Want an S-class but wish it was a BMW? Well, here you go then.
Day one: The 7-series is here. At a glance it looks quite a lot like the previous one. On closer inspection, it’s actually quite a handsome thing. I especially enjoy the shiny trim that runs down the sills and the way the bootlid slopes downwards. Not quite like an old Jag, but elegant all the same. The interior is nice too. There are metal buttons and some virtual dials that look like real BMW dials and everything feels very high quality except, weirdly, for the piece of crap black plastic just ahead of the door handles.
On first impressions, the 7-series is as quietly pleasant to drive as it is to look at. The ride is superb and the engine is very quiet and very smooth, especially for a diesel. There’s none of that faint tinkling sound you get from big Merc or Jag diesels, possibly because this is a straight six rather than a vee. Pedants may want to tut about the capacity, which is three litres, despite the 740 name. BMW got a taste for badge-based fibs with the 1980s 525e and has been doing it ever since.
Day two: It’s the weekend. We’re going to a thing in the countryside and bringing a friend. With a car like this the obvious question is, can the back seat comfortably accommodate the CEO of a medium-sized, Düsseldorf-based petrochemical concern? And the answer, I would guess, is yes. This being the long wheelbase 7-series, it’s ruddy massive back there. But I feel a more challenging question might be, can the back seat accommodate two toddlers in child seats and a Scottish lady called Helen? Well, as of today, I can say with confidence that yes, yes it can.
When we get to the countryside we’re required to park in the field. This is of no trouble to the BMW because it has four-wheel-drive. Although I notice it’s of no trouble to any other car either. You can’t have this engine without 4WD system for some reason.
As we’re getting all of the children and ladies called Helen out of the car, my mate Lewis comes over. ‘Is this a 5-seri… no, wait, it’s a 7,’ he says. Lewis used to sell BMWs for a living and even he can’t immediately ID the 7 as the big daddy of BMWs. An S-class or an XJ looks like the biggest car they make, yet somehow the 7-series never does, even when it’s sodding huge. Fact fans might be interested to know this is actually the biggest production car BMW has ever built. So there.
Day three: Today I parked on the street and walked off only to have a sudden pang that I’d left the sunroof tilted open. Ah, but hang on. The 7-series has a tricksy key with a little screen on it which allows you to swipe through various status menus and options. Except it ends up being quicker to walk back to the car where I discover that it’s closed its own sunroof for me. Thanks car. There’s another, bigger problem with the fancy key. It’s so huge, especially tucked inside its special leather pouch, that it doesn’t sit comfortable in the average trouser pocket and makes it look like you’ve got a stiffy.
Day four: The are-you-pleased-to-see-me? key isn’t the only bit of tech overkill on this 7-series. It also has something called ‘gesture control’ by which you can adjust certain functions simply by making prescribed hand movements with your arm in mid-air. The most obvious one is a twirling motion to turn the stereo volume up or down. It works, but only some of the time. Too often, it doesn’t and you find yourself frantically twirling your hand about like a shit wizard. In half the time you could have adjusted the volume using the dashboard knob and saved yourself looking like a dashboard knob. Gesture control is a £160 option. I wouldn’t bother. The rest of the interior is terrific and doesn’t need such gimmickry.
Trundling about London, there is something extremely calm and exceptionally pleasant about the 7-series. It’s quiet, it’s comfortable, it has plenty of the greatest luxury a car can have, which is torque. This makes it very relaxing. Although I am wearing a T-shirt and this feels wrong. It’s strange, isn’t it, that you could tool about all day in a Range Rover while casually attired and it wouldn’t seem odd. But in this car, you can’t escape the feeling that it looks like you’ve borrowed your dad’s car. Or robbed a chauffeur.
Day five: Today I have cause to give a lift to TV’s James May. “This is quite a nice car,” says TV’s James May after we’ve been in it for a bit. And I agree with TV’s James May.
Day six: You can, if you’re so inclined, chuck the 7-series around a bit and it’s actually quite lively and agile and handles itself rather well. I’m not sure that anyone will bother, but it’s nice to know you could. For a long, long limo of a thing it feels very rigid. This might be down to the centre section of the structure, which is made of carbon fibre and therefore strong and light and the reason there are slightly tacky looking ‘carbon core’ badges on the inside of the door frames.
Day seven: For an extremely high tech car, this BMW has surprisingly useless rain sensing wipers. Even by the sodding dreadful standards of this awful and irritating feature, the 740’s sensors are cock awful, signally failing to notice great torrents of water slapping into the screen. Given the sophistication and attention to detail of the rest of the car, this is a strange oversight.
On the way home from west London tonight I put on the massaging seats for the first time and quickly come to regret it. Sometimes the cushion feels like it’s full of sand which is falling away beneath you. Sometimes you get the impression that the entire seat is actively trying to hurt you. The overall sensation is not especially nice. I think I might have had it on the wrong setting. Unless you want to feel as if your arse is on an acid trip while a robot attempts to burst your kidneys. In which case, bob on.
Goodbye: The 740Ld xDrive is going away and this is a shame. There are a few bits of technology on it that feel unfinished and pointless but these don’t detract from the fundamental parts of this fast, comfortable, relaxing, handsome and enjoyable car. It’s technically very good at being a massive, soothing barge and nicer to drive than an S-class. But some cars also have a feeling to them that goes beyond the sum of their parts and this is one of them. There’s something very appealing about it, even beyond its obvious strengths. It is, as TV’s James May rightly observed, just a nice car.
The car talked about here is a BMW 740Ld xDrive. It has a 3-litre, twin turbocharged straight six diesel engine which produces 316 horsepower. BMW says it can go from 0-62 in 5.3 seconds and on to a limited top speed of 155mph. Without options it costs £76,010.