Even at moderate speeds you detect detailed improvements in virtually every aspect of its on-road character. There is greater cohesiveness to its dynamics and more grip. The whole car operates on an altogether higher level than before, with greater precision and alacrity than ever before. Not that we were expecting anything less from a car that has regularly been held up as one of the most lively in its class.
The real revelation is just how much more tranquil it feels to travel in than the old model, with outstanding refinement and enhanced comfort. Equipped with a new generation of BMW’s iDrive system with both touch and gesture control commands, it also introduces simple smartphone-like operation for many key functions, making it easier to live with, too.
Predictably, BMW likes to call the new 7 Series a revolution, and in many areas it is a fitting description. The most significant technical upgrade is its advanced body structure.
Drawing on weight-saving construction methods first explored in the development of BMW’s i models, it incorporates a number of load-bearing carbonfibre-reinforced plastic elements in what represents a first for the company’s more traditional models.
The lightweight material is used within the header rails, sills, B-pillar, centre tunnel and C-pillar in a move that, in combination with additional aluminium elements, is claimed to bring a 40kg reduction in weight over the structure used by its predecessor.
Further savings have been achieved with changes to the outer bodyshell, which receives newly designed aluminium doors (claimed to weigh 12kg less than those used by the fifth-generation 7 Series) as well as an aluminium roof panel for the first time.
All up, the new flagship BMW saloon is said to tip the scales 130kg under that of the old model in 740iL guise, as driven here. If this holds true, the new model should arrive with an official kerb weight figure of 1715kg, making it just 40kg heavier than the existing 535i.
As a point of reference, the four-wheel-drive Audi A8 3.0 TFSI weighs 1830kg, while the rear-wheel-drive Mercedes-Benz S400 Hybrid comes in at 1850kg.
Because the car is not planned to be unveiled until the Frankfurt motor show in September, BMW is holding back on many other details, including its dimensions. Visually, the long-wheelbase prototype appears close to the outgoing model, which measures 5220mm in length, 1900mm in width and 1480mm in height.
The 740iL is the first BMW model to receive the company’s new 3.0-litre in-line six-cylinder petrol engine. The new unit, known internally as B58, shares its architecture with the smaller three- and four-cylinder engines unveiled recently in other BMW models, with the block, cylinder head and oil sump made of aluminium.
Improvements in the operation of the twin-scroll turbocharger, valvetronic fully variable valve control and double vanos variable camshaft control are claimed to bring enhanced low-end response, added mid-range tractability and subtle increases in output.
Nothing is set in stone at this stage, although officials suggest the new engine will improve on the 316bhp and 332lb ft of its predecessor, the N55. As before, the driver can choose between a range of differing driving modes, including Eco Pro, Comfort, Sport and Sport Plus.