A significant improvement over its predecessor, but excessive windnoise disappoints

What is it?

The fifth generation of BMW’s flagship saloon. The 7 Series has always played the dual role of limo and sporting saloon, and the new car is no exception.

As befits its flagship status atop the range, it comes laden with equipment – or the extra-cost option of such kit – much of which will later cascade throughout the rest of the BMW range.

In design terms, this 7 Series has moved on from the controversial design language of the previous-generation model, which also gave BMW’s one-knob-triggers-all ‘iDrive’ system its debut, and this has been substantially redesigned for the new car.

Although the exterior styling is clearly a refinement of what went before, the whole gels more effectively and carries with it a subtle muscularity that gives the car a sporty, athletic visual dynamic.

That’s justified, too – because the substantially new engine range delivers more performance and also because BMW is fielding yet more trick hardware in the quest for added dynamism.

BMW has revived four-wheel steering and standardised three-position electronic dampers. And, as quick reactions are vital to these systems, this 7 Series also features a potent new data transmission network called FlexRay.

What’s it like?

The fresh technology has been impressively well integrated, with the buttons and switchgear feeling far less intimidating than the previous car’s unduly complex turn-and-click controller.

The i-Drive controller is now smaller, and surrounded by a cluster of switches that make it easier to access each sub-system.

The screen itself, previously housed beneath a bulbously ugly binnacle, is more cleanly integrated into the centre of the dash.

The result is a vastly more streamlined and elegant dashboard, an effect reinforced by door trims styled to coordinate more completely with an interior that’s modern, inviting and fluently sculpted.

So the new 7 Series is better to sit in and less daunting to master. But the diesel version isn’t short of muscle, either.

The 730d is sure to be the most popular UK model thanks to it’s class-leading 192g/km CO2 emissions, and it feels lively from the off thanks to strong torque that persists to the relatively high engine speeds that this free-revving and sporty sounding diesel is happy to reach.

The transmission is fairly canny too, although you can be hit with the occasional tremor of a thumped change.

Switching through comfort to normal and sport via a rocker switch on the centre console has the gears hanging on for longer and the throttle sharpening to complement the tauter damper action, lending the car a more athletic demeanour that is generally enhanced by the optional active steering.

So this big car dives into bends with sufficient zeal to encourage you to do it some more, its resistance to roll and pleasing balance allowing you to chuck it about like a car far smaller.

But there are some dynamic flaws, too: the 7’s ride gets bothered on badly surfaced ‘B’ roads at low-to-middling speeds, but curiously, improves if you travel either much slower or dangerously quickly.

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Much worse is the discovery that this car is noisy at speed, the peace disturbed from as little as 65mph by the rush of wind noise and at speeds not much higher, the general commotion of motion too.

At motorway cruising speeds the cabin feels louder than it does in the latest family hatchbacks – not what you’d expect from a range-topping exec with aspirations to be regarded as a luxurious limo.

Should I buy one?

The 730d is the only 7 Series to be considered if running costs enter the equation. It’s the most fuel-and-CO2-efficient car in its class, and manages this while still serving performance strong enough to entertain and to make use of an impressively able chassis.

It’s good looking, well-engineered and the cabin is great. But the noise level at cruising speed is a significant disappointment, especially as motorways and Autobahns are the car’s intended habitat.

It’s certainly enough to make us think twice.

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Add a comment…
Seren Kuhanandan 22 September 2008

Re: BMW 730d

ThwartedEfforts wrote:
Discerning types such as the Chinese and Americans will love it, same as they love the facially challenged Jaguar XF

If Jalopnik.com is anything to go by, the americans hate it, and much prefer the rover-esque S-type.

That alone makes the XF beautiful to me.

ThwartedEfforts 22 September 2008

Re: BMW 730d

Amazing how car makers are taking fine looking rear ends and slapping gawking ugly snouts on them. On this one the silly nostrils and glum expression remind me of a huge aluminium cod. Discerning types such as the Chinese and Americans will love it, same as they love the facially challenged Jaguar XF.

That said I don't see awkward design as any impediment to sales success here: badge magnets will never be bothered by looks, same as they aren't interested in comfort, reliability, servicing or value.

As for ride quality, come on - has anyone been in a German car recently? Only Mercedes seem to make any effort these days. I always imagine that anyone buying an Audi - and particularly an Audi with 'sport' suspension and oversize wheels - must live in a part of the country where they have roads like granite worktops. Must be something of a shock visiting the rest of us poor sods ;)

moe360 21 September 2008

Re: BMW 730d

Winston wrote:
And we can now look forward each week for the next three months to a road test of every possible engine, trim and colour option, in the same way as we have had three series tests recently because they have changed the bumper design.

I have to agree with this statement, and its one of the smartest comments in a long time, 1 review is enough looking at it anymore may make me sick :(