Rating 9 9

BMW 730Ld review, road test

16th Jun 2016 7:00 am

The future is here with the all-new 7-series which is packed with the latest tech to win over super luxury car buyers.

  • Make : BMW
  • Model : 7 Series

We’ve already driven the petrol-powered version of the latest ‘G12’ 7-series, the 750Li, and we came away mighty impressed. However, we ended that review on a sort of ‘to be continued’ note, because it is important to factor this car – the 730Ld – the diesel version, into the equation. The simple fact is diesel is still the more popular choice for luxury cars and this makes the 730Ld the more important model for BMW in India.

The 730Ld also has wider appeal on the grounds of its lower price tag. You see, where the 750Li is a full import and costs Rs 1.55 crore (ex-showroom, Delhi), prices for the India-assembled 730Ld start at Rs 1.14 crore. You can buy an imported (and pricier) 730Ld as well but that version is only for you if you want to customise it to suit your tastes. For this test, we’ve featured the locally assembled 730Ld in the higher of its two trim lines. What makes the 730Ld special? Our detailed road test reveals all.

Technology. That's what the new 7-series is all about and that's what makes it special. There's a whole lot of science that's gone into the bits under the skin and the cabin is, quite simply, a tech fest. The 730Ld also does luxury better than its predecessor with higher quality interiors, better all-round comfort and significantly improved refinement. The strong performance and good handling also make this a luxury sedan owners would love to get behind the wheel of themselves. To nitpick, ride quality could have been better and the dashboard design could have been more special. But, all said, the new model puts the 7-series back in the game, and how. The S-classes, A8s and XJs of the world better watch out. 

Where the last Seven looked like an evolution of its direct predecessor, the latest version of BMW’s limousine looks entirely new. The lines are tauter and BMW has gone for a sportier, more dynamic design. It appears even longer than the car it replaces, though overall length for the long wheelbase version we get in India is up by just 19mm to 5,238mm. You’ll find all of BMW’s traditional elements here such as the kidney grille, the twin rings on each of the headlights and Hofmeister kink at the rear windows, but the execution is different. For instance, the headlights are more spread-out and now fuse into the grille that itself is larger than ever before. Interestingly, the new Seven is the first BMW to feature air flap control where the flaps behind the grille’s slats open or close depending on the engine’s cooling requirement. There are other subtle aerodynamic aids too. Look closely and you’ll spot openings at either end of the front bumpers that are there to guide the airstream past the wheels, while the vents at the sides of the body channel the air flow from the wheel wells.

Chrome highlights at the base of the doors accentuate the Seven’s massive 3.2 metre wheelbase (longest in its class), but from no angle does the car look ungainly. Still, a bit more personality at the tail would have been welcome. Our M Sport trim test car’s body kit also divided opinion. Where some of us found the swoopier front bumpers with their oversized air dams and the rear bumpers with the faux diffuser well done, others found it to be overkill. The ‘standard’ Design Pure Excellence version does look more elegant while also costing around Rs 9 lakh less. However, it uses 18-inch rims (the M Sport gets 19-inchers) and also comes with LED headlights in place of the M Sport’s laser headlights.

The latest 730Ld is 105kg lighter than the old one, and that’s despite being loaded with a whole lot more gizmos and tech. A large part of the weight savings have come from the body itself that is made of high-strength steel, aluminium and, remarkably, carbonfibre-reinforced plastics (CFRP). In a nutshell, CFRP is light, strong and rigid but prohibitively costly. However, BMW has made giant strides in this area with its i car programme and has mastered producing this high-tech material on an industrial scale to make it relatively more affordable.

In a departure from the old 7-series that got air suspension only for the rear wheels, the latest-generation car features self-levelling air suspension at all four corners. The suspension can lift by 20mm when needed and automatically drops by 10mm when Sport mode is activated. The driving modes include EcoPro, Comfort, Comfort Plus, Sport and Sport Plus, each with pre-defined engine, gearbox, steering and damper settings. But for the first time, you can also mix and match the various settings to your liking and can even opt for Adaptive mode where the car studies driving style and automatically configures the set-up.

