The 7-Series is BMW's flagship car. It's a big, comfortable luxury cruiser designed for
gangsters looking for an upmarket getaway vehicle executives who want to be driven, but who aren't afraid to get their hands dirty on the steering wheel.
We went hands on with the BMW 730Ld SE long wheel-base version with the optional rear-seat entertainment system, and options pushing its total price to £60,645.
The BMW 730Ld SE is insanely comfortable. Ease yourself into the front or rear seats and you'll feel as if you've just climbed into an enormous armchair rather than the cabin of a motor vehicle. All its seats -- and this includes those at the rear -- recline, and if you're lucky enough to be at the front and have splashed out on the massaging option, they'll even give you a good rubdown as you make your journey.
Those who expect the 7-Series's ride to be silky smooth may be a tad disappointed. It's pleasant, don't get us wrong -- engage the 'comfort' setting on the car's suspension and bumps and potholes in the road seem to scramble out of your path. It's not, however, quite as refined a ride as you'll get inside a Mercedes-Benz S-Class. The ride quality feels almost digital in nature. It's occasionally quite fidgety and lacks the supple, organic, almost analogue feel you'd get in an S-Class.
Handling and performance
The 7-Series is slightly more impressive from a handling and performance perspective. The car is absolutely enormous, particularly in this long wheelbase guise, but ask your chauffeur to get a move on and it acquits itself well in the turns, staying remarkably level across twisty routes. It's no fun on a track -- its 6, 5, 3 and 1 series brothers are infinitely more chuckable on a circuit -- but it doesn't totally embarrass itself when shown a corner.
Straight line performance is muscular. The three-litre diesel engine in the 730Ld cranks out 245bhp, which may not sound like much, but it's enough to get this beast from a standstill to 62mph in a thoroughly respectable 7.2 seconds. The only issue is that it doesn't feel very fast. One of the few ways you can tell you're doing the car's 153mph top speed and not the urban speed limit is that there may be slightly more wind noise and pedestrians smeared across your windscreen than usual.
Fab sat nav
The 7-Series has a list of technology as long as an orangutan's arm. The majority of the car's cabin tech is controlled via BMW's ConnectedDrive system, which incorporates an eight-inch widescreen display mounted on the dash, a circular knob-cum-joystick on the centre console and and more lines of code than it took to launch the first space shuttle.
One of ConnectedDrive's most useful features is its satellite navigation system, which is one of the most impressive factory fitted systems on the market. There isn't an awful lot this system does wrong. It accepts full-length postcodes for easier destination entry, lets you find local businesses using Google data (Street View and Panoramio also make an appearance) and it even allows users in the rear of the vehicle to send route suggestions from the screens at the rear to the primary display up front -- like a proper backseat driver.
The driver has total control over whether he or she accepts that new route suggestion, of course, but it's a helpful feature, as it allows passengers in the rear to hunt for alternative routes while your driver concentrates making sure you aren't being tailed by the mob.
Another of ConnectedDrive's best facets is its ability to connect to the Internet. The 730Ld comes with its own modem and GPRS receiver, which allows it to connect to the BMW Online portal. Here, you can find the latest news and weather updates, all of which can be read aloud over the car's speaker system using integrated text to speech technology so you needn't take your eyes off the road.
The 7-Series also caters for those who require a richer Internet experience. Its screen has a built in Web browser that can access the wider Internet, but only if you're the owner of an iPhone, which has to be docked in the central armrest. The browser will only present itself if the vehicle is stationary.
Sound and vision
We found the BMW 730Ld's audio system rather disappointing. The BMW Professional radio system, which comes as standard with the 7-Series, has plenty of audio sources (AM, FM, DAB, Freeview television, CD and Bluetooth streaming) but it isn't powerful enough for our liking, and is a weak link in the car's entertainment arsenal.
To its credit, BMW has fitted the 7-Series with decent toys to tickle your visual cortex. There are built in TV and DVD players with separate headphones for two rear seat passengers, an auxiliary video input and cameras dotted around the car allow the driver to see the edge of the front bonnet, which is useful when pulling out of a junction or driveway, or birds-eye view of the vehicle, which is handy for parking in tight spaces.
The 7-Series is a fabulous luxury car. Its ride isn't as magic carpet-like as the Mercedes-Benz S Class, but it drives well and -- stereo aside -- packs a wealth of enjoyable cabin tech.