DRIVEN: G12 BMW 7 Series reviewed in Portugal – 750Li xDrive and 745Le xDrive

Ashla versus Bogan, Goku versus Vegeta, Arsenal versus Tottenham Hotspur, and PlayStation, Xbox, and Wii; these are just a few examples of rivalries that are well known to many of us. The automotive industry isn’t excluded either, and a popular point of contention involves the luxury limousine market, bringing us neatly to the BMW 7 Series.

An endless thorn in the sides of the Mercedes-Benz S-Class and Audi A8, the 7 Series has been around for more than four decades, and the current sixth-generation model was recently given a facelift (or LCI if you speak the BMW tongue) to ensure it remains battleworthy, at least until the seventh 7er comes along.

With the facelift, the company listened to the demands its customers expected with the new 7er, particularly those from its most important markets. In the case of the pre-facelift model, China had the largest volume share of 41%, followed by North America at 17% – Germany accounted for just 5%.

After plenty of time researching and conducting consumer surveys, BMW’s latest flagship is finally ready, and we were given the opportunity to try it out in Portugal. Yes, we’ll get to that nose, right now! Read on.

According to BMW, the reason for the new kidney grille – now 40% larger than before – is largely to ensure sufficient cooling for the new V8 engine (we’ll get to that in a minute). Additionally, to make sure there’s enough room for those nostrils, the bonnet itself is now 50 mm higher at its foremost point.

A stronger reasoning is the needs of customers who want their vehicle to have more road presence, and to look significantly different to a lesser 5 Series, or 3 Series for that matter. And when you factor in where the 7 Series is sold the most (and its price point), there is a case for the enlarged nose (and badge too).

This is certainly a very divisive styling cue, and I for one feel that a nose of such size looks more appropriate on something like the X7 rather than on a sedan, given the SUV’s more upward stature. The new grille isn’t the only thing that BMW altered either, as you’ll also find slimmer headlamps at the front, which proportionately makes the grille look even larger.

Further down, the redesigned bumper on Luxury Line models now have air deflectors on the outer intakes for better aerodynamics, so air is guided more efficiently to the brake air ducts and the Air Curtains – the latter working in sync with the upright Air Breathers along the sides.

Luxury Line (left), M Sport (right)

As for the rear, the 3D-effect taillights are 35 mm slimmer and incorporate the carmaker’s L-shaped lighting signature. There’s also a full-width light strip below the top chrome bar, and you’ll be treated to a light show when you lock or unlock the vehicle. Dual exhausts remain present as before, this time with full chrome surrounds.

Meanwhile, cars with the M Sport kit up the visual drama with BMW’s trademark triple-section bumper with more aggressive and larger intakes, while the rear end sees moulded exhaust surrounds in an off-body-colour finish. All in all, the supplementary changes to the exterior aren’t as prominent as what you see up front, and shouldn’t be much cause of controversy.

The same can be said of the interior, where at first glance, it’s hard to see what the fuss is about. Look a little closer, and you’ll find parts from more recent BMW models like the Live Cockpit Professional system, which consists of two displays – one 10.25-inch unit acting as a digital instrument cluster and a 12.3-inch touchscreen for the BMW OS 7.0-powered infotainment system.

This system should be familiar to those who have ever sat in the latest 3 Series, X5, or 8 Series, and remains just as intuitive to use, with crisp graphics and fonts coupled to a high level of configurability.

There’s menus upon menus to decipher, and interacting with the system can be done via touch using the clickwheel or buttons on the new steering wheel or talking to the BMW Assistant. Gestures make a return as well, albeit with extra functionality.

Now, to play the next song or go to the previous one, you now wave your hand within the sensor’s detection zone in a thumbs up fashion in the appropriate direction. Other gestures are as per before – twirling your finger to adjust the volume, swiping your palm across to dismiss calls, and the two-finger poke can be configured for specific actions.

I will admit, the S-Class’ Widescreen Cockpit and the multiple screens in the new A8 both have a bigger “wow factor” by comparison, but not everyone wants that much screen real estate placed directly in front of them, and would prefer something that is more reserved – the latter being me.

