Test Drives

BMW 7 Series Facelift/LCI 2019 Review: Facing up to change



The 7 Series has always embodied the best of BMW. But can a facelift prop up its fortunes in the face of stiff competition— both from outside and within BMW itself?

FARO, PORTUGAL — This is the new BMW 7 Series, a car that in some ways doesn’t know what it wants to be. And so it’s a bit of everything: a plush luxury liner on wheels that’s also jaw-droppingly handy around corners, and no slouch in a straight line. In 745Le plug-in hybrid guise, as tested here, it’s also the sort of car that car-hating environmentalists have nothing to say about.

Given that the new 7s will cost at least S$400,000 with Certificate Of Entitlement when they’re launched here in a little over two months’ time, that breadth of talent is probably a good thing.

Here’s what to expect.

What’s the pitch?
The 7 Series is still BMW’s flagship. Has been since 1977. BMW has shifted more than 1.8 million of them altogether, and every generation has outsold its predecessor. This is the sixth one, and it’s undergone a mid-life facelift.

Looks like a pretty major one.
By carmaker standards, it is. The looks have changed dramatically, there’s lots of new content, and a couple of new engines.

A couple of forces are at work here. A global shift from sedans to Sport Utility Vehicles means the 7 Series risks being put into the shade by the X7, BMW’s giant new SUV (below). It fights back by being grander, bolder and just better than before.

Explain that huge grille, please
Ah, yes. That’s the “grander” part. One engineer told us the 7 Series and X7 teams actually have a friendly argument going about whose car has the bigger grille — the 7’s is wider and the X7’s, taller.

Whatever the case, the grille is 40 percent bigger than before, and it sits on a nose that’s more upright and 5cm higher on its leading edge. The upright front end is actually reflected in the “air breather” on the front fenders, which is now vertical, too.

But it hasn’t been about slapping on the biggest grille that would fit. There are slim new headlamps that give the new 7 a purposeful squint, and if you look at the front bumper, that has chrome trim on the corners to create a sense of width.

Designers even enlarged the BMW logo.

But why go so big on the grandness?
Two reasons: to make the 7 stand out more from the other BMW sedans. You certainly can’t mistake one for a 5 Series now, or accuse it of being a giant 3 Series.

The other thing is, the car has been restyled according to requests from certain Asian markets. China buys 41 percent of all the 7 Series cars that BMW builds. Make of that what you will.

Same thing at the back?
The 7 is visibly different at the rear end, too, but there it’s actually gone a bit more sporty. The tail-lights have a 3D design, so they have sensual forms that are nice to caress, and they’ve been slimmed-down, like the headlamps.

The exhaust ports are bigger and visually widen the bumper, and underneath the chrome strip that links the two lamps, there’s a new, full-width light strip. It makes the new 7 very distinctive.

Has there been just as much change inside?
For the driver, yes. The 7 has a new steering wheel (also seen on the X7 so far) that rejigs the controls a bit, especially for the driver assistance systems. 

Then there’s the new digital instruments, which have the rev counter spinning in the wrong direction in order to create plenty of space for other content, like what’s playing through the sound system. A backward step, if you ask us.

Elsewhere, the new BMW OS 7.0 software gives the infotainment system an update, and it gets more gesture controls than before, along with the Siri-like “Hey BMW” robo-concierge. Try something like, “Hey BMW, do I have enough fuel for my journey?” and see what happens. 

Or try, “Hey BMW, I’m tired,” and the system activates a new wellness programme called Caring Car. It groups different settings for the cabin lighting, air conditioning, fragrancing, seat massage, sun shades, seat heating or seat ventilation (if you have them) to make the driver feel better.

Hey BMW is a bit laggy, but is the best of the current crop of voice control systems out there. Enjoy it while you can, though. It’s only free for the first three years.

Some smartphone users will be chuffed about the new wireless charging tray, too.

Where’s the grandness?
See the quilted upholstery on our test car? It looks nice in pictures but is even better in real life, its texture adding a huge sense of poshness to the BMW.

In Singapore, that comes with the 740Li in Pure Excellence Visionary spec, along with a dashboard covered in leather.

It’s arguable whether that’s enough to make the 7 Series feel as posh inside as the Mercedes S-Class, which currently sets the standard in cabins, but the 7 Series is unbeatable in one respect.

Let me guess, the way it drives?
Spot on! BMW gave us two versions to drive, the 750Li xDrive and 745Le xDrive (presumably because they’re the ones with new engines) and by golly, the 750Li is a rocket ship out on the open road.

