What is it?
The mid-life rejig of the fifth-generation BMW 7-series, the firm's initially underwhelming answer to the middling Audi A8 and downright marvelous Mercedes S-class. If the original car was notable for its strict adherence to the once-controversial styling convention laid down by Chris Bangle, the latest model should be considered a veritable chip off the block.
Aside from some LED headlight and grille confetti, nothing has really changed on the saloon’s substantial bodywork. It’s a familiar setting inside, too. BMW’s debonair architecture remains intact, with by far the most significant introduction being the addition of a new 10.25-inch digital instrument cluster that adjusts its information readout to suit the pilot’s choice of drive mode settings.
For fans of design distinction between their variants, inactivity on the design front might seem disappointing, but underneath BMW has busied itself with typical diligence. Along with the now across-the-board fitment of the eight-speed ZF auto, the entire engine lineup gets the type of comprehensive spruce that delivers more power while, conversely, extracting improved economy and emissions.
The 3.0-litre straight-six diesel engine features again in the popular 730d and 740d with 255bhp and 308bhp respectively. The former, by far the best-seller, is now at a 530d rivaling 148g/km, which, along with its 50.4mpg efficiency, make it the segment leader in the frugality stakes. BMW has also seized the opportunity to launch the second generation of the ActiveHybrid7 in the UK, equipped with a 315bhp 3.0-litre six pot and a 54bhp electric motor for an augmented 41.5mpg. On its own, that same engine props up the 7 Series range in the 740i, while at the (much) steeper end it is topped out by the brazen but rarely seen 536bhp 6.0-litre V12 in the 760i.
The 443bhp 4.4-litre V8 aboard the 750i, tested here, is the cherry pick of the petrol lineup. By mating it with the ZF ‘box and exploiting the Valvetronic system’s manipulation of the intake valve (BMW talks proudly of ‘dimming’ rather than shutting down cylinders), the engineers have extracted a 25 per cent improvement in efficiency, including a colossal 67g/km reduction in the previous model’s CO2 emissions.
What is it like?
All of the above would be for nought if the most important alteration to the 7-series was a failure. Our biggest gripe with the previous car was its lumpy ride quality — a complaint that BMW has sought to address by making the previously optional self-leveling air suspension at the back standard, and installing new bearings, ball joints, mounts and dampers throughout.
The effect is not dramatic, but certainly where the previous version would fidget and occasionally fumble minor deflections, the 750i coaxes a more supple response. A better sense of body control (although still not without its flaws) is augmented by the new electric power steering setup, which offers a brawny, Germanic feel to direction changes.
The now-familiar Eco Pro mode has been plumbed into the Driving Experience Control toggle across the 7-series lineup. With 32.8mpg on the 750i’s cards (we managed late 20s) and a virtually indefatigable 479lb ft of express elevator thrust still accessible even through a numbed accelerator pedal, it is a setting well worthy of default use.
Nevertheless, the new digital display behind the wheel is an added incentive to flirt with the car’s changeable nature. In Eco Pro the readout is dominated by a blue energy recuperation dial; in Sport it reverts to a crimson rev counter.
It’s attractive stuff, but is probably better viewed as an off-tone traffic light, as ‘Sport’ remains a theme too far for the 2035kg 750i. Certainly power is not the issue; the revised throttle map makes the V8 jumpy, but there’s no questioning the fluid grace and virtue of the performance distilled by its marble-smooth eight-speeder. Instead it’s the lingering sensation, as before, that the 7-series is too big, bulky and detached to get to grips with. It's a cause not helped by the fleshy body’s vague, occasionally floaty presence at speed and the decision to foist the steering with even more portentous weight, thereby scotching any organic incentive to explore the car’s wider ability.
Should I buy one?
In the outside lane of an accommodatingly smooth motorway, the 750i makes a convincing case. With an ingratiating lever of Maglev style propulsion beneath your right foot, BMW’s superior cabin around you and a better resolved ride below, the model functions with the prerequisite imperiousness necessary to dispatch the Audi A8 in our shortlist.
But away from its dream scenario, it slips. On more challenging roads it feels less approachable and certainly less engaging than the Jaguar XJ, and exhibits none of the Panamera’s loitering intent. More damagingly, on virtually every surface, especially urban ones, it remains short of the autocratic S-class.
That’s particularly bad news for the 7-series because while its gentle improvements and exceptional powertrains ease it into middle age, the big Mercedes is due a limber all-new replacement. Unless its rival somehow manages to push all the wrong buttons, BMW will have a long while to wait before it gets another shot at topping the prestige saloon class.
Price £71,340; 0-62mph 4.8secs; Top speed 155mph; Economy 32.8mpg; CO2 199g/km; Kerbweight 2035kg; Engine type, cc V8, 4395cc; Installation Front, longitudinal; Power 443bhp; Torque 479lb ft; Gearbox Eight-speed dual-shift auto