Road Test: BMW brings 1970s comfort to 7 series
A BMW that matches Mercedes for sheer comfort and interior appointments
Date Reviewed: January 6, 2016
Right, what I’m about to say next is going to make me sound a bit nuts. I realise casual insanity is something of an occupational hazard when pursuing a career as not only a journalist but a motoring journalist, but this will honestly sound a bit daft.
This modern, high-tech, cutting-edge 7 Series BMW drives like a 1970s Citroen.
Allow me to explain. There is a setting in the 7 Series’ Nasa-baffling computer and on-board control set-up that allows you to switch the suspension into a “Comfort Plus” setting. That done, the self-levelling air suspension system, which damps and springs the double-joint front, five-link rear suspension, goes into a mode where it says to itself, “Ah, here is someone who once drove a Citroen CX and has since longed for the soft, sofa-like squishiness of its Hydragas suspension. Happy to oblige, sir”. And suddenly, in your supposedly sporty BMW 7, you’re loping along with the sort of gentle, pillow-like comfort and soft bump absorption that once only Paris could provide. It is utterly wonderful, and you start to suspect that BMW has actually discovered time travel and used it to go back to 1971 and kidnap some Citroen suspension boffins.
You can, of course, go entirely the other way. Keep pressing the button on the centre console next to the gear selector, and you’ll eventually find “Sport Mode”. At that point, you can feel the car stiffen and strain, as if you’ve just said “walkies” within earshot of a family Labrador, and then it feels like an old-school 7 Series. Well, almost. It becomes very clear, even if you never bother the Comfort Plus setting, that BMW has changed its 7 tune, just a bit.
Even with Sport Mode selected, the ride comfort is still nothing short of excellent (in Comfort Plus I’d call it exquisite) and while it certainly feels sharp and reactive when you want it to, it doesn’t quite wrap itself around the back of the front-right seat in the manner of old 7s.
Clearly, BMW has decided that what customers want is Mercedes-S Class-style refinement and comfort, and by gum it’s going to deploy an army of engineers and computers to provide just that.
The 7 Series is certainly not short of tech, and that begins under the skin where the core structure of the car owes more to the high-tech iCars than it does to a 5 or 3 Series. Much of the inner part of the 7 is made of carbon-fibre re-inforced plastic, the same light and strong material that makes up much of the chassis of the i3 and i8 and it makes the 7 Series a positive featherweight. Even in long-wheelbase form (with added stretching space in the back) and with the hefty lump of a 3.0-litre diesel straight-six up front (upgraded to 265hp and 620Nm yet with CO2 emissions of just 122g/km) the 7 Series weighs just over 1,800kg. For reference, that’s actually slightly less than an old-shape Jaguar XF, a far smaller and less well-endowed vehicle.
Inside, while there is nothing especially new about the controls, styling or layout there is a hugely impressive list of technology on offer. Multiple cameras give you a choice of all-round and oblique views when parking, including one where it appears that the camera is hovering about six-feet behind the corner of the car.
There are heated, massaging seats (front and rear) and all of the rear functions (seats, blinds, sunroof, twin-screen entertainment system) can be controlled from a 7in Android tablet which parks itself in a slot in the rear centre armrest. The key actually has its own built-in touch screen that can tell you when your lights are still switched on or how much fuel you have left.
It’s a bit daft though, especially as it has an even worse battery life than the smartphones it seeks to emulate. You can, though, control the volume on the stereo, Obi-Wan Kenobi style, by twiddling your finger in front of a gesture control sensor. It’s hardly any quicker or easier than using a steering-wheel button, but it’s a pleasant gimmick and a good one for impressing the in-laws.
The thing is that, visually at least, you’re not going to be impressing very many people. The 7 Series is an imposing car, physically, but BMW’s continued adherence to the “like a 3 Series but bigger/smaller” styling language means that it does nothing to stand out.
The same could be said of a rival Audi A8, but the Merc S-Class has more visual heft and the Jaguar XJ, although aged, still has greater stylistic impact. And don’t get me started on the Maserati Quattroporte.
BMW was able to create one of the most striking looking cars of any type when it made the i8 supercar, yet with its flagship saloon, the styling department seems to have bottled it. Okay, so buyers in this segment are a conservative bunch, but even so.
Still, if all we can find to complain about is styling that’s a touch too quiet then perhaps we’re nit-picking. What BMW has created is a 7 Series that, possibly for the first time in the badge’s long history, is a match in terms of comfort, interior appointments and refinement to the benchmark Mercedes.
It still retains enough of the old one’s agility and driver appeal (once you’ve pushed the sport button) but clearly and correctly the focus has been on making it a more soothing car in which to travel. From the back seats, it’s hard to think of a more relaxing way to get about until and unless someone invents a motorised hot-tub.
For all its visual reticence then, the 7 Series is something of a landmark car, and certainly one of the most technologically advanced you can currently buy.
And it’s got my hopes up that the next-generation 3 Series will have, somewhere in its make-up, just a little Citroen GS BiRotor.
The lowdown: BMW 730LD
Price: €135,728 as tested; range starts at €96,030.
Top speed: 250kmh.
CO2 emissions: 122g/km.
Motor tax: €270.