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BMW’s flagship super-luxury saloon is part limo and part rabble-rouser, and has more than just the largest kidney grille (so far) on a 7 Series
There is no doubt that the 7 Series is BMW's flagship, and the Munich-based carmaker has always gone to great lengths to make it as great a rival as it could be to the standard bearer of this class of automobile, which remains the S-Class from its Stuttgart rival Mercedes-Benz. But it goes about doing it in a manner which the S-Class just can’t hack in equal measure: athleticism! This term can also be made to hint at a modicum of sportiness which it manifests in large measure on the latest 7 Series which I got to experience in Portugal last month and having driven the magnificent 8 Series Cabrio a day earlier, I knew that this 7 Series review had to be done in a two-part manner now that I had experienced this rather long (5260mm) and wide (1902mm) and heavy automobile.
The duo-role that I wanted to try the new 7 Series was by means of positional play, one behind the wheel of this new machine and second was by means of wafting in the rear seats, just as most fat cats would consider its prime application in India. Firstly, this isn’t an all-new 7 Series but a mid-life refresh with an all-new large-fanged front end that is certainly more Chinese and with a plasticky adornment to the famed BMW-kidney grille. This is an acquired taste, but over the course of the two days that I spent driving and being driven in it, I kind of got used to taking it in my stride and not being offended as to how could Munich do this to themselves! It is a shock when faced with a grille (now a single-piece framed unit) that is 40 per cent larger than before, and just to balance that, the designers had to also increase the size of the BMW propeller logo on the bonnet – up to 12mm larger in diameter according to the BMW spokespersons. If that’s not all, thanks to the dictates of the new front-end aesthetics, the body at the emblem level is now 50mm taller than before.
The front end, though, also has a large busy air dam and the new trim and slats on the bumper makes it even wider and aggressive. The bonnet also has a new take on the flame surfacing flared approach pioneered by BMW nearly two decades ago but these are now far more subtle and also very much in sync with the minds that have got to liking what everyone canned Chris Bangle for! Having said that, and I must digress here, word has it from very high up in the BMW design hierarchy that it was Adrian van Hooydonk and not Chris Bangle who came up with the flame surfacing aspect but then Bangle was his boss at that point in time and he liked it, many in the BMW management team liked them, and thus they got the green light. Of course flame surfacing polarised many in the automotive world then but the best proof of its acceptance was when other car makers began to be inspired by this and it caught on like wild fire but then that’s another story altogether!
The rear end is distinctive enough as well, with a slim line full-width light strip immediately below the chrome bar and this houses the daytime driving lights. There is also a new design tail lamp cluster replete with a new three-dimensional LED element in there, and to round off the sporty aspect of the package that has to denote BMW there is the bottom bumper cladding that houses the two stylish exhaust openings which are now wider and slimmer to get the style flowing.
The new 7 Series range starts out with the 6.6-litre V12-powered 760i but there are models with a V8 mill and an in-line six-cylinder (of course!) as well, all of them sipping petrol. This isn’t to infer that BMW has forsaken diesel and there is a choice of three diesel engines with up to four turbochargers, making for a power range spread from 265bhp to 400bhp. And if you need even more variety, then there is a plug-in hybrid with the inline-six giving it a 50-58km all-electric range. All engine variants meet the new Euro 6d-TEMP exhaust emissions regulations, all of them making use of a new quick-shifting 8-speed transmission that drives the rear wheels or all-wheel drive when specified with the X-Drive system.
What we got to drive and experience though was the 750Li equipped with the brilliant 4.4-litre V8 that has now been upgraded to deliver an extra 80 horses, bumping up output to 523bhp (made in the range of 5500-6000rpm). However, it is the whopping 750Nm of torque that provides the silken touch to the iron glove, sustaining it from 1800 to 4600rpm. The 8-speed transmission is quick and changes from cog to cog on forward progression that belies imagination so that it doesn’t upset the fat cat sitting in the back seat doing his mega deals. In case you are the number crunching sort, how does zero to 100kmph in 4 seconds sound, especially for a car tipping the scales at 2075 kilos?
Adding to the above are the fabled chassis technology and manners that underline a BMW and that is the mannerism of the car and also the control that delivers the ride as well as the handling without compromising one or the other. Credit this to the adaptive suspension and twin-axle air suspension that come as standard while Integral Active Steering and Executive Drive Pro with active roll stabilisation (both high-priced options) make for pure joy, especially when barrelling through twisty mountain roads as we experienced in Faro, Portugal.
The interior is typically BMW and not much changed from the original iteration of this 7 Series generation, save for the newer steering wheel with differently-abled controls to take into account the provision for some autonomous driving, and while I felt at ease with all of it, somehow I felt that the instrument cluster seemed too tame or flat for what was otherwise a technologically proficient as well as a very well-outfitted luxury liner on four wheels. So the first part of my drive review was all to do with hustling the car and I wasn’t disappointed to say the least. The engine whips up its horses and once the torque comes into play, this big brute makes its pilot feel like he's hurtling a sports car through the bends! The prodigious amount of grip, courtesy the optimised suspension and its new geometry plus componentry aided by the 245/45 R19 radials, makes this behemoth defy the laws of physics every time I pitched it into slow or fast compound corners and the car seemed to literally dance to its partner’s inputs! If that wasn’t all, the new electric power steering with its Servotronic function and the Integral Active Steering dialled in made it just perfect for whatever occasion you were driving the car in – eager, pacey and urgent and the steering was able to match it; languid, wafting over rippled roads and the steering and ride rose to that occasion. Uncanny yet brilliant! On top of that, the braking ability was superlative and yes, this was Munich at its best even under hard retardation from close to double ton up speeds, the 750Li stopped sure and true without upsetting the big suit at the rear.
This mighty capable car in the dynamic department will however never be used in this manner by its intended user here in India, for this car would be all about comfort and luxury for the backbenchers who would be writing out the big cheques to buy it and deliver big time glee to the chauffeurs taking the helm. I had the gallant and highly capable Kushan Mitra as my partner in crime exploring the limits of the 750Li and when he was hustling the car in the manner intended and described above, I could assure you that he was as good or bad a driver as I was but also thoroughly ludicrous if ever he had to chauffeur the Prime Minister in it! Once it was established that both of us weren’t cut out for chauffeuring, we tried to make a virtue of spiritedly sane driving and I got into the rear seat and in both the comfort as well as the comfort plus ride modes, the commute is velvety soft. Throw in a cabin that is acoustically configured to keep out road, tyre, wind and mechanical noises from outside to deliver a soothing atmosphere while being given the news that the stock markets have collapsed, this is the place to be in when that’s delivered! The BMW boffins have truly upped the game in not just getting the structural integrity right, but also ironing out the NVH massively to near about non-existent levels.
This is BMW at its very luxurious and technological best, and this car will probably come to India with a diesel version too. One doesn’t talk trifles like price or such, but whatever be the crore or crores you might need to shell out, this car makes a statement that it’s worth it! Nuff said!