A classy car to tap into your inner oligarch
The design changes in the 730d are barely noticeable, but the performance and comfort are hard to ignore
ROAD TEST:We like to think that everyone is sharing our economic pain, but the reality is that in countries such as Russia (and certain corners of Ireland) the rich are still getting richer. Hardly surprising, then, that BMW chose St Petersburg for the international launch of the latest incarnation of its flagship saloon, the new BMW 7 Series.Far from the opulence of the Winter Palace, the 7 Series recently arrived on the more austere shores of Ireland. While oligarchs are thin on the ground on this island, there remains a market for these cars amongst the select few – foreign diplomats and visiting directors of multinationals to list but two. And of course there’s always royalty, with reports that Prince Charles is preparing to take delivery of a heavily armoured version in the coming months.
Despite the doom and gloom, more than 100 luxury cars are registered each year in a market still dominated by the daddy of them all, the Mercedes S-Class.
So how does the 730d stack up against its arch-rivals, the Audi A8, Mercedes-Benz S-Class, Lexus LS460 and the Jaguar XJ?
Visually, this new model features some extremely subtle design changes to the front and rear, although even the most avid anorak will struggle to spot them. Here are a few examples, ideal for a BMW employees’ pub quiz: The trademark BMW kidney grille features nine slats instead of the usual 13, and it’s also 8mm lower in ride height. Yes, folks: 8mm – about the length of the nail on your little finger.
As you can probably guess, then, most people will notice that it’s the new model by looking at the numberplate.
There’s no doubting the physical presence the 7 Series has, particularly when driving on country roads where you often find yourself hogging the middle of the road to avoid the grass verge on the nearside. Thankfully, despite its large footprint, it handles with impeccable precision, enabling you to corner at speed with confidence. The chassis reacts to steering inputs with positive feedback while the electronically controlled damping system adjusts each wheel individually depending on the road surface.
That’s all designed to aid the driver up front, but in many cases the paymaster for such vehicles spend their time in the back. So for their comfort the air suspension on the rear axle is self-levelling, which means a comfortable ride for rear-seat occupants regardless of the road surface and pace of the car. Rarely would you be in a hurry in a luxury car, but should the need arise to be chauffeured out of trouble, rest assured the 7 Series is more than capable of losing the chasing pack.
The entry-level 730d SE we tested claims to offer a balance of economy and performance. Its 3.0-litre diesel engine, complete with TwinPower turbo, produces a decent 258bhp and a brawny 560Nm of torque. If you’re after more power, the 740d produces 313hp and 630Nm of torque.
Relatively speaking, the 730d is pretty economical, capable of returning a combined fuel consumption of 5.6l/100km (50.4mpg). Around town it will prove a much thirstier beast, but out on the open road it’s surprising how efficient it is.
Coupled with the eight-speed dual-clutch transmission, the 7 Series is effortless to drive. Its natural habitat is the long motorway drive, so you can criss-cross the island and hop out ready for even the most gruelling meeting with your irate bank manager.
Inside, the 7 Series offers everything you’d expect at this level. It would take about three pages of the newspaper to list all the options available on this car, but basically it’s a mix of gadgets and creature comforts you’d find in the soft furnishing and electronic departments at Brown Thomas.
There are some discrepancies, however. Bluetooth for a mobile phone is standard but you pay extra to stream music from your smartphone. Likewise, rear parking sensors are fitted but a reversing camera costs extra. These features are standard on a mid-range Toyota Yaris these days. It would be unfortunate to have your new €100,000 luxury motor shown up by a neighbour’s supermini.
Royalty, diplomats and corporate fat cats aside, it’s unlikely we’ll see many new luxury cars on our roads this year, but for the fortunate few how does the 7 Series hold up to its rivals?
The Audi A8, like the 7 Series, is a high-tech instrument of engineering, the Jaguar XJ has more of a distinctive presence, while the Mercedes-Benz S-Class offers excellent passenger comfort. The Lexus LS, the only real Asian contender in these ranks, has the looks and the technology, but lacks the heritage and history that these sort of buyers find important.
The S-Class remains the benchmark in this class, but the BMW has closed the gap, particularly if you happen to spend more time behind the wheel instead of lounging in the back. It doesn’t topple the S-Class from its throne, but it’s a strong effort and certainly manages to hold its ground against the persistent attack from the Audi A8. For our money the 1-2-3 in this class remains S-Class-7 Series-A8.
The lowdown: BMW 730d
2,993cc diesel engine putting out 258hp and 560Nm of torque with an eight-speed automatic transmission
0-100km/h 6.1 seconds, max speed 250km/h
Urban 6.8l/100km (41.5mpg) extra-urban 4.9l/100km (57.6mpg) combined 5.6l/100km (50.4mpg)
Emissions: (Motor Tax) 148g/km (€390)
Audi A8 3.0 TDI Diesel 250hp €97,450 (motor tax €570); Mercedes-Benz S350 Bluetec Diesel 258hp €102,155 (motor tax €570);
Lexus LS460 (Awaiting Price) Jaguar XJ 3.0 Diesel Luxury 275hp €90,840 (motor tax €570).
€91,290 (€102,620 as tested)