It's facelift time for the BMW 7 Series luxury saloon, so what else is new other than the huge new front grille? There are technology and refinement updates for the big limo, too, in a bid to keep the car relevant among its chief rivals from Audi and Mercedes. Here we try out the ludicrously fast 750i petrol version with its twin-turbocharged V8 engine.
In the Metal:
As you may have noticed, the whole front end of the BMW 7 Series has been changed. Its massive kidney grille dominates the view and, apparently, BMW surveyed its target audience before making such a drastic change. The consensus was that buyers wanted the 7 Series to have more presence on the road and be obviously differentiated from the lesser 3 Series and 5 Series. Job done, even if the nicest thing I've heard anyone say about the face of the new 7 Series is "I'm getting used to it."
While all attention is on the new radiator grille, it's worth noting that it is complemented by a large new BMW roundel atop a new bonnet that sits some 50mm higher than before. The high-tech 'BMW Icon' adaptive LED lights contrast the grille with their slimness, while there's a more expressive front bumper, too. New paint colours and alloy wheel designs are part and parcel of any facelift and the 7 Series can be fitted with rims of up to 20-inch in diameter from the BMW factory. As before, the 7 Series is offered in regular and long wheelbase body styles and you get a bonus point if you've spotted that the stylised aerodynamic 'Air Breathers' behind the front wheels are now more upright in appearance than on the old car.
At the back, the lights are new and, echoing those up front, they're slimmer than before, with more complex sculpting. The chrome strip joining them has been slimmed down, too, making room for a full-width light bar as part of the daytime running lamps. Below all that are wider exhaust outlets.
The interior of the 7 Series hasn't been drastically changed and indeed, buyers may be a little disappointed that it doesn't get the new style of automatic gear shifter and centre console button array as found in the BMW X7 and 8 Series. The 7 does, however, get the latest iDrive operating system with Live Cockpit Professional, which pairs the digitally rendered instrumentation with a wide touchscreen and gesture control. Elsewhere, a new ceramic material is employed to enhance the perceived quality of the switchgear, the wireless charging pad moves from under the central armrest to in front of the gear lever and the optional rear seat entertainment gets a tech upgrade.
What you can't see so easily are the standard soft-close doors, thermally and acoustically insulated windscreen and extra sound deadening material in the rear bodywork to help quell road noise. Nappa leather upholstery in a choice of six different colours is standard, with five Individual Full Merino leather colours on the options list.
Cars such as the BMW 7 Series are, first and foremost, luxury vehicles. Many of them, especially the long-wheelbase models, will be chosen for the comfort of the rear-seat passengers. To that end, the back seats are exceedingly comfortable, there's loads of space and it's possible to make it even more luxurious by adding the Premium and Rear Seat Comfort Plus packages. These add such niceties as thicker side glass, ambient air, upgraded rear seats with massage, heating and ventilation, rear-seat entertainment (including a television function) and electrically retracting sun blinds for the rear and side windows. It's a lovely place to while away a long journey while someone else worries about the driving.
But this being a BMW, the company persists with making its 7 Series the luxury saloon option that people might want to drive for themselves. At the top of the range is the unhinged, V12-engined M760Li, but for considerably less, the 750i delivers almost as much performance. It's powered by an updated version of BMW's twin-turbocharged 4.4-litre V8 petrol engine, now producing the same 530hp and 750Nm of torque as the M850i is endowed with. That, helped by xDrive all-wheel drive, allows the 750i to sear away from a standstill and hit 100km/h a scarcely believable four seconds later. And while it feels deliciously fast, it delivers this punch in a refined and restrained manner, in keeping with the luxury car image.
As standard, all examples of the 7 Series get air suspension and adaptive dampers, which allow it play the cushy cruiser on the motorway and in town, but, if the mood takes you, it can also attack a series of twisty roads in a far more engaging manner than you'd reasonably expect such a large car to. Sure, the steering is a little numb, and the engine, despite its adaptive M Sport exhaust, is always on the quiet side of sporting, but even so, this car's chassis can embarrass far sportier-looking machinery in the turns.
Admittedly, our test cars were loaded with all the driving options, including Integral Active Steering (BMW's excellent rear-wheel steering system that's a must in a car this big), but it put up with a sustained 'enthusiastic' drive up a tortuously twisty mountain pass with little complaint from the brakes, or anything else. Sure, the tyres eventually squealed their displeasure, but even so, an optimistic corner entry speed can be sorted out by keeping the accelerator pedal planted and letting the xDrive system re-channel the engine output. It is genuinely a lot of fun.
Of course, very few buyers of a 7 Series will ever drive it this way, but many will be perhaps glad to know that it's still a BMW at heart, just one that focuses on comfort for the most part.
What you get for your Money:
Obviously, the 7 Series is a pricey car, but so too are all its rivals. Justifying that to some extent is a lengthy list of standard equipment, including leather upholstery, alloy wheels, an automatic transmission, air suspension, LED lighting all-round with high-beam assistant, electrically adjusted and heated front seats, four-zone climate control, ambient lighting, Parking Assistant Plus, a Harman/Kardon sound system, Connected Package Professional, Bluetooth, BMW Live Cockpit Professional and more.
You can read more about the 7 Series line-up of engines, etc. in our BMW 745Le review.
Acknowledging that the 750i is of minority interest in Ireland (and indeed Europe as a whole), our test drive in the updated BMW 7 Series reinforces our view that it remains at the top of the class for those that want to drive their luxury car for themselves. The massive front grille might put some buyers off, but there's no denying that it's a remarkably composed vehicle in all conditions that has an exceptionally wide breadth of capability, all wrapped up in high-quality surroundings featuring the latest in automotive technology.