BMW 730D

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Not quite an S-class, but a step in the right direction

When it comes to this business, I dislike not having important information at my disposal. My job is to answer questions about cars, but there is one I’ve been asking ever since I started doing this job. Why in all that time has Mercedes never made a C-class quite as convincing as a BMW 3-series, and equally why has BMW never built a 7-series that was preferable to the S-class? This is not rhetorical posturing: I genuinely don’t know.

This is the fourth generation of 7-series I’ve encountered on a professional basis and obviously the most advanced yet, using carbon-fibre reinforcement and myriad other clever technologies to carve a whacking 120kg from the last car’s kerb weight. It has a huge information and navigation screen you can operate by the usual iDrive wheel, touching or even just by waggling a finger in its general direction. My test car even came with an iPad-like tablet between the rear seats from which the entertainment can be controlled and the internet browsed. I couldn’t keep my children away from it.

Visually I think it lacks a certain sense of occasion inside and out, which matters as little to me as it will matter much to those minded to buy such a car. Beyond their functional purpose these cars are statements and I fear the one the 7-series makes is insufficiently distinct.

Otherwise I was truly surprised by the progress BMW has made, not because I thought it not capable, but because it’s never shown the inclination in the past. The ride quality, easily the biggest failing of every Seven I’ve driven, is superb. S-class good? My guess is not quite, but close enough that I’d need the two side by side to be sure. It’s beautifully quiet too and because the driving position is so good, the seat so comfortable and the music system so clear, it does a world-class job of creating an environment of your own, far removed from the chaos of the real world. And to me that’s what luxury cars are about.

What they are not about is barrelling through bends on their door handles and I’m actually glad to report this new Seven is not quite as engaging to drive as the last: the 3-litre powertrain is undoubtedly class-leading, but BMW has finally seen fit to trade a little on-the-limit poise nobody’s going to notice for a considerable upgrade in ride quality that everyone will appreciate.

It seems that finally BMW has concluded it’s more important for the 7-series to be a proper flagship luxury saloon, even if that means a slight compromise to BMW’s dynamic brand values, and it’s a decision I applaud. Yes, I think the S-class can still claim class leadership, but only because it has a greater sense of occasion thanks to the more truly luxurious look and feel to its cabin. But just as the C-class is now absolutely the next best thing to a 3-series, so the 7-series has moved within swiping distance of the S-class. If you know how good an S-class is, you’ll not need me to tell you that is an impressive and significant achievement.

Factfile

£64,530

Engine 3.0 litres, 6 cylinders, turbodiesel

Power [email protected]

Torque 457lb [email protected]

Transmission eight-speed automatic, rear-wheel drive

Weight 1830kg  

Power to Weight

143bhp per tonne

0-62mph 6.1sec

Top speed 155mph  

Economy 60.1mpg

CO2 124g/km