First Drive

2015 BMW 7 Series 730Ld review

We've driven BMW’s all-new and ultra-clever 7 Series abroad. Now it's time for a UK drive to see if it can worry established rivals such as Audi's A8 and the Mercedes-Benz S-Class

Words ByWhat Car? Staff

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The all-new 7 Series, BMW’s luxury flagship saloon, is now in its sixth generation. Larger, lighter (thanks to its new carbonfibre construction), more efficient and loaded with the very latest high-end tech, the new model is intended to bridge the considerable gap to the class-leading Mercedes-Benz S-Class.

Available with four-wheel drive, and in hybrid format for the first time, the car comes in two sizes - the long-wheelbase version driven here being expressly limo-like. It can be had from launch with a choice of six-cylinder petrol or diesel engines.

What's the 2015 BMW 730d like to drive?

BMW has traditionally clung to the notion that its flagship ought to handle with something like the prowess of its smaller models, despite its extra size and weight. This was often to the detriment of the car's ride quality, particularly for the decision-maker often found sitting over the rear axle.

To iron out that niggle, the new car gets self-levelling air springs front and rear as standard, twinned with adaptive dampers. The result was impressive on the other side of the Channel. Even on optional 19in wheels, the 7 Series was rarely anything less than pillowy at speed.

However, on the UK's more changeable road surfaces, there was more evidence of the 7 Series struggling to maintain composure. At higher speeds, things remain reasonably well settled, and large bumps such as sleeping policemen are nicely absorbed, but broken roads at low speeds bring about a fidget that's difficult to ignore.

That's despite switching the 7's drive mode to its most comfortable 'Comfort' and our car being fitted with Β£2450 worth of BMW's Executive Drive Pro option. This is essentially like Mercedes' Magic Ride system, which will study the road ahead and slacken the suspension to glide over large bumps. BMW say its system is available on both petrol and diesel models and works in the rain and at night - unlike Mercedes'. Electronic stabilisers are thrown in with this package too.

That more agreeable high-speed ride, its hushed cabin and good engine refinement mean the 7 Series is a highly adept and quiet long-distance cruiser. In fact, it's only really coarse surfaces that bring about some road noise and disturb the peace. However, despite the latest model being up to 130kg lighter than its predecessor - mostly due to the carbonfibre reinforced plastic cleverly woven in its structure - the car is less than compelling in smaller doses.

Switching the drive mode to Sport stiffens the suspension, adds weight to the steering and brings more urgency from the throttle and gearbox. With good balance and body control, and plenty of grip, the 7 is respectably proficient, although there’s still ultimately a detachment to the way it steers and handles, even in the sportiest of its drive modes.

That's on a wider scale, though. When compared directly with its closest competitors, the 7 Series feels a more agile car at the front wheels than the equivalent diesel versions of Audi's A8 or the Mercedes S-Class.

Performance is first-rate. The 7 Series could hardly have a more ideal partner than the latest version of BMW’s superb 3.0-litre diesel engine. Endowed with 457lb ft of torque and a standard eight-speed auto, the straight-six has plenty of instantly available power.

Meanwhile, this L version's official CO2 emissions of just 127g/km in rear-drive form are similar to those of an automatic 2.0-litre diesel Ford Mondeo. The BMW's official fuel economy of 58.9mpg might be a struggle to achieve, but we still got just more than 40mpg on our 900-mile drive.

What's the 2015 BMW 730d like inside?

Even in standard wheelbase format, the 7 Series is five metres long and seats four adults in comfort. There is room for three in the back, but because the huge armrest incorporates a new 7.0in multifunction tablet - a likely to be popular option at Β£410 - and the properly adjustable (not to mention, supple) seats are limited to two, it’s doubtful the middle seat will be used much. There's plenty of leg- and head room, while the boot offers a similarly capacious 515 litres.

The new cabin is plush, trimmed in Nappa leather with extensive use of wood veneers and metallic surrounds. The dash and centre console are familiar BMW, albeit with a smattering of smarter-looking switchgear to indicate the car’s status.

The 7's standard key has a 2.2in screen and can display a whole host of information about your car, although a normal key is provided as well. It slots into a wireless charging bay under the front armrest, which will also charge your mobile as standard, should it accept wireless charging.

An updated iDrive system incorporates a touchscreen for the first time, and can even be made to recognise hand gestures. The latter might be gimmicky, but at least it's responsive enough to be impressive, and the new display ought to appeal to those still befuddled by BMW’s dial-style controller.

With fully adjustable seats and lumbar support as standard, getting comfortable behind the wheel is virtually guaranteed. The long wheelbase car adds 14cm to the length and provides even more rear space.

Our model's optional rear entertainment screens (Β£2740) are a nice touch, and together with the car's standard WiFi preparation (data packages are sold as an extra), you can be working on your laptop or streaming a film which can in turn be mirrored on the rear screens. Wireless headphones are another neat feature.

Add the Executive Lounge Seating option, available from next summer, and the front passenger seat will electronically contort itself into a distant footrest for the steeply reclined occupant behind - assuring the 7 Series a new reputation for opulence among those buying to sit in the back alone.

Should I buy one?

There's certainly far more reason to than there ever was before. In its entry-level guise, the 7 Series is cheaper to buy than the equivalent Mercedes S-Class and it's cleaner and more frugal too. BMW continues to lead the way in terms of its infotainment system and cabin quality has been seriously improved.

Ultimately, ride comfort is very important, though, and the 7 still can't claim to smooth out our torrid roads with quite the same compliance. Those after a luxury saloon that's fun to drive will be happier, but for the majority of buyers, sitting in the back is the norm, and it's there that you'll notice the difference.

There's still plenty going for the 7 Series, and our upcoming luxury car group test will determine whether it's worth an extra star.

Nic Cackett and Rory White

What Car? says...

The rivals

Audi A8

Mercedes S-Class

BMW 730Ld

Engine size 3.0-litre diesel

Price from Β£64,530

Power 262bhp

Torque 457lb ft

0-62mph 6.1 seconds

Top speed 155mph

Fuel economy 60.1mpg

CO2 124g/km