The new 4.4-litre V8 twin-turbo gives it 530 horsepower (80 more than before), and it sends the big limo to 100km/h in 4.1 seconds. It wasn’t that long ago that you had a buy a Ferrari for that sort of performance, was it?

More to the point, it goes around bends with breathtaking aplomb, especially now that the various driving modes give it a wider spread of settings, meaning “Sport” is more sporty now and “Comfort”, more comfy.

Hurtling through narrow mountain roads in a wide, two-tonne limo with near supercar levels of acceleration might sound scary, but in the 750Li it’s pure joy, and you soon find yourself taking the car by the scruff of the neck and just throwing it into corner after corner, because it soon becomes a game that you both love to play. 

On roads like that and with an engine so volcanic, the 7 Series is nothing short of magnificent. It’s just too bad you can’t buy one.

Come again?
The 750Li isn’t on the cards for Singapore, alas. Most likely, it’s too close in price to the even-faster M760Li, so people would probably just choose that. But we know what the 740Li is like from before, and its smooth, sonorous engine still serves up acceleration in buckets, and it should be just as fun to belt around in as before. It probably snicks its nose into corners that wee bit more eagerly than the 750Li, too.

Anyway, we did drive the 745Le, in case you’re curious.

I am. Has it moved the plug-in game on?
It’s a better plug-in than before, anyway. One of the main themes with the 7 Series is that it’s more comfortable than before. The tweaked suspension settings are part of that, and so are the thicker windows (for a quieter cabin) and extra lashings of sound insulation at the rear wheelarches.

There’s no quieter version than the petrol-electric hybrid, of course, and the fuel-burning part of the drivetrain is now a smooth six-cylinder, which is much more in keeping with the 7 Series’ character.

Will it unshackle me from Big Oil?
Not likely. It has a bigger battery (12kWh instead of 9.3kWh) than the old 740Le, so it can travel further without combustion — up to 58km in ideal conditions, but if you ask us around 35km is more doable in our climate and traffic.

It can also go a bit faster without switching on the six-cylinder engine, up to 110km/h instead of 90km/h, and still maxes out at 140km/h if you push the button that forces it into permanent electric vehicle mode.

Would I actually do more for the Earth if I just bought a Prius?
Hard to say, really. The thing about plug-in hybrid cars is that you need access to charging to get the most from them, and even then if you do big mileage every day you won’t really see much benefit.

So, no reason to get a 745Le, then?
We didn’t say that. It certainly tries its best for you. If you tell the car your destination is Orchard Road, for example, it looks at the route ahead and saves up battery power to spend it in town, where petrol power is particularly inefficient. That’s enough for a “double digit” percentage savings in fuel consumption, a drivetrain expert told us.

But the truth is, the main reason to consider a 745Le is not because it’s the cleanest 7 Series, but the most refined.

When you use the satnav it always tries to save a couple of kilometres’ worth of battery power, so you can glide silently to your destination. There’s nothing quite like electric power, and the 745Le wants you to feel it.

Where does it sit on the pricing ladder?
Most people will buy the base 730Li for around S$400,000 with COE, for which they get all the space of the 7 Series and the new styling, along with the updated cabin. The four-cylinder model has always been the one most in need of extra sound insulation, too.

But at the eye-watering S$500,000 with COE mark there is the plush, ostentatious 740Li Pure Excellence Visionary model, and the 745Le xDrive.

With its quilted leather and high spec count, the 740Li Visionary is an excellent interpretation of old-school luxury, but the few people who choose the 745Le are in for a more modern, futuristic form of motoring. It’s this version of the new 7 Series that is arguably the more visionary one.

 

BMW 745Le xDrive
Engine 2,998cc, inline 6, turbocharged
Power 286hp at 5000 to 6000rpm
Torque 450Nm at 1500-3500rpm
Gearbox 8-speed automatic
Electric Motor 113hp/265Nm
Battery Lithium-ion / 12.0kWh
Charging Time / Type 3.5 hours (est.) / BMW Wallbox
Electric Range up to 58km
System Power / Torque 394hp / 600Nm
Top Speed 250km/h
0-100km/h 5.1 seconds
Fuel Efficiency 2.1 to 2.6L/100km (est.)
VES/CO2 tbc/48 to 59g/km (est.)
Agent Performance Motors Limited
Price S$500,000 with COE (estimated)
Available Q3, 2019

 

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Leow Ju-Len
Leow Ju-Len is a lot older than he behaves. He's been writing about cars for 23 years. Someday he might do it coherently. Ju-Len believes in world peace and V8s, but not necessarily in that order.