BMW cabins stick to a familiar template and unfortunately that’s something that holds true in the new 7-series too. The basic dashboard design just doesn’t look distinct enough from the older Seven’s and, for that matter, the lesser BMWs in the range. But that’s pretty much all you can fault this cabin for, which is clearly BMW’s best yet. The lacquered wood, double-stitched leather and aluminium that make up the cabin finally elevate quality to Merc S-class levels, which is a massive compliment. Detailing is incredible and you can tell BMW has given the new Seven its all. The buttons finished in aluminium look exquisite, and where there are no buttons, you’ll find a touchscreen. There’s a brilliant touch panel for the climate control setting lower down on the dash and if you poke around the cabin, you’ll also find another temperature control panel just below the air-con vents.

That’s not all. You can now also operate the central screen atop the dash with touch inputs and even hand gestures (See box)! All this is in addition to the traditional rotary controller for the infotainment system. The top surface of the iDrive controller is a touchpad too and can read scribbled text; helpful when you have to feed navigation instructions or search through your phone book contacts on the go.

That the central touchscreen is positioned high up and the dash cowl is low set also make life that little bit easier for the driver. Outside visibility is good and there’s also a brilliant 360-degree camera that comes handy when parking in tight spots. It shows the surroundings in respect to a 3D image of the car on the central screen which is incredibly cool. The fully digital instruments are no less techy with a different theme for each of the driving modes. As expected, the front seats are also immensely comfy though some of us did find the cushioning a touch soft over long drives. Sadly, the front seats on the locally  assembled 730d don’t get ventilation and massage functions; there’s only a seat heater. There’s no heads-up display either, and is something solely offered as an option on the imported version.

However, BMW has gone to town to pamper the all-important rear seat passengers. Individual 10-inch screens are standard for the rear passengers but the real talking point is a detachable 7-inch Samsung tablet that’s housed in the centre armrest. Via the tablet, those seated in the back can control the climate settings, entertainment system, sunroof, blinds, ambient lighting, navigation system and can even choose between two fragrances for the cabin! Oh, and the tablet can also be used to browse the internet. It really is the ultimate gizmo for backseat drivers.

The rear seats themselves are no less incredible. The throne-like seats are ventilated, can be adjusted for shoulder support, backrest and seat base angle and include as many as eight types of massages. There’s even a Vitality Programme that features exercises for the back and shoulders to relieve muscular strain over long journeys. Sensors in the seats score occupants to ensure these exercises are done in an optimum manner, and it actually works well. For now, the Seven doesn’t get the option for an extendable leg rest for rear passengers à la the Audi A8 but BMW has confirmed this will be offered later in the year. Still, the front passenger seat can be moved forward from the back to free up even more legroom. Not that there’s a real need for it because space is abundant as is.

Middle-seat passengers do get a raw deal though with limited headroom and a hard perch. To be honest, the rear seat is designed to provide armchair comfort for two and that’s what it does best.
The cabin has enough cubbys for small items but irritatingly, a bulk of the space in the glovebox is taken up by the fragrance charges for the ventilation system. Where the 7-series also loses points is for its small boot – owners going on a long holiday may need a second car for airport trips. BMW has thankfully provided a space-saver spare tyre with its own recess this time around but as a result, the boot floor is high and luggage room is quite limited for what is a large car.

6.21 seconds. That’s the time it takes the 730Ld M Sport to go from a standstill to 100kph. This number alone should tell you how quick the large BMW is. It’s a good half second clear of the earlier 730Ld by 100kph and 1.2 seconds ahead by 160kph. These timings make the 730Ld the quickest among its direct competitors.