While the new tech is nifty, the rest of the driving space looks largely unchanged from the pre-facelift model – you still get the same switchgear from the centre stack right on through to the centre console, with new black finishes for the gear lever and rotary clickwheel.

This is a bit of a downer, especially when you consider other stablemates like the X7 has a cabin that looks much more exquisite by comparison, what with crystal gear levers (also found in the latest X5) and such.

However, it’s hard to fault BMW on this given the inherent restrictions that come with an unchanged platform – this is after all a facelift. Despite this, you still get plenty of lovely materials used throughout the cabin, all installed to a high degree of fit and finish as you’d expect, with every contact point – be it wood, metal or leather – being premium to the touch. For further personalisation, the BMW Individual range is fully stocked to meet almost any needs.

The rear seats remain the best place to be in the 7er’s cabin, and again, it doesn’t seem like BMW made significant changes here. All the creature comforts you want are still here, including powered seats, massage function, electrically retractable sunshades, Sky Lounge panoramic roof and ambient lighting as found in our fully-loaded car.

The only upgrades in this area are a result of the new infotainment system in play, as the rear-seat entertainment system with 10-inch screens share a similar interface, as does the detachable, Samsung-sourced 7-inch tablet parked in the centre console.

It’s still a lovely place to be, with comfortable and supportive seats furnished with soft head pillows that endorses naps. You’ll also be better at this napping business too, as BMW has taken addtional measures to further ensure you are truly isolated (acoustically) from the outside world by giving the car laminated glass that now measures 5.1 mm thick, as well as more insulation around the rear wheel arches.

In motion, the interior is whisper quiet, with very little perceptible wind noise or tyre road intruding into the cabin. With the necessary features activated, you can truly be in your own private cocoon as you are chauffeured along to that next business meeting or wherever it is you need to be.

Of course, BMW once advertised that “those with drive aren’t driven,” and the 7er is widely considered as a car that isn’t just a “palace on wheels,” but also able to deliver “stirring driving dynamics” when you need your wheelman to take the day off.

To see if that still holds true, we were handed the keys to a 750Li xDrive, and sent off on a route that mostly involved highways, with only a small section of B-road leading to a lunch stop. This should be representative of what most owners would do with their 7 Series, as canyon carving isn’t on the top of their to-do lists.

The 750Li we were in packs a N63B44T3 4.4 litre twin-turbo V8 that is shared with the M850i, and with 530 PS and 750 Nm of torque, it is the second most powerful mill available for the 7 Series. Only the 6.6 litre twin-turbo V12 (585 PS and 850 Nm) in the M760Li xDrive has more to offer, but we never got to drive the top-rung, overkill variant there.

There’s not much to complain about though, as the V8 partners up with an eight-speed automatic gearbox and all-wheel drive system to get the nearly two-tonne limo from a rest to 100 km/h in a ludicrous 4.1 seconds, with the top speed capped at 250 km/h.

Power delivery is smooth and the engine is highly responsive, with a slight delay if you suddenly decide to stomp on the accelerator pedal. Do so, and the gearbox drops a cog or two before the powerplant delivers a significant punch that will pin occupants to their seats. Put the car in Sport mode and you’ll also hear the throaty engine note a little more clearly too.

At times when you’re not hammering the car on full tilt, the engine remains mostly tame – the insulation really shines here – with only a low burble noise hanging around to remind you of the torrent of power waiting in reserve.

The might of the engine is paired with a steering that is well weighted though a little muted, with the car turning in with eagerness and accuracy that does help you forget its a rather bulky thing. However, while the assurance of guiding the car with confidence along twisty roads is nice, it’s still very much a big car when wielded, and trying to slow it down from high speeds is a reminder of that.

In the corners, the car does display good agility, with assistance from the Integral Active Steering system (rear-wheel steering), while active roll stabilisation (part of the Executive Drive Pro package) helps minimise body roll. It’s all very tidy, albeit a bit sterile, as much of the environment is mostly filtered out.

