What is it?
It’s the new BMW flagship limousine that takes the brand to an all-new level, not just of luxury, but also of connectivity and technology. Some of the highlights? Supercar-grade carbon-fibre elements at crucial points in the chassis for weight reduction combined with added strength. A new touchscreen-operated iDrive system with gesture controls. Autonomous parking while you’re standing outside the car – okay, this one isn’t available in India yet, but the rest and so much more are. With the S-class having set a new benchmark for this segment in 2014, not to mention the arrival of updated versions of the Jaguar XJ and Audi A8, BMW’s response was long overdue. And though we can’t give you a definitive verdict on which is the best until they go head-to-head, we can tell you about the new 7-series and what it means for all future BMWs.
The look of the car can be a bit divisive. Where the previous 7 was simple and safe, this one is rather dramatic, especially in this rather loud M Sport guise; personally, the standard ‘Design Pure Excellence’ trim seems a lot easier on the eye. At the front, the BMW kidney grille is bigger than you ever thought possible, now connected to the headlamps, which are oddly shaped and feature BMW’s new signature LED daytime running lamps – an evolution of the traditional, circular ‘corona rings’ that have been around for decades. The M Sport bumper’s massive faux splitter is also a bit hit-or-miss. From the side, the long-wheelbase 7-series, as before, shows off every inch of its length, highlighted by the chrome strip that extends down the base; the optional 20-inch wheels do help with the stance though. At the rear, this M Sport version gets a chunky gunmetal grey lower section and huge twin exhaust tips, but that doesn’t do enough to hide the fact that the 7-series’ tail is a bit generic looking now. The signature L-shaped tail-lamps of the last car have been flattened and widened, and frankly, just don’t look as special anymore. Perhaps it’s a look that will grow on you, but first impressions are of a mishmash of too many elements, at least on the M Sport, that ends up looking neither luxurious nor sporty.
What’s it like inside?
We accused the previous 7-series’ interior of looking and feeling a bit too much like every other BMW, and happily, that’s something we could never say about this new one. It now feels like a proper one-crore-plus luxury limousine. No more plastic buttons and switches, it’s all metal now. The wood veneers too look much richer, and every bit of leather is double stitches. There are new design flourishes too, and for the first time in ages, this feels like a thoroughly new BMW interior. And though it’s refreshingly new, the interior still doesn’t deviate from BMW’s driver-focussed DNA. Sure, much of this will filter down to the next-generation 5-series, 3-series and even the SUVs, but like with recent Mercedes interiors, we feel they’ll only be better for it.
The front seats, as before, offer incredible levels of adjustment and are suitable to any size of driver. At the all-important rear, BMW seems to have taken a page from its super-luxury brand Rolls-Royce, offering big, plush-cushioned chairs you sit ‘on’ rather than ‘in’. Space is more than you’ll ever need, of course, and though the seats recline quite generously, we find the seating angle a little awkward when they do. The 7-series has taken a clue from the S-class in providing pillows over the headrests, but while you can send the front seat forward from the rear, there’s no footrest. Here too, seat adjustments are just fantastic, and you won’t want for more comfort. All four seats offer quite a comprehensive list of massage functions and are heated too.
You could write a whole separate review on the new tech in this car, so we’ll try to sum up the highlights. The 360-degree cameras actually move as you steer the car for an even more comprehensive view, and can even create an ‘augmented reality’ display of the car in its environment, on the screen! When the engine is cool enough, the slats in the grille fold shut for better aerodynamics. There’s a detachable Samsung tablet in the back seat that controls just about everything from lighting, to sun-blinds and sunroofs, to entertainment, seats, navigation and vehicle information – and it works as just an Android tablet too. And finally, iDrive, the screen-based infotainment unit that pioneered the ‘click-wheel’ control scheme is now even better. You can now control it by click-wheel, a touchpad, a touch screen and even by waving your hand to form gestures; the last method works with varying degrees of success. Even the heads-up display is so full of information now, you don’t feel the need to ever look at the dials. It’s worth remembering, however, that our test car is a CBU with a customised interior, so some of this tech and equipment may not be available on the locally assembled diesel car.
What’s it like to drive?
The engine first, and it’s the familiar 4.4-litre twin-turbo V8 producing 444bhp and 66.28kgm that was in the outgoing 7-series as well, although we didn’t get a chance to sample it with this updated power output. It’s a sporty motor, and you can feel it from the get-go. It fires to life with the slightest of shimmies, and though it settles into a silent idle, the moment you rev it past about 2,000rpm, a slight murmur arises. Yes, that means it’s not the most refined V8 in the class, but it also goads you to push it further, and when you do, the murmur turns into a proper snarl. It will rev to almost 7,000rpm in full Sport mode! In fact, in Eco Pro and Comfort modes, the responses feel artificially dulled, but combined with the smooth eight-speed auto, it does its job of making the 750Li feel suitably relaxed around town. In Sport, however, it accelerates with the urgency (if perhaps not the ferocity, understandably) of an M5! BMW’s claim of 4.7 seconds to 100kph seems about right. The gearbox is really well tuned too, being super obedient and quick to react, whether at low speeds or high, part throttle or flat out.
This is the first 7-series to have air suspension not just on the rear axle, but on the front one too, and ride quality has hugely improved as a result. Where the old car felt clunky at low speeds and through potholes, this one is so much better at ironing them out. It’s really impressive when you consider the optional 20-inch wheels and their 35-profile tyres; we imagine the standard ones will yield an even more comfortable ride. You still feel a thud over a sharp edge, but again, it’s really impressive given the spec of wheel and tyre we’re running on. Of the drive modes, 'Comfort' is probably the best compromise if you want ride comfort. ‘Comfort Plus’ does give a softer edge, but you get a lot more vertical movement over undulations and speed as well. Sport mode is actually great for highway runs because it gives the flattest ride and minimum suspension travel, but perhaps it’s not best for inner-city driving.
Sport mode of course tightens up the steering and makes for a sharper driving experience overall. The old 7-series seemed to err too much on the sporty side, feeling a bit too large, heavy and cumbersome and low speeds, but fantastic when you pushed it hard. This one aims for more of a middle ground and does a great job of it. The new steering has perhaps lost that great heft that made it feel so good at speed, but it’s still incredibly accurate with very little slack, even though it’s super light now. The best part is that all these elements (including the seating position and good visibility) mean the car soon shrinks around you and you soon feel confident to push this massive sedan as hard as you would a 3-series.
Should I buy one?
The petrol 750Li is only available as a CBU import for now, but the advantage is that it’s fully customisable with options from BMW’s ‘Individual’ catalogue (CKD versions of the diesel car come in a pre-set trim). That makes it a little pricy at Rs 1.55 crore (ex-showroom), but even then, it’s not too much more than other V8-powered rivals. Make what you will of the looks, but you can’t deny that it has that imperious presence, thanks in a big part to its massive size and that epic grille. The interior now feels properly worth the price and status – though we’ll have to see the CKD version to give you a final verdict – and it’s good to see BMW experimenting with new designs for a change. The dynamics may not be as sharp as before, but we feel the added comfort is preferable – this is a limousine at the end of the day. However, the highlight is surely the truckloads of tech, that will hopefully make its way into more cars very soon. The new 750Li is still a treat for those who want a bit of performance from their limousine, but it’s no longer just a one-trick pony, but a bona fide luxury car as well.