As we wait to pull out of a side road in the new BMW 7 Series, we see a dressed-to-the-nines Ram 1500 Limited pickup drive by. So what? Well, here’s what: we’re in Faro, Portugal, not Fargo, N.D. And the Ram has British licence plates.
Full-size pickups are simply not A Thing in Europe, so the incongruous sighting is an ironic reminder of today’s North American reality: Over here, light trucks dominate the “car” market, and SUVs own the luxury market. In Canada last year, Cadillac sold as many Escalades as all its car models combined. Mercedes G-Class and GLS SUV sales outnumbered S-Class sedan sales three-to-one.
Before trucks became house-trained and upwardly mobile, old money traditionally displayed good taste in a full-size prestige sedan from Audi, BMW, Jaguar, Mercedes and more lately, Lexus or Porsche. And if at any given moment there was such a thing as an all-round best car in the world, one of those automakers provided it.
The breed would probably be extinct by now if it was left to Detroit. Cadillac is about to euthanize its CT6 full-size sedan after just a few years on the market, likewise Lincoln the Continental. But Europe is still in the game, and the 2020 BMW 7 Series is the freshest player on the field.
The current generation of the 7 Series was all-new in 2016, so the 2020 is more a mid-cycle refresh, albeit more comprehensive than most. You won’t miss it on the road, with its dramatically enlarged grille (showing obvious homage to the new X7 SUV) topping the long list of visual changes. Interior renovations include an updated iDrive/infotainment system, a digital gauge cluster, revised ambient lighting and new trim choices.
In Canada, a simplified line-up now comprises the plug-in 745 Le, standard- and long-wheelbase versions of the V-8 750i and the range-topping M760Li. All have all-wheel drive. The M760Li still features a 600-horsepower 6.6-litre V-12, but with peak torque boosted to 627 lb-ft from 590 and available from 1,550 to 5,000 rpm.
The available 4.4-litre V-8 (750i) has been comprehensively reworked and now outputs 523 hp and 553 lb-ft of torque – dramatic hikes of 78 hp and 74 lb-ft, respectively. The regular six-cylinder 740i models are gone, but the plug-in hybrid (745 Le) gets an efficiency-enhanced version of the 3.0-litre inline six to replace the former 2.0-litre four, along with a higher-capacity 12.0-kWh battery.
While trucks have become domesticated and groomed to a remarkable degree, but cars like the 7 Series remain the aristocracy of the automotive world. The depth and sophistication of their engineering delivers a matchless fusion of performance, refinement, space, comfort and driving pleasure. It’s also the cars up here that pioneer the advanced convenience and safety features that eventually trickle down to $20,000 Kias.
It’s good to know there are still cars like this. Pricing for the 2020 models start at $119,800 for the 750i and they will be in showrooms this month.
The writer was a guest of the automaker. Content was not subject to approval.
- Base prices: $119,800-$173,100
- Engines: 4.4-litre twin-turbo V-8; 3.0-litre turbo inline six/electric motor; 6.6-litre twin-turbo V-12
- Transmission/Drive: Eight-speed automatic/All-wheel
- Fuel consumption: TBA
- Alternatives: Audi A8, Cadillac CT6, Jaguar XJ, Lexus LS, Mercedes S-Class, Porsche Panamera
BMW says almost every surface looks different, but the stand-out part is the 50-millimetre-taller nose, fronted by a dramatically larger grille. It certainly achieves the goal of greater visual presence, albeit in a stately/authoritarian kind of way; to each their own, but I preferred the previous more modern/wedgy look.
The short-wheelbase 750i offers rear space competitive with its “stubby” peers, while the 140-mm-longer L versions have the highest interior volume