Sitting behind the wheel of BMW's revised flagship car, it occurs that I'm in the wrong seat. I should be where almost all who enter this limo and who don't own/operate one sit: in the voluminous – nay, agoraphobic -- rear compartment.
I've rented apartments smaller and less luxurious than the cabin of the updated 7 Series. Yet it's BMW's fond boast that the virtues of its halo car are all within the driving of it. Which strikes one as strange.
While Audi can go on about its Le Mans champion inspired R8 supercar and Mercedes-Benz will stroke itself over the exotic SL and SLS series, the brand that bangs on about “sheer driving pleasure” has for its range topper a massive sedan that is, as like as not, chauffeur driven.
Still, if you happen to be in want of a $210k-plus four door and you smile rather than wince when the road goes all curvy, here's the limo you're probably looking for.
Not for the first time when approaching this part of the Carsguide template does it strike one that the notion of "value" is relative.
The revised 7 gets more standard kits and access to a few smart options, a new and entirely irrelevant hybrid variant, an up-gunned petrol V8, a standard eight speed auto across the range, Start/Stop and economy mode (except 760Li), rear self-levelling air suspension and tarted up satnav and optional Bamg and Olufsen audio system.
Prices start at $204,600 for the diesel 730d (and, really, this lookalike is all the 7 Series you'd need if not want). The “volume” 740i and long wheelbase 740Li are $211,500 and $226,500 respectively.
The new ActiveHybrid 7 and ActiveHybrid 7L (with the engine from the recently reviewed ActiveHybrid 3) are $222,000 and $237,000. Getting a bit silly now, the V8 750i and 750Li are $281,100 and $297,800 while the sheik's special V12 760Li is all of $391,500.
Given the rear seat occupants are likely to be controlling international finance, sudden untimely jolts could have grave consequences for the Dow or the Nikkei.
The newly standard self-levelling air suspension for the rear axle could therefore prevent another GFC. All get electric power steering and the ConnectedDrive package of driver assistance, safety, communication and convenience package.
Inevitably there's sense of staying abreast of the Joneses about this update, hence the optional parking assistant that all but auto actually parks the massive beast, your inputs confined selecting reverse and spot of accelerator pressure while affording an all-round from above on the 10-inch multimedia screen.
The Jones motif continues with the addition if automatic boot opening function. When you, or more likely your man, is standing behind the car with the key fob still in the pocket or handbag, it takes the wave of a foot under the rear bumper sensor to open the lid.
Nor is Jeeves, when ordered “home and don't spare the horses”, likely to go crook about the appreciably enhanced performance on offer. Inevitably all engines are claimed to be both more potent and efficient, with Auto Start/Stop shoving its nose in and the addition of the Eco Pro mode for the Driving Experience Control.
The new coasting mode decouples the engine when it is overrunning at speeds between 50 and (fancifully for us) 160 km/h, so you freewheel along with minimum juice use. The hybrid drive system combines the 235kW 3.0-litre twin scroll turbo six for a combined output of 260kW/500Nm.
That means 0-100km/h in just 5.7 seconds and fuel economy figure of 6.8L/100km. Yet the inline six turbo diesel 730d does better, returning 5.6L/100km - this from a 1900kg limo. The 740i/Li gets the potent turbo 3.0-litre petrol engine that does astonishing service in the M 135i coupe and hatch.
If with some half a tonne more to haul the 235kW/450Nm doesn't sparkle as such it still registers a 5.7 second sprint time and fuel use that at 7.9L/100km betters a Mazda3 Neo. Significant fettling has rendered the most impressive powerplant even more so.
Fuel use of the turbo boosted 4.4 V8 has been reduced by a quarter to 8.6L/100km despite putting out 330kW/650Nm to achieve a 4.8 second sprint time. Not a whole lot of point then in range topper's atmo V12, which is barely faster but massively thirstier. But it is the last of its breed - BMW's are now almost all turbo charged.
Brighter and cleverer lights fore and aft (which mean you won't be taken for an Audi), a few more colours (don't panic - only monochromes and deep blues), tarted up interiors (reassuringly faux wood trimmed as ever). And ... That's about it.
We're talking about a massively muscled up version of the instantly recognisable current BMW paradigm. The two heavy hitters in back have plenty of elbow room and access to Internet or television via tonal screens. Missing, totally subjectively, is the last degree of opulence, that which makes Audi's A8 the car to sit in.
A saga in itself, the active and passive safety measures here prove again that while lawmakers and politicians preen themselves on reducing the road toll, it is carmakers that make it nigh on impossible to kill yourself on the road. Yet in several Australian states P-platers continue to be forbidden to drive the safest cars on the planet.
The renewed 7 has safety kit of which you can bet most licensing authorities know nothing. The Active Protection Safety package includes Attentiveness Assistant which analyses driving behaviour on the basis of various signals such as steering angle and road speed. Detecting signs of fatigue, it posts a warning in the form of an illuminated coffee cup telling the driver to rest up.
Automatic braking kicks in if you're slow to react to an imminent shunt. Following an impact, the car is slowed to a standstill with a maximum deceleration rate of 5 m/s² and its brakes then locked for a further 1.5 seconds to prevent a secondary impact.
Optional on all but the workplace models, night vision features a Dynamic Light Spot function to improve early pedestrian detection. At the heart of the Night Vision system is an infrared thermal imaging camera integrated into the kidney grille.
A cool feature of ten enhanced LED lights is High-Beam Assistant which enables you to keep full glow on but guides the lights around the car in front and shields them from oncoming traffic, detecting the former from 400 metres and latter from all of a klick.
Difficult not to be impressed by such dynamic dexterity in something that is essentially an engorged sedan, even as you wonder at the point of it. Having driven the previous day an M135i, the same engine is enough here to remove the need for anything greater. Indeed in almost all circumstances it is more than enough.
Much the same can be said of the diesel. Though driven briefly, it is worth a buyer testing both sixes. But once sampled it's hard to see past that crisp V8. Turbo enhanced it has torque everywhere, and a penchant for skipping away to license shredding speeds without betraying the least effort, only the red dash glow when the Driving Experience Control is switched to sport mode.
No roaring aural report here, that's not what it's about, just a business like growl and a kilometre crushing lope. Which serves only to highlight the 7's uneasy status as the self-proclaimed driving brand's halo car. There are a number of BMW's - not least the new 6 Series variant with its graceful four door coupe lines - that run the same drivetrains and shout success with a good deal more style if not as much function. I suppose some chauffeurs get all the fun.
As technically accomplished as you would expect, the 7 isn't enough to make you forget there's no shortage of toys in its price point.
Price: from $211,500
Warranty: 3 years/unlimited km
Resale: 48 per cent
Service interval: 12 months/15,000km
Safety rating: Not tested
Engine: 3.0-litre V6 turbo petrol, 254kW/450Nm
Transmission: 8-speed automatic; 4WD
Thirst: 7.9L/100km, 184g/km CO2
Body: 4.8m (L), 1.9m (W), 1.8m (H) 5.2 (L), 1.9 (H), 1.5 (W)
Weight: from 1850kg
Price: from $234,000
Engine: 4.2-litre 8-cylinder, 273kW/445Nm
Transmission: 8-speed auto, FWD
Thirst: 9.5L/100km, CO2 210g/km