Overall rating: 3/5
The BMW 7 Series has always played something of a bit part in the luxury limo stakes, offering a driving experience that is superior to that of simply being a passenger. Now however the balance has been redressed, and not only is it cleaner, faster, more economical and better equipped, but much better to sit in the back of as well.
In the metal 3/5
It'd be too easy to quip that the car we drove, and the one in the pictures, was actually the previous model - but the differences between predecessor and successor really are that tight. Up front the double-kidney grille loses three slats each side, the intake below has been re-profiled and the headlights more sleekly styled. They also now include some new LED technology within the signature Corona rings, and the wing indicators have now moved to the mirrors - leaving an ungainly sliver of metal where they once were. Still, regardless of your opinion (and the BMW is a model that will split that down the middle) the 7 Series is a striking car guaranteed of attention.
Changes to the interior are just as much an anti-climax; new leather seats and some rear screen entertainment changes (where fitted) are the few differences. If you're feeling adventurous you can specify a new black-panel instrument display that not only replicates the standard instruments, with a neat magnification of the numbers the needle hovers over, but can also be swapped between various display configurations. And for those who appreciate good music as much as sci-fi style instruments, Bang & Olufsen will take care of any high-end audio requirements.
Driving it 4/5
If you're buying a 7 Series to simply travel in, rather than drive, then the point has clearly been missed. While an S-Class is more luxurious to lounge around the rear of, the 7 Series is all about the driving experience - a car to be enjoyed from the front seat rather than the rear bench.
It was the same with the previous model, whose firm suspension often came in for some criticism, failing to offer the supple ride that a luxury limo should have. Claiming that it's never made so many changes underneath the skin of a mid-life update model before, BMW believes it has the answer with the new 7 Series; there's new rubber bushings for the suspension, different dampers and the previously optional self-levelling rear air suspension is now fitted as standard. The ride is certainly better, soaking up many of the tarmac imperfections of our Russian route, but the new electric power steering system is too weighty just off dead-centre for a car of this size.
Steering and suspension foibles aside, there's little to grumble about with the new 7 Series' driving experience though. All engines are more economical and efficient than before, and the eight-speed automatic gearbox smooth and quick to shift. The Driver Experience Control now includes the firm's ECO Pro mode, which not only retunes the car's mechanical responses and electrical systems to be more efficient, but also offers hints and tips to the driver in a bid to make for more economical driving. It feels particularly satisfying to see just how many extra miles you have added to your range just by being a little light-footed with the accelerator pedal, as the numerical figure is displayed within the main instrument panel.
Of course the most efficient model, and the biggest seller in this part of the world, is going to be the 730d, which achieves over 50mpg (5.6 litres/100km) and emits less than 150g/km of CO2 emissions - staggering figures for such a large car. But our first experience of the new 7 Series was one without diesel power, so we had to 'settle' for the 750i instead. Thanks to the inclusion of stop-start this 4.4-litre turbocharged V8 engine still impresses the Greens, returning nearly 33mpg (8.6 litres/100km) and emitting less than 200g/km of CO2. But then the reason you'd buy a 750i is not to save money at the pumps or the tax office, but to enjoy the delivery of its 449hp.
With the 0-100km/h sprint concluded in 4.8 seconds, aided by 650Nm available from only 2,000rpm, there's no need for any disappointment. It's no roaring V8 of course, this being a luxury limo stuffed with sound deadening, and it's only when you look at the rapidly climbing speedometer and rev-counter needles that you realise just how quick this 7 Series is. Smooth and deceptively quick yes, but it's also got some real character about it - and if money was no object then we can see why the 750i is such a popular choice in other areas of the world.
What you get for your money 4/5
All versions of the updated 7 Series are well-equipped; it is after all a luxury car and the list of equipment levels demanded from buyers is lengthy. High quality leather, plastics and wood surround you, the Bang & Olufsen stereo is as ear-tingling as you'd hope for and the options list as varied and far reaching as any other.
Russia may seem like a strange place to launch a new car, especially one as expensive as the 7 Series. But while the rest of the world is enduring something of a recession, Russia can't grow fast enough and BMW sold over 1,500 examples of this model last year. And while the car we drove was a standard wheelbase model, it's actually the long wheelbase 7 Series (badged 'Li') that now accounts for the majority of worldwide sales.
Better than ever, of that there is no doubt - if you were already considering adding a BMW 7 Series to your life then now is definitely the time. More refined, better equipped and even more efficient than before, it's now a much more compliant limo too. But it's not as emotionally alluring as a Jaguar XJ, as cutting edge as an Audi A8 or as relaxing a ride as the Mercedes S-Class; the latter remains the best all-rounder in the sector.