x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

New BMW 7-Series is better than ever

BMW's new 7-Series might look the same as the outgoing model but the changes under its body are far reaching.

LED headlamps are new, and the lower grille is different but the real advancements have been made to the 7's suspension. Ravindranath K / The National
LED headlamps are new, and the lower grille is different but the real advancements have been made to the 7's suspension. Ravindranath K / The National

The waters of the large, luxury car market are now more crowded than ever. Jaguar, Mercedes-Benz, Audi, Lexus, even Maserati and Porsche - not to mention the likes of Bentley and Rolls-Royce - are all rivals chasing the same discerning clientele, and the worldwide appetite for cars that offer enormous levels of performance along with cosseting refinement, efficiency and rock-solid build quality, shows no signs of abating, especially here in the GCC.

In the bloody battle for market dominance, BMW's 7-Series seemingly has always been there, offering the discerning driver (or passenger) the very best of both worlds. Because the big 7 makes a dynamic driver's car that can double up as one of the world's most comfortable limos. And the most recent iteration also managed to bring glamorous good looks into the equation - no wonder it has been such an enormous worldwide hit. In the UAE, it has reigned supreme for ages as the regions biggest selling luxury motor. Updating such a successful model, then, was always going to be a risky proposition, so has BMW got it right or spoiled the recipe?

This new 7 is basically a mid-life refresh of the fifth generation and you'd be hard pressed to spot any differences in its external design but they are indeed there in the form of LED headlamps and some subtle changes to the enormous grilles on its snout. Inside it's the same story, with the cabin architecture mostly unchanged but the addition of a 10.25-inch digital instrument panel is a welcome addition and looks excellent.

But it's under the bodywork where BMW has really put in the effort, with the company keen to address the issues that many brought to light with the car, namely the way it rides and handles. So now, fitted as standard, is the self-leveling air suspension at the rear, which was previously an optional extra. There are also new ball joints, bearings, dampers and mounts throughout, and a new electric power steering system. And the good news is that it is, indeed, a marked improvement all round. There is still some way to go in order to overthrow the Mercedes-Benz S Class as the best there is, but it's now a much closer contest than ever.

This is partly down to BMW's infuriating insistence on fitting run-flat tyres to all its models, which provide next to nothing in the way of cushioning due to their immensely stiff sidewalls, so the suspension has its work cut out when it comes to surface absorption. The other thing standing in the way of ultimate ride refinement is that, as with any BMW, it has to be a car that appeals to drivers, rather than back seat passengers. So the floaty ride provided by a Lexus LS just wouldn't pass muster here.

The 750Li on test here is, it must be said, an excellent compromise between these two extremes, and is an extremely brisk performer when you take it by the scruff of the neck, providing seemingly endless levels of impressive grunt from its twin-turbo, 4.4L V8. When you floor the throttle, there's a satisfying yet muted roar from up front and the car simply devours the road as it gets into its stride, which it manages in almost complete silence, except for the wind noise, which is a little disappointing, especially when Audi's S8 is eerily quiet thanks to its double glazing. It's hardly a deal breaker, though.

With more power than ever before, it's remarkable that CO2 emissions have been cut to just 199g/km and fuel economy averages 8.61L/100km - figures that would have seemed impossible to attain just a few years ago.

Its natural habitat is the world's fast-flowing motorways, rather than twisting back roads - that much is obvious. And its unstressed engine makes long journeys an absolute joy, perfectly matched as it is to the new, eight-speed ZF automatic transmission. It just doesn't feel as spirited as Jaguar's XJ, nor as performance oriented as a Porsche Panamera, both of which are key rivals in the 7's segment. But then the majority of owners might only occasionally take the wheel, preferring instead to luxuriate in the rear quarters - an area in which the long wheelbase Bimmer truly excels.

The task of refining a car that's already extremely good is a tall one. BMW, however, has done itself proud with the newest 7 and, in so many regards, it remains the ultimate choice.

The cabin is a truly lovely environment, combining intuitive and unobtrusive technology with faultless design, and it still impresses as a cosseting and exciting way to travel, whether it's a cross-continent dash or a slow crawl through congested city streets. With normal tyres fitted, perhaps it would gain some extra points but, even as it is, its position in the UAE's sales charts should remain unchallenged for some time yet.

khackett@thenational.ae