CAPE TOWN – The BMW 7 Series has for too long played second fiddle to Mercedes-Benz's S-Class in the highest end of the luxury grand saloon echelon. But the latest iteration of the BMW 730Ld will pose some serious questions of that long-accepted stance...  

Low-key limousine

If ever there were a candidate for the mandatory issue of a coronavirus-fighting face mask, the 7 Series, with its vast nostrils, is probably it. But that’s probably the sole criticism one can level at the aesthetic execution of BMW’s halo model. Despite accommodating a 3 210 mm wheelbase in a vast 5 260 mm frame, the 730Ld doesn’t look ungainly; rather elongate and athletic for a car of its particular station. Even those 20-inch alloys and swathes of satin chrome garnish are pleasingly executed and conspire to make the 730Ld appear both imposing and tastefully restrained; a trait that will no doubt endear itself to those of greater means wishing to waft along in sprawled-out luxury without attracting too much unwanted attention.

Business class cabin

Much like the exterior treatment, the 730Ld’s cabin is a luxurious but tastefully executed affair. Granted, the tan-nearing-pumpkin finish on the seats isn't to all tastes but the rest, from the vast acreage of stitched leather to the solid fixtures and subtle chrome banding, is classily done. What’s especially evident is the standard of the materials, fit and finish on display here; while the S-Class is largely seen as the standard against which large luxury sedans are set, it has to be said that perceived quality has slipped behind both Audi and BMW.

The car we sampled was outfitted with the R16 900 Executive lounge package, which ushers in a pair of independently adjustable rear seats divided by a centre console housing a seven-inch Android tablet, optional rear climate control panel and a host of charging points and drinks holders. It’s also an arrangement that affords rear occupants a sinew-stretching 819 mm of legroom, along with an electrically retractable footrest on the front passenger side. All of this while being kneaded and ventilated by the seats and taking in whatever entertainment can be streamed via the adjustable 10-inch TFT infotainment screens.

Things are similarly pleasing up front, with wonderfully supportive seats and a driving stance that’s eminently tailorable. 

The only aspects that disappoint somewhat are a boot that, although deep, is decidedly shallow and an infotainment interface that’s been somewhat over-egged; presenting you with the superfluous options of pressing at a touchscreen, playing with the iDrive dial, or throwing a number of questionable hand gestures to skip audio tracks or answer the phone.

Economy-class thirst, first-class performance

Say what you will of the juxtaposition of rolling gin palace and diesel powerplant, but the 730Ld’s 3,0-litre inline-six is an absolutely sublime motor, and an impressively frugal one, too. On our 100 km mixed-use fuel run the 730Ld returned a remarkable 6,7 L/100 km. And while it might not have the petrol V8’s velvety soundtrack – at least externally, as its vocals are muted to a distant, gentle growl in the cabin – this engine is no slouch. With its 195 kW, a hearty 620 N.m of peak torque arriving in a 2 000-2 500 r/min spike and impressive off-the-line traction, this unit managed to propel the 2 070 kg luxury sedan from 0-100 km/h in a hot hatch-shaming 6,56 seconds.

The driving experience is pure BMW, albeit on a grander scale. The steering is light but direct and responsive and the configurable air-suspension system means body control is taut but not unsettling. The ever-contentious subject of ride quality is a tough one to accurately gauge without driving the 7 back-to-back with its equivalent S-Class, but it’s fair to say only a princess and the pea-honed posterior would be able to ascertain whether the ride is ever so slightly firmer than the S’s. Even when rolling on relatively thin 40/35 fore-to-aft profile tyres it does the serene wafting thing with aplomb. In overall dynamic regards, though, the 7 feels appreciably more poised than the big Mercedes.

Cars such as the 7 Series are at best divisive. Their association with the well-heeled, high-end hotels and the politically connected does little to endear, while the majority of folks look at cars costing as much as a small house with little more than a spot of disdain.

Batting aside such easily reached conclusions, however, it becomes clear the 7 Series is a deeply impressive offering. While we were enamored with the petrol-engined model, the diesel does sterling service here, being not only refined but surprisingly punchy and frugal. The interior’s opulence – an all-important aspect of these cars – is impressive enough that the otherwise standard-setting S has to concede some ground.

It’s also a deeply satisfying thing to pilot, possessing just enough poise and punch to entertain (obviously when said celebrities have vacated their thrones in the rear) and ride quality that’s close enough to the S’s to render such comparisons as largely subjective.

It’s an impressive showing from BMW here, albeit one so low-key that it may undeservedly go unnoticed.



FAST FACTS

Model: BMW 730Ld Steptronic
Price: R1 727 728
Engine: 3,0-litre, inline-six, turbodiesel
Power: 195 kW
Torque: 620 N.m
0-100 km/h: 6,56 seconds
Top Speed: 250 km/h
Fuel Consumption: 6,7 L/100 km
CO2: 151 g/km
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
Maintenance Plan: M5/100 000 km