Four decades is a long time for any car to linger in the shadow of its nearest rival, let alone a car so closely linked with its maker’s latest technologies and engineering efforts as the BMW 7 Series.

But that, we’d argue, is what has happened. Originally launched in 1977, five years after the first limo that rival Mercedes-Benz officially called an S-Class, the 7 Series has been through five full model generations and yet has never quite managed to move out of the wake of its Stuttgart rival and leave its mark in the way of its smaller siblings.

Last year Mercedes sold two S-Classes for every 7 Series that rolled off the production line. While Daimler’s luxury icon has become a sub-brand in its own right, BMW’s has seen its flagship status impinged upon by hybrid supercars and 600bhp M6 four-door super-coupés.

Without the 7 Series, you wonder if BMW’s custodianship of Rolls-Royce would have been half as successful – and yet where’s the recognition?

Right here. The car you’re looking at represents BMW’s most committed attempt yet to finally crack the tough nut that is the global luxury saloon market.

Sinking big bucks into an all-new platform, new construction principles and materials, an adaptive, fully air-sprung chassis and pioneering infotainment and convenience features, BMW has baked the best of all it knows into this car.

It’s a clear attempt to return the Seven to the state-of-the-art status it enjoyed when it pioneered in-car navigation and communication features in the late 1990s.

A petrol-electric plug-in hybrid version of the car, combining a 2.0-litre turbo four-pot engine with a powerful electric motor and emitting less than 50g/km of CO2, will clearly play its part in that ascendant narrative, while the 6.6-litre V12 M760Li will set out to rival the Mercedes-AMG S-Class limos.

UK buyers, then, have a range of petrol and diesel engines to choose between, as well as two wheelbases and both rear and four-wheel drive configurations.

First drives

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