Words: Calvin Chan
Photography: Calvin Chan
Published: September 3, 2019
Does 40 percent more grill equate to 40 percent more car? BMW certainly thinks so, as their 7 Series has entered its mid-cycle refresh for 2020 with minor but meaningful upgrades for a more appealing, delectable, and palpable luxury sedan than its Audi A8 and Mercedes S-Class compatriots, and it all starts with that controversial front grill.
Significantly larger than what it replaced, the newly enlarged kidney grills have received a fair amount of negative flak when first unveiled, but it finally makes the 7 look unique, distinct, and less anonymous. Which isn’t to say it was terrible looking before but in the company of the S-Class, stylistically, it left much to be desired. Now, the large grill with active air shutters is 40% larger than before, giving it vital road presence and in-your-face attention, something the flagship 7 should have had from the beginning. The taller side vents running next to the wheel fenders jack up the stance as well, now appearing large and in charge. Furthermore, the rear end has been sculpted to be more imposing, with slimmer taillights and a wide LED light strip that connects them together. The front hood also receives a few sculpted creases, with wider exhaust outlets out back completing the makeover. I still think the Alpina B7 is one of the most sophisticated and understated luxury sedans on the market but this new 750Li is beginning to bridge that gap.
The 7 is available with laser headlights ($1,500), distinguishable by their blue panels, and is something every other competitor has failed to launch in Canada. Thanks to their substantially brighter luminosity, they illuminate further down the range than conventional headlights, enhancing visibility when driving in the dark. BMWs have always had some of the best colour palettes on the market too and when draped in Donington Grey - check out Dravit Grey and Bernina Grey on the online configurator - it looks absolutely stunning. BMW is even offering a wider array of colours via the Dark Optics package ($4,000), with its signature Frozen paints and Nardo Grey now on the menu.
Nappa leather now comes standard, as does thicker laminated glass for the windows, more acoustic shielding around the rear wheel arches to reduce tire noise, new drive motors for the windows for quieter operation, and more insulation around the B-Pillars, seat belt covers, and rear seat backrest, all contributing to minor increases in sound deadening. Not that the 7 really needed it - it was already BMW’s quietest vehicle. Now it’s creeping up close to Rolls-Royce territory. And while the sound deadening upgrades may be hard to notice without a back to back comparison, the result is clear. It’s like hopping into your own private bubble.
Most of the interior has carried over from the outgoing model but even so, there is a lot going on inside the 7. At first it’s quite daunting: heated armrests, massaging seats, headrest pillows, adjustable footrests, a folding work table, cocooning sunshades, a detachable 7-inch Samsung tablet, a lit-up sunroof, and thick carpet mats that are worthy of your pedicured feet. The stitching and quilting along the door and center armrests match with the seats, and are visually soothing. The build quality here is top notch, with solid fit and finish that would embarrass anything coming out of Maserati or Genesis. The seats are not as deeply cushioned as the S-Class but they do offer something unique, and that’s the two-panel backrest with a top and bottom separation that can adjust independently for a more personalized seating position.
A 10.25-inch display unit is neatly perched on the dashboard, and is surprisingly not the larger 12.3-inch screen from the BMW X5 and X7, looking a tad diminutive in this flagship application. The unit is still one of the fastest and most logistical systems in the luxury car market. It offers touchscreen input and there are 3D sensors in the headliner that can detect various hand gestures so you don’t have to take your eyes off the road to adjust the settings. A few examples: twirling your index finger will adjust the volume, pointing two fingers at the screen will change the audio track, and you can pinch your fingers together and swipe to adjust parking camera views. The infotainment screen can further be controlled via the vaunted rotary dial that we have happily adapted to over the years, and there’s wireless Apple CarPlay too.
The interior lacks the progressive and simplistic design of the S-Class but otherwise remains a functional and ergonomic lounge that doesn’t leave you guessing as to what button operates what function. And when was the last time you saw a CD disc insert in a high-end luxury vehicle? It’s flanked by eight shortcut buttons, all touch sensitive, that users can program for any quick action, whether its their favourite radio station or the sport displays that show live horsepower usage. The 7 can also be equipped with an optional cooler box for the rear seats, stowed away in the center armrest compartment. It will keep beverages chilly between 4-10-degrees Celsius, and you have no idea how nice it is to come back from a sweaty hike and have ice cold water waiting for you. Though the one drawback to this $1,400 option is that it takes up some space in the trunk compartment, bulging out right in the middle that may get in the way of luggage or large boxy items. To remedy this, you can actually detach the cooler box and store it elsewhere when not required. Not a bad sacrifice for having cold champagne ready on a moment’s notice.
A few things BMW could work on: the massaging seats. Make them actually, I don’t know, massage? It feels more like a slight inflation and deflation of the bolsters. Most of the time you forget they are even on. Compare this to the massaging seats in the Audi A8 and Mercedes S-Class, and you’re left dumbfounded by how silly the BMW’s feel. Range Rovers and Jaguars also fall victim to this. The driver’s instrument panel is fully digital and houses sleek fighter jet-like graphics but the fonts are hard to read, the gauges aren’t linear, and finding the desired information is visually difficult when you’re focusing on the road ahead. Bring back full analog! Luckily, the massive and crisp head up display remedies this. In addition, the start/stop system is intrusive, as it tries to shut the engine off at the exact same time that you are creeping to a halt, resulting in the car seesawing on full brakes, preventing you from completing a smooth, slow, stop at the red light. It was annoying enough for me to shut off the start/stop system entirely. Adding salt to the wound, the button must be pressed every time you start the vehicle.
