The BMW 7 Series has been given a mid-life refresh to give it a fighting chance against the all-new Mercedes S-Class, which is due to arrive in 2013.
Visually, theres not much to differentiate the revised 7 Series from the outgoing model; it gets a new grille, a new front bumper and full LED headlights. Instead, the biggest changes are reserved for the mechanicals.
Crucially, BMW has worked on the 7 Series chassis, which has long been criticised for poor ride quality. On top of this, the car has switched from a hydraulic power steering set-up to an electric system to boost efficiency.
The petrol engine line-up comprises the 740i, with a turbocharged six-cylinder motor producing 315bhp, the 750i, which gets a revised twin-turbocharged 443bhp 4.4-litre V8 engine, and the twin-turbo V12 760i, which now packs 536bhp and 553lb ft of torque. These models are primarily designed for China, Russia and the United States, although they will be available in the UK. ??
Theres also the Active Hybrid 7, which combines a turbocharged six-cylinder petrol engine and an electric motor for a total power output of 349bhp.
Active Hybrid 7 uses a six-cylinder petrol engine and an electric motor
The diesel options a 730d, now with 255bhp and 413lb ft of torque, and the 740d, with 308bhp and 465lb ft are far more relevant for British buyers. In fact, the 730d accounts for around 80% of 7 Series sold in the UK.
As before, all versions will be available in regular- and long-wheelbase forms. ??
Whats the 2012 BMW 7 Series like inside?
Dont expect a revolution. The dashboard looks very familiar, although theres now a multi-function display that allows the driver to select what information is shown (it also changes depending on which of the car's driving modes are selected). The 10-inch central screen is much the same as before, although BMW has updated it with 3D graphics. ??
Theres a new rear-seat entertainment package, too crucial for the car in markets such as China and Russia, where most buyers prefer to be driven.
However, in general, the cabin feels pretty much as it did before, with lots of space, nice materials and excellent build quality.
As before, long wheelbase versions are 14cm longer than the standard car, providing rear passengers with lots of legroom.
Whats the 2012 BMW 7 Series like to drive?
We drove the long-wheelbase versions of both the 730d and Active Hybrid 7, having previously tested the standard-wheelbase cars abroad.
The power and flexibility of the 730Lds six-cylinder diesel engine confirms why its the choice of most 7 Series customers. The engine also works well with the eight-speed automatic gearbox, keeping things smooth around town.
There are signs of improvement in the chassis set-up, because even though our test cars were riding on larger-than-standard 19-inch alloys, the 730Ld managed to deal with poor road surfaces much better than before.
However, the 7's cruising refinement still falls some way short of that achieved by our favourite luxury saloon, the Mercedes S-Class, which is far more composed over bad potholes and less likely to jostle you when crossing rippled surfaces at speed.
Road noise remains an issue, too; its by far the loudest noise in the 7 Series once youre above 40mph.
The Active Hybrid is only 30kg heavier than the 750i (despite the hybrid systems batteries), but it feels like much more than that and ride quality is even further away from the class benchmark. Nor does the auto box seem quite so confident about downshifts a result, perhaps, of the extra complexity of the petrol/electric motor combination.
Should I buy one?
The improvements to the chassis set-up are undeniable. So, too, are the gains in efficiency, which have taken the 730d down to 148g/km and even the V8-powered 750i to 199g/km; a deeply impressive figure for such a rapid petrol limousine.
That said, a Mercedes S-Class is even more comfortable and refined, so it's the better car to be driven around in.
What Car? says