the caller is sent to voicemail.
The commands might take some getting used to (it’s not instinctive to point at the screen to answer a telephone call) but once you do, it’s a genuinely liberating technology that means you really can keep your eyes on the road at all times.
Step in to the rear of the car and you’re cocooned by high-end tech and luxury such as reclining, heated, cooled and massaged seats, optional iPad-like screens and controls for virtually any part of the car. The outside world is cut off almost entirely, with sound insulation and double glazed windows creating an almost silent cabin.
Any sound that does seep though is soon drowned out by the 16-speaker Bowers & Wilkins sound system. Apparently, there are diamonds and kevlar used in the production, while the stainless steel speaker grilles include Fibonacci patterned holes and Nautilus spiral diffusers.
At a price
You may have noticed the word ‘optional’ has popped up a few times so far, and it’s the options that can creep the price up to scary levels. Our £68,480 test model had an extra £21,795 spent on it, making this a £90,275 car.
If that doesn’t worry you, then economy won’t either. In fairness, it’s as good as any car this size gets, with a promised 58.9mpg being pretty phenomenal. Real world use sees that drop dramatically, but at least buyers will be taxed on the reasonable 129g/km of CO2 emissions, meaning company drivers will face a tax bill of around £564 a month.
At that kind of price, and with that kind of tax bill, the 7 Series needs to be good. And it is, arguably the best car BMW has made yet, but it splits opinion.
The car is unashamedly aimed at drivers, even in the long-wheelbase form used here, where it offers an engaging and entertaining drive. That’s at the expense of some of the style and comfort you might find elsewhere, something that luxury car buyers tend to favour ahead of overt sportiness.
Which means it comes down to refinement, comfort, plushness and style, and that’s where the S-Class still rules.
7 Series at a glance:
Model tested: BMW 730Ld
Top speed: 155 mph
0-62 mph: 6.1 seconds
Official fuel economy: 58.9 mpg
CO2 emissions: 129 g/km (D VED)
Insurance group: 46E
Engine: 3.0-litre 6-cylinder 24-valve twin-turbocharged diesel
Torque: 457ft-lb / 620Nm
Weight: 1,795 kg