The new 7 is available in four specs in Canada: 745Le plug-in hybrid, 750i, 750Li, and M760Li. The specimen that we tested was the 750Li, a long wheelbase variant housing the same 4.4-litre twin-turbocharged V8 but it’s been reworked to produce a healthy 523 hp and 553 lb-ft, 78 hp and 73 lb-ft more than before courtesy of a redesigned crankcase, ECU tune, and increased intake air from that new grill. That’s enough for the 750Li to sprint from 0-100 km/h in 4.1 seconds, only 0.1 seconds slower than the short wheelbase variant but 0.4 seconds faster than the outgoing 750Li.
And there’s no reason to deny that claim. Mat the throttle and the 7 picks up without a jiffy and launches you forward like it’s got two rockets strapped on its trunk lid. Noticeably quicker than the outgoing 7, the mid-range is broader, meatier, and there’s enough torque to make you dizzy at wide open throttle. That being said, the operation is gentle and polished, building up speed linearly rather than explosively. You also get more engine and exhaust noise seeping into the cabin compared to its rivals, which may be a good or bad thing depending on how you feel about sound isolation. Unlike other BMWs that use this V8 engine, the 750Li soundtrack is more suit-and-tie than wife-beater, revving up nicely but without those excessive - some might call immature - burbles and pops when shifting and on overrun. Have a listen to our Exhaust Notes video down below to hear it for yourself.
The 8-speed ZF automatic has been revised for 2020 with new torsion dampers that reduce rotation forces in the powertrain. They have improved the electronics and widened the ratios too, all for better, quicker, and quieter shifts. Out on the road, the shifts are slightly softer and more imperceptible than before, but the largest area of improvement is when kicking down from a high gear for a burst of acceleration. There is less lag and indecisiveness coming from the gearbox, allowing the 7 to rev up faster, and is no longer as susceptible to being caught by a right-foot surprise. The 8-speed is also linked to the navigation system so that the computers can select the right gear for the current route profile, even if the guidance hasn’t been set. The same goes for the suspension, where it will level and adjust the springs to suit the road ahead in preparation for hard corners or intersections – and we’re happy to report that it works very well in conjunction with the air suspension, adaptive dampers, and active anti-roll bars. The ride is slightly more taxing and less isolated than the S-Class but it’s admirable in its attempt to insulate occupants from the outside world. Whether its tire or surface noise, everything is kept to an auditory minimum, but there are details that the Mercedes does better, like the windshield wipers, which are whisper silent in the S-Class and A8 but make a distasteful rubbing noise in the 7.
With full-size luxury sedans, the best seat in the house is typically in the back, but I would argue that in the 7, it’s actually the driver’s seat. Not only do I feel that the 750Li is sharper and more athletic than the Mercedes, but it’s also the better driver’s car. There is a certain lightness to the handling, allowing you to explode around corners and keep the front nose flat and in control. Combined with 50:50 weight distribution and rear-wheel steering, and you get a lengthy vehicle that handles like half its size. This 750Li is still a heavy car whichever way you spin the facts and you do feel those lateral forces squeezing you into the seat bolsters, but keep it in Comfort mode, cruise along the motorway, and it becomes one of the softest, cushiest and most supple executive sedans out there, melting the tarmac like a knife on hot butter. On the flip side, if you’re looking for a more dynamic four-door with the blue roundel, check out the upcoming 8 Series Gran Coupe, which is sure to be a hoot.
The subtle yet significant upgrades for 2020 do little to substantially change BMW’s flagship sedan, rather they tweak and perfect the formula that has persuaded even James Bond to drive one back in the day. The reworked sheetmetal has boosted its visual appeal as well. While the new 7 may not be the technological tour-de-force like the Audi A8, or provide the same kind of palatial and sensory cabin experience as the Mercedes S-Class, it’s the luxury sedan that is begging to be driven, rather than being driven in. The 7 rewards both drivers and passengers, successfully marrying comfort with athleticism when it counts, striking the fine middle ground, now with 40 percent more grill.
Model: 2020 BMW 750Li xDrive
Paint Type: Donington Grey Metallic
Base Price: $126,400
Price as Tested: $155,800
Length/Width/Height (mm): 5,267 / 1,902 / 1,479
Curb weight (kg): 2,217
Engine: 4.4-litre twin-turbocharged V8
Horsepower: 523 hp @ 5,500 - 6,000 rpm
Torque: 553 lb-ft @ 1,800 - 4,600 rpm
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
Engine & Drive Configuration: Front engine, AWD
Observed Fuel Consumption (L/100km): 15.5
Tires: Pirelli P Zero; Front 245/45R20; Rear 275/35R20