FARO, Portugal – A status symbol, by definition, is a luxury item or possession purchased with the intention of denoting one’s social position or standing, as well as financial footing. A common theme among such symbols is the prominence within the packaging of the identifying label of the upmarket brand responsible for its existence. In most cases, the larger and shinier the logo, the better.
That the roundel positioned above a 40 percent larger kidney grille on the updated BMW 7 Series has increased in its diameter by 13 mm to become the largest of its kind in the Munich-based manufacturer’s history is its maker's answer to a predominantly Chinese-based segment customer base (accounting for 44 percent of 7 Series sales in 2018) requesting ever grander levels of status and presence from their mobile trophies.
With BMW engineers freely admitting the larger grille – housed within a 50 mm taller nose – offers little added benefit in terms of increased performance or air flow through to the engine bay, it’s to the brand’s credit that the notable nose job has had minimal impact on the vehicle’s overall drag coefficient and, crucially, its model-for-model levels of efficiency.
While laser light-accommodating slimmer headlamp units offer a relatively successful counter to the enlarged grille, their shape also brings the updated 7’s front-end styling in line with this luxury sedan’s freshly launched X7 sibling. Offered in either Base, Design Pure Excellence or M Sport packaging, it’s the latter styling upgrade’s more imposing air intakes and sporty finishes that best complement the new nose, the (R5 100) middle option adding mainly chrome accents and colour-coded plastics.
While new 90-degree side outlets and standard 19-inch alloys on the Excellence package do an admirable job of accommodating the 5 260 mm-long profile of the updated long-wheelbase 7 Series (the only versions that will launch in South Africa in May), new slim taillamps linked via a fashionable LED light strip help to rein in the vehicle’s unaltered 1 902 mm-wide stance.
With a wheelbase that’s been stretched by 140 mm compared with the outgoing model, the most notable area of corresponding increased comfort within the updated car’s cabin is at the rear. It’s also here where BMW’s reconsidered attention to detail and use of materials is most obvious. From the plushness of even the standard Dakota leather upholstery (upgradable through Nappa to Merino finishes) to the feel of an Alcantara headliner and solid wood trim bits, the 7 Series remains very much the pinnacle of BMW luxury.
Before my stint behind the wheel of the 750Li, I spent an extended amount of travel time in the rear. With legroom in abundance and the ability to either heat or cool my electrically adjustable individual seat, I noted a still relatively tall default seating position. A consequence of this platform’s packaging potential (including accommodating a 745Le plugin hybrid derivative), I found this raised position favourable as it afforded me clear sight of the road ahead – undoubtedly helping to stave off the onset of motion sickness. If, however, there was one criticism in this regard it’s the fact the shaking motion of the unoccupied passenger seat’s backrest ahead of me created an unwelcome extra element within my peripheral (as first-world problems go).
While South Africans will have the option of five derivatives at launch (two rear-wheel-drives and three xDrive models), it’s the 750Li xDrive that’s likely to fulfil most orders. Here, the heavily reworked turbocharged V8 engine (complete with new crankcase and upgraded software) delivers an additional 60 kW of power and 100 N.m of torque compared with the previous 750Li, to all four wheels via an eight-speed automatic transmission. This newfound 390 kW and 750 N.m of torque is able to propel this 2 075 kg Bavarian limousine from standstill to 100 km/h in a scarcely believable 4,1 seconds. Top speed is electronically limited to 250 km/h.
On a splendidly twisty test route that would have been perfectly suited an M2 Competition, the stretched 750Li showed quite remarkable poise and balance as its integrated systems (including an optional Executive Drive Pro anti-roll system) fought to counter the potentially negative effects of so much weight being shifted from one plane to the next. With a front-end offering more grip than any vehicle in this segment ought to (certainly while an owner is trying to read a newspaper in the back), a heavy prod on the throttle mid-corner calls BMW’s brilliant xDrive all-wheel-drive system into action to transfer as much torque as is necessary between the front and rear axles for optimal traction, and a resultant slingshot action towards the horizon.
And yet, while in true BMW style the 750Li is easily the best handling long-wheelbase limousine in the world, it’s on the open road where it ultimately needs to excel. Here, while resisting the urge to play around with any number of new infotainment technologies – including giving up on trying to get the new “Hey BMW” voice-activated personal assistant to understand my accent – I instead focussed on enjoying one of the quietest cabins I ever experienced. I don’t think I’ve ever heard rain drops so crisply making contact with a windshield as I did from an interior cocooned from the outside world via 5,1 mm thick glass all around.
I’ll wait until sampling this 7 on more familiar roads before making a final judgement on the car’s overall ride quality, but one thing to mention – and it pertains to other vehicles in this segment as well – is that there is an inherent danger with cars this clever that one system (standard or optional) designed to smooth out the road ahead ultimately ends up competing against other systems with a similar mandate. The result is potentially a ride quality that can at times feel ever-so-slightly fidgety and ultimately overly assisted where a more traditional (read less complicated) suspension setup might actually suffice.
Like with the shaking passenger seat backrest, however, these are observations that might sound trivial a potential 750Li xDrive owner and, indeed, nit-picky. In the grander scheme of things, short of including the brand’s new crystal transmission lever (it simply doesn’t fit into the 7s relatively dated packaging), BMW will see its updated 7 Series as a triumph, not only in terms of delivering an altogether bolder, more stately shape to an ever-demanding audience but also for using the occasion of a mid-life model refresh to further enhance the functional and emotional appeal of its flagship model.
FAST FACTSModel: BMW 750Li xDrive Steptronic
Price: R2 156 700
Engine: 4,4-litre V8
Power: 390 kW @ 5 500 to 6 000 r/min
Torque: 750 N.m @ 1 800 to 4 600 r/min
0-100 km/h: 4,1 seconds
Top Speed: 250 km/h
Fuel Consumption: 9,6 L/100 km
CO2: 218 g/km
Transmission: 8-spd auto
Maintenance Plan: Five-year/100 000 km