Not that many of us moonlight as Jason Statham’s Transporter anyway, and if driving dynamics and involvement are key aspects you want in your luxo-four-door BMW, maybe the new 8 Series Gran Coupe is a better fit, don’t you think?

While it’s prim and proper in the handling department, I can’t say the same for the ride the car delivers, at least with the car we drove. All variants of the 7 Series come as standard with adaptive suspension including electronically controlled dampers and air suspension with automatic self-levelling, which should mean bumps are dismissed with ease.

This is true on highways where the roads are smooth, but the car is noticeably distraught when having to deal with surface imperfections that are common in town areas. It isn’t jarring to the point of being ridiculously uncomfortable, but it does put a damper to things when some shocks aren’t sieved away. The culprit and cause for reasonable doubt here, in my opinion, are the 20-inch wheels fitted to our loaners, and it’d sacrifice them for smaller units to be able to waft around just that much better.

Our time in Portugal wasn’t just limited to just the 750Li, as we also got to sample the new 745Le xDrive, the plug-in hybrid variant in the range. Like its non-hybrid sibling, the replacement for the outgoing 740Le gets an update to its powertrain as well.

A variant more likely to make it to our part of the world, the PHEV ditches the 2.0 litre turbo four-cylinder (258 PS and 400 Nm) as its base engine for a more substantial 3.0 litre turbo straight-six with 286 PS and 450 Nm.

The hybrid parts have also been revised, as the 113 PS electric motor that is integrated into the eight-speed auto gearbox now has serves up 15 Nm more torque at 265 Nm. The e-motor still does double duty, providing direct drive when running in zero emissions mode, and acting as a generator to recuperate energy during braking and coasting.

The bigger engine isn’t the only thing that has been revised, as there’s now a 12 kWh lithium-ion battery under the rear seats instead of a 9.2 kWh unit, made possible thanks to improvements in cell technology. As such the physical size of the battery is unchanged, so you still have 420 litres of boot space, which is 95 litres less than the non-plug-in hybrid variant (515 litres).

With a higher-capacity battery, you get more range when running on electricity alone, with BMW claiming between 50-54 km available, or about 10 km more than before. According to BMW, a full charge when plugged into a 3.7 kW charger (16 A/230 V) will take approximately 4.4 hours.

With all aspects put together, the overall system output stands at 394 PS and 600 Nm, besting the previous variant’s 326 PS and 500 Nm. The all-wheel drive variant we tried will hit 250 km/h, and sprints from zero to 100 km/h in 5.1 seconds, or two tenths of a second faster than the 740Le equivalent.

More range and power are good things, but the real reason for the switch to a straight-six, as BMW engineers explains, is because they are inherently smoother and more refined than a four-banger, paying dividends particularly when switching between hybrid modes.

Our limited time with the 745Le meant we only drove it within five km of the starting point at Conrad Algarve, and initial impressions reveal a less jerky transition when the combustion engine is called into action compared to the previous four-cylinder version.

Running in electric mode also complemented the silent cabin further, and we didn’t notice a significant difference in terms of ride comfort, despite the 85 kg of extra weight in eDrive components that the 745Le comes with, compared to the 750Li we drove earlier. Overall, the revision to the PHEV powertrain appears to be a rewarding one, at least during our half-hour runabout.

In closing, the improved powertrains, latest BMW tech, and further refinement of a cabin that is still beautifully put together contribute to make the new 7 Series a much more capable limo than before. Not a big chance dynamically, as it’s still geared towards ensuring drivers are entertained (to some degree), while those who prefer to be driven around are assured of a comfortable time.

The pressing issue here is the car’s revamped styling, first with a front end that can be a rather hard pill for some to swallow, at least for this writer. The second is the interior, which while perfectly decent, does seem to be a little “old fashioned” when compared to its rivals. Is this update enough to keep the 7 Series relevant in the mean time? Tough one to answer. We’ll let the sales charts answer this.

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