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New BMW 7 Series review: Still the Magnificent 7
IF YOU can't tell that the BMW 7 Series has had a facelift, you might want to call an optometrist. After all, it's come back from the plastic surgeon with a front grille that's 40 per cent larger than before.
The mid-life revamp has also given it slimmer headlamps, thereby morphing its expression into the kind of squint to make Clint Eastwood take his hand off his six-shooter and quietly slink away.
Facelifts from BMW tend to be subtle, but its biggest sedan has had big changes. The tail lights have been completely redesigned, and are now linked by a thin red strip of light, while both the bumpers are shaped in a way to emphasise the car's substantial width.
As for that enormous grille, it's more or less vertical, and is attached to a nose that is 5cm higher than before. Even the BMW logo is bigger.
One reason for all this grandiosity is that customers wanted the 7 Series to look distinct from the smaller 5 and 3 Series models. "That was a customer request, especially from some Asian markets," one engineer told The Business Times. China happens to buy 41 per cent of the 7 Series cars that BMW builds, so make of that what you will.
On the subject of numbers, the vast majority of 7s (81 per cent) are the long wheelbase version, according to Rainer Thoma, who headed the car's revamp.
It makes sense, then, that all the models headed for Singapore are the lightly stretched "L" ones.
BMW's sole dealer Performance Motors is fixing to launch the cars here in June or July, when it will have five versions on sale at prices ranging between S$400,000 and S$600,000 (with Certificate of Entitlement).
All of them have the same engine as before except the car on this page, the 745Le xDrive, which is why BMW gave BT the keys to one. It's a plug-in hybrid, that rare breed that embodies what would happen if a normal car had a secret dalliance with a Tesla and produced a love child.
In less crude terms, it's half electric and half petrol. Drive it, however, and you soon realise that it's all BMW. Both sides of its drivetrain have been beefed up, so it's both faster than the 740Le it replaces and more efficient. What other car do you know can blast to 100km/h in only 5.1 seconds and roll quietly around town as a zero-emissions car (without leaving you high and dry if the battery runs out before you find a charging station)?
Plug-in cars are still rarely considered (so much so that the 745Le has to be ordered specially), which is a pity in this case, as the latter half of the BMW's petrol-electric powertrain gives it a smooth, silent driving mode that makes it feel both futuristic and refined.
Nevertheless, whichever 7 Series you choose will come with new features to tempt you. The car's instruments and infotainment system have been swept clean and reskinned, so the main dials are all digital (and, it has to be said, more confusing to operate) while the main touchscreen is BMW's latest tile-based interface.
You can now talk to your 7 Series, too. Not to relieve loneliness, mind you, but to say things like: "Hey BMW, I'm tired." Do so, and the car adjusts the cabin lighting, seat massager, temperature, fragrance dispenser and climate system to make you feel better.
I know married couples who have a less caring relationship than that.
Yet, BMW has worked hard on making the 7 a more soothing car overall. The windows are thicker by 5.1mm and engineers slapped extra sound insulation onto the rear wheelarch area, the better to keep unwanted noise out.
One version of the 740Li, which will go by the grandiloquent "Pure Excellence Visionary" tag here, will have gorgeously quilted upholstery, in fitting with the theme of making the car more grand and ostentatious.
The pampering goes beyond mere dressing, however. All the 7s have air suspension, and engineers have programmed it to work in a wider range of settings, meaning the Comfort mode is softer and the Sport mode, firmer.
Whether the typical 7 Series driver will ever exploit the latter setting is anyone's guess, but with standard rear wheel steering the big BMW shows no trace of stodginess. In fact, it dives for corners like a shark on a wounded tortoise, and yet it's as calm and composed at high speed as a supertanker in a calm sea.
It's clear that the facelift has given the new 7 more presence and refinement, but what it still does better than its rivals is turn a challenging road into a pleasurable one. The giant new grille might be all the reason some customers add it to their shopping list, but if you can't drive a 7 Series fast and feel a sense of excitement, forget the optometrist and call a cardiologist instead.
BMW 745 Le xDrive
Engine 2,998cc, inline 6, turbocharged
Power 286hp at 5000 to 6000rpm
Torque 450Nm at 1500-3500rpm
Gearbox 8-speed automatic
Electric Motor 113hp/265Nm
Battery Lithium-ion / 12.0kWh
Electric Range Up to 58km
System Power / Torque 394hp / 600Nm
Top Speed 250km/h
0-100km/h 5.1 seconds
Fuel Efficiency 2.1 to 2.6L/100km (estimated)
Agent Performance Motors Limited
Price S$500,000 with COE (estimated)
Available Q3, 2019