New Cars: BMW 7-Series

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BMW’s 7 Series has established a small but significant niche in the British market, having sold a consistent 2,300 units a year since 1979. More to the point, perhaps, 70% of those sales have been for the top-of-range Special Equipment model. Oddly enough there has been no falling off of demand even though the model has lately been looking its age and it’s been widely known that a replacement was on the way.

It’s no secret either that BMW has a five litre V12 engine on the stocks, ready to sell in a new 7 Series model, the 750i from the end of next year.  Also on the stocks is an lwb version of the car, with a 4 in longer wheelbase.

It’s always difficult for a company to replace an established model and BMW has chosen with the 7 Series the same route as a followed with the 3 Series — and the route Volkswagen took with the Golf , and Jaguar with the XJ6 — and that is to produce a car with many significant changes which still retains the overall lines of the model it replaces.

The new model looks so refreshed that it’s not until you see one alongside its older sister do you realise just how subtle the changes have been. Much the same can be said of the rest of the car, the changes have been in detail but the overall improvement is dramatic.

From January 1987, British buyers will have the choice of two 3.5 litre models, the 735i and 735iSE (Special Equipment) with a full range of options. Later in the year three litre models will be available. Depending on exchange rates, the range will be priced between roughly £19,000-£31,000.

This car is more than a re-skinning, as BMW’s claim to have invested £660 million in its development shows. Most of the changes, however, are not immediately apparent for the company’s priority has been careful attention to reliability (it claims to have developed ‘failure-proof electrical plugs and sockets) and refinement.

We did not drive the car in the dark, but can record that BMW has developed a prismatic ‘ellipsoid’ headlight which concentrates the beam to cut off scattered light and give a claimed 30% more light where it is actually required.

We did not drive the car in the wet, either, but BMW claims to have developed speed related windscreen wipers which hold the blades onto the ‘screen at speed. With a claimed top speed of 146 mph, this is a welcome move.

There are a host of other developments, which must wait for comment when we have a car on test, but among them are new impact-absorbing bumpers, better seat belt location, quieter cars and improved aerodynamics. It will also speak to you in six languages, with a distinction between real English and Yankee English.

So much for the claims, what of the car? One’s first impression is that it’s big, 16ft long and 6ft wide, and the interior is spacious. This is also a hindrance when driving for the bonnet slopes away and it’s not easy to place it on the road with precision. You’ve not driven far, however, before you begin to take the side of the press pack, for it speaks sooth. The car is extremely quiet and refined, the straight six engine is responsive, noise levels are very, very low, and though one doesn’t reach for adjectives like ‘taut’, the car ‘feels of a piece’.  Its power assisted steering is progressively weighted and ABS comes as standard. The ride, however, can be choppy on B roads.

The five speed manual gearbox is short-throw and sweet, but we’d specify the sophisticated automatic transmission. You can switch it into ‘Sport’ (without the overdrive top), ‘Economy’ or ‘Manual’ modes. Gear -changing with the automatic is rapid and so perfectly adapted both to the characteristics of the engine and the personality of the car that we’d have no hesitation in specifying it.

In the manual version, 0-60 mph can be achieved in a claimed 7.6 seconds for the 3.5 litre models and 8.6 seconds for the three litre model which is slightly shy of the 3.5’s top speed. at 141 mph. — M L