When BMW launched the sixth generation version of its top saloon, the 7 Series, it elevated itself back into contention at the top end of the luxury segment for large saloons. But much has happened since. This significantly revised model has had to get clever to keep up with the demands of the marketplace. With a frugal diesel and a plug-in hybrid available, it proves even luxury barges need a conscience these days.
The 7 Series has always sold itself as the driver's choice in luxury limos and that doesn't look to be changing any time soon. Even the most sensible (and slowest) six cylinder 730d pumps out 265hp, enough for 0-62mph in a scant 6.1 seconds (which falls to 5.8s if you go for optional xDrive 4WD). This is a far more popular choice than the similarly-price 340hp 740i petrol model. Other less popular engine options in the 7 Series range all come only with xDrive. There's the 320hp 740d diesel, the 530hp 750i petrol V8 and for real plutocrats, the 585hp M760Li V12.
Should you want to be as green as possible - or just escape the London congestion charge - there's a 745e plug-in hybrid that can travel up to 36 miles on electric power alone. All models receive an eight speed automatic gearbox and air suspension for both front and rear axles that allows you to switch from soft to sporty and the touch of a button. As the ultimate party trick, you can even get out of the car and set it to park itself from your smart phone. Very James Bond. Optional Integral Active Steering allows rear wheel steering to tighten the turning circle and sharpen cornering response. And on most models you can also specify Active Chassis Control to reduce body roll.
The 7 Series was the first of BMW's models to employ a 'carbon core' body structure blended with aluminium and carbon fibre-reinforced plastic - and that continues with this revised version of the 'G11'-series generation model. It offers us very much an evolutionary design and much about it is familiar - the long wheelbase and short overhangs, the flowing roofline and the 'Hofmeister kink' (the upturned line at the trailing edge of the side window graphic). Look closely though and the enhancements become obvious, most notably at the front end, which is now around 50mm taller at its foremost point. The traditional BMW kidney grille is significantly larger and features active air flap control with adjustable vanes that only open when the need for cooling air is increased. Slimmer three-dimensional rear lights and re-styled 18-21-inch alloy rims complete the key exterior changes.
Inside, there's an all-digital instrument cluster that blends with an enhanced centre-dash screen of the same size. Plus buyers get the latest version of the BMW Touch Command unit. This removable tablet with a 7-inch screen can be used from any seat and even outside the vehicle. It lets the occupants operate comfort functions such as seat adjustment, interior lighting and climate control, as well as the infotainment, navigation and communication systems.
The 7 Series has always offered a slightly different take on the large luxury saloon. Although other vehicles may arguably offer greater passenger comfort, the big BMW has always made sure its drivers could enjoy themselves should the fancy take them. With this revised MK6 model, BMW look to have improved on this dual personality with extra tech and engineering enhancements like Integral Active Steering and Active Chassis Control.
You could argue that this car still doesn't look quite as special as some of its rivals, but then this is quite a cautious section of the market. It's also undoubtedly better looking than the previous model, managing to seem both more stately and athletic at the same time. Whether it's enough to edge out the BMWs arch nemesis the Mercedes S-Class is another question though. You'll enjoy deciding.Click here to find out more about our BMW 7 Series range