At the heart of the 730Ld’s performance is BMW’s latest 3.0-litre, straight six, turbo-diesel engine (code: B57). This engine will replace the older albeit identical displacement N57 engine across the BMW range in the future and will also form the basis of bi-, tri- and even quad-turbo iterations. On the 730Ld, it features a single, variable geometry turbo and relies on common-rail direct injection with piezo injectors that can supply fuel at a high pressure of 2,500bar. The engine produces 265hp and 620Nm which better the older 730Ld’s power and torque figures by 7hp and 60Nm, respectively. Add a lower kerb weight to the equation and you know why the new 730Ld is as quick as it is.

Of course, you’d want the engine and gearbox set to Sport or Sport Plus for max performance. Sport Plus with the quick-shifting eight-speed transmission set to manual lets you hold gear at the 5,600rpm the engine will rev to and for that alone, it’s great fun. Left to its own devices, the gearbox will upshift at 5,000rpm, which is still high for a diesel. There’s immense punch from 2,000-5,000rpm and you won’t tire of the way the big Seven builds speed in the meat of its powerband. It also sounds throaty and rather nice when you are in the mood to play. The thing is, in the sportiest settings, throttle responses tend to be a bit too sharp which limits their utility in town.

Comfort tones things down and smoothens responses, though you won’t have to bury your right foot into the carpet when you need to overtake. There’s ample power even low down in the rev range which means you can get by in the city without ever needing the rev needle to swing to the other side of 2,500rpm. It’s at these lower speeds that anyone familiar with the old Seven will also find a marked improvement in engine refinement. The engine runs quiet and really smooth.

We’re prone to sidelining the efficiency-enhancing EcoPro mode BMWs come with, but on the new Seven, it’s perfectly useable. Yes, throttle responses border on laidback but in rush-hour traffic or for relaxed cruising on the highway, it’s a smart way of maximising economy. Or perhaps keeping your chauffeur in check.

At the very limit, the old 7-series was a blast. But in everyday driving, it felt heavy from behind the wheel and its inconsistent ride marked it down further. The new car improves on the latter fronts. The steering is light enough in Comfort and the all-round air suspension has improved ride quality by a big margin. With the dampers set to Comfort, the 7-series deals with most imperfections with a lovely softness, though you do still feel a mild tremor in the cabin every time a wheel goes over something like an expansion joint. Comfort Plus is softer still, perhaps unnecessarily so, as it also adds more float over undulations and makes the ride feel unsettled. You can get by on the highway just fine with the suspension in Comfort but if you plan to drive hard, you’d be best off in Sport. Yes, you sacrifice some level of bump absorption but the Seven also becomes far better tied down with more weight to the steering and feedback from it as well. Dyed in the wool BMW fans won’t be sold on the electric power steering but it is accurate and offers a great sense of control. The 730Ld’s 50:50 weight distribution also comes into play in the corners. The big BMW changes direction without delay and for a five-metre-plus-long limousine, it feels remarkably sharp and agile.

But for all its improvements, the 7-series still ultimately trails the Merc S-class on ride comfort and overall refinement. The Seven never manages to ride as flat or with as much pliancy as the S, though the gap is far smaller than it was in the past. There’s also a bit more road and wind noise in the Bimmer’s otherwise hushed cabin.

Big luxury sedans usually deliver small fuel economy numbers. The new 730Ld did do better than we expected though. Driving the Bimmer in town, we got a respectable 8.2kpl. Relaxed cruising on the highway in EcoPro mode saw the fuel economy figure rise to 11.5kpl. Its 78-litre fuel tank gives the 730Ld a usefully large range between tank-ups.

Technology. That's what the new 7-series is all about and that's what makes it special. There's a whole lot of science that's gone into the bits under the skin and the cabin is, quite simply, a tech fest. The 730Ld also does luxury better than its predecessor with higher quality interiors, better all-round comfort and significantly improved refinement. The strong performance and good handling also make this a luxury sedan owners would love to get behind the wheel of themselves. To nitpick, ride quality could have been better and the dashboard design could have been more special. But, all said, the new model puts the 7-series back in the game, and how. The S-classes, A8s and XJs of the world better watch out. 

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