The 7 is not as ‘cool’ as an SUV, but its recipe is one with lots of appeal, and is just better than a big luxo-SUV could ever be

There was a time when luxury flagship German sedans weren’t just airport minicabs, but an ultimate expression of personal comfort, technology and desirability. But in 2019 it’s not only the mainstream sedan that’s been hit by the burgeoning success of SUVs, but also the flagship limo. The BMW 7-series is one such model, and upon its update earlier this year, BMW had to approach the conundrum of balancing a response to this threat without forgetting its valuable and hard-earned heritage.

As it stands, the 2019 7 series is a substantial facelift of the G12-generation car that went on sale in 2015, sharing the same core architecture and interior. However, it’s what’s found behind those controversial new kidney grilles that’s new here, with a range of powertrains that appeal to private buyers as much as a businesses thanks to new or updated engine variants.

> Click here for our review of the Mercedes S-class

So, do those new kidneys hide a large sedan worthy of adoration for the driving set, or is this a car ready to be consigned to a life of gentle chauffeuring and the not-so-occasional airport run?

Performance and 0-100kmh time

All versions of the new 7 are brisk, without any overweight efficiency-biased plug-in hybrid or four-cylinder models left in the British line-up. The tardiest 7, the 730d, as a result still reaches 100kmh from rest in 6.1sec, while the 740d xDrive does the same sprint in 5.3sec and the 740i in 5.5sec. Meanwhile, the rapid 750i does the sprint in just 4.0sec dead.

As a result, all 7s feel well endowed and unstressed, and in some cases build on that with a startling amount of potency. The 750i, specifically, not only feels good for its 390kW, but could easily be producing more, with borderline M5 levels of performance.

> Click here for our review of the BMW 750i

The diesels are strong, but extend them any further than what feels comfortable and their limitations become clear, lacking the oddly satisfying linearity that Mercedes-Benz has engineered into its new straight-six diesel. The V12 M760Li has yet to arrive in its latest form in the UK, although we’re interested to see how much faster, if at all, the new V12 flagship feels now after having its wings clipped.

Engine and gearbox

New for the updated 7 are a plug-in hybrid straight-six and petrol V8. The remainder of the engines are carried over, albeit with updates to meet WLTP regulations. The range kicks off with a pair of straight-six diesels – the 730d and 740d – that produce 195kW and 250kW respectively. Both are inherently smooth, efficient and tuneful, if lacking the outright brilliance of Merc’s own new in-line six diesels. A petrol-powered 740i is also available with 250kW.

From here the range gets a little more complicated, with the new 745e plug-in hybrid coming up next on the pricing list. Here, the 7 combines a 210kW turbocharged 3-litre in-line six petrol engine with an electric motor and battery pack. Total peak outputs are rated at 290kW and 600Nm of torque. This is not the first plug-in 7-series, but it is the first with a more laid-back and hushed six-cylinder engine, which is a marked improvement on the previous thrashy four-pot.

Next up is the 750i, which is fitted as standard with all-wheel drive, and is only available with a short-wheelbase body. This is very much so the driver’s choice of the range, with a wonderful baritone V8 burble providing a satisfying undertone to the silky and sophisticated progress the 7 makes. At 4.4-litres, the new twin-turbocharged unit is shared with the M850i and feels perhaps underrated for its 390kW on-paper figure.

Finally, the M760Li tops the range, although as mentioned, the recent WLTP regulation changes have forced BMW to wipe off some kW, reducing peak power from its previously headline-grabbing 448kW to 430kW. Like before, the V12 is only available in a long-wheelbase body, perhaps answering why the 750i isn’t.

Ride and Handling

The BMW 7-series is built on the same CLAR platform as a majority of the BMW range, but with one key difference: double wishbone front suspension. This single element, in conjunction with the 7’s standard air-suspension, helps it ride with a serious level of sophistication; more than you’ll find on a 5-series, without doubt. Of course, part of the 7’s core requirements is to ride flawlessly, which it does, but the expertly judged ride quality also avoids the floaty sensation that so often afflicts cars of this type.

In absolute terms, an S-class still might have the edge on outright comfort, but the BMW finds a more satisfying balance than the pillowy Merc. One thing that even an S-class cannot avoid is a challenging secondary ride, nor overcoming the sheer physics of 2000kg of metal crashing into a road imperfection with only an inch of sidewall on the tyre. Yet even when shod with 20-inch tyres with a bold profile, the 7 remains incredibly composed, floating over said imperfections as if they weren’t even there.

Raise the speed and the 7 just gets better, attacking British back roads with a level of compliance that’s almost spooky. We stopped and checked the specifications to see if this was a camera-based predictive system, but BMW doesn’t use this tech on the 7, meaning it’s a completely reactive set-up that even in firmer modes smothers the most corrugated surfaces with serious capability. It’s something that even the best SUVs just can’t replicate – a serious USP for large, traditional sedans like this.

Start to take liberties and the chassis responds, but with perhaps a little less enthusiasm than something with less mass behind it would. Still, it’s much better than an S-class down a challenging road, not to mention a Range Rover or BMW X7. The rest of the dynamic package is nearly as impressive, with accurate if light steering, sharp brakes and a level of overall dynamic capability that honestly renders these monster luxury SUVs completely pointless, being better at both soothing and surprising the driver with a sheer breadth of capability impossible to replicate when lugging around an extra 250kg. JORDAN KATSIANIS