I have very fond memories of the original 750iL. When it was released in South Africa in 1990, the long-wheelbase Seven flagship was the first German car since the late 1930s to feature a V12 engine. Back then, the 7 Series was the world’s greatest grand saloon, and although that may not necessarily be the case today, the new 750Li, ironically, heralds the end of BMW’s V12 era – for now, at least.
Although the previous generation 7 Series helped make former BMW design chief Chris Bangle a household name, and not always for the right reasons, the exterior lines of the new one has greater mass appeal. The newcomer has oodles of on on-road presence thanks to its oversized kidney grille, high-mounted headlamps and pronounced shoulder line. And, when one views the rear end of the big Seven (when it invariably sweeps ahead of you), the much-maligned Bangle bustle is nowhere to be seen. Sure, the bootlid’s profile is still on the high-ish side, but new BMW Group design head Adrian van Hooydonk deserves praise for the way the sheetmetal sweeps up from the sill of the bumper, smoothes out the edges of the bootlid and subtly blends with the rear three-quarter panels on either side. In effect, the leading edge of the bootlid mimics an elegant aerodynamic spoiler… What’s more, the tail-lights are marvellously ornate, and each cluster features an array of L-shaped “fluorescent look” LED strips that give the Seven a highly-distinguishable presence at night.
The 750Li’s interior was even classier than I expected. In fact, BMW now arguably offers the most aesthetically pleasing interior in the grand saloon market. In a return to a BMW facet of yore, the facia sweeps slightly towards the driver. But don’t expect to yank on a grab handle to close the door once you are seated… instead, there is a hidden, “lapel pocket” recess in the sill of the door that you can gently pull towards you. The electrical adjustment buttons for the front seats are still out of sight and you need to feel your way around them a bit, but now you can also adjust the tilt for your upper back support (Active Comfort Massaging and Active Seat Ventilation are optional). No design element of the 7 Series’ interior is accidental – the centrally-mounted ventilation apertures feature aluminium-look inner accents, but that’s not just for show – you can choose whether air needs to be channelled through them (conventionally), around them – or both. In the case of the Li, rear passengers are treated to an additional iDrive controller in the rear armrest (although it doesn’t have such an expansive menu as the one in front), dual zone climate control, a pair of built-in LCD monitors, electric sunblinds (for the side windows and rear screen) and input jacks for iPods.
But let’s get down to business, and that is to consider the 7 Series as a driving machine. Powered by the X6’s twin-turbo 4,4-litre V8, which produces 300 kW at 6 400 r/min and 600 N.m of torque from 1 750 r/min, the 750iL’s powerplant single-handedly renders a V12 engine, if not obsolete, certainly surplus to requirements. Eminently responsive and torquey, the 750Li’s powerplant and its silky six-speed automatic transmission deliver virtually unburstable on-road performance.
Furthermore, the almost-psychic dynamic damper control system and self-levelling air suspension (standard on the long-wheelbase version) virtually eliminate body roll under enthusiastic cornering… I was fortunate to experience a seminal moment at the wheel of the big saloon on the descent of the Franschhoek Pass… Having just overtaken a vehicle on a rare straight section of the winding route, I was caught by surprise by the arrival of a tight hairpin bend (the swiftness of the 750Li might catch many by surprise!). Instead of stomping on the brake pedal and hanging on for dear life as the Seven speared towards the Armco, I brushed off a bit of speed and just steered the car with purpose. There was no screeching of tyres, or sloppy lurch in an unexpected direction – in fact, the car responded confidently and didn’t seem unsettled in the least. Although it’s been a while since I have driven a ‘Benz S-Class or Audi A8, I can report that the Seven’s poise during enthusiastic driving is, in a word, superb.
Unfortunately, the Seven isn’t perfect. The first part of the driving route on the recent Press launch comprised a section of Cape Town’s infamously uneven and rutted R300 (which is under construction), and I was disappointed by the 750Li’s indifferent ride quality over fairly poor surfaces. For the duration of the launch, whenever the Seven would traverse a sudden bump in the road, the driver and passengers would know all about it. And no, it wasn’t as if yours truly or his co-pilot left the damper setting in Sport mode. Make no mistake, the 750Li will positively glide over smooth sealed surfaces, but unfortunately South Africa isn’t renowned for having those…
There’s plenty of technology in the new Seven, including Active Cruise Control, Lane Departure Warning, Active Blind Spot Detection, BMW Night Vision with Pedestrian Detection. One of my favourite gizmos was the micro-sized cameras built into either sides of the front bumper – when exiting a narrow alley, they allow the driver a clear view of oncoming traffic or pedestrians on the central iDrive monitor.
I was ready and willing to declare the new Seven the best grand saloon. Although it would probably be my personal choice in its segment, the 750Li just lacks one quality lauded grand saloons trade on – superlative composure over imperfect surfaces – to be the best of the bunch. It’s an excellent product in all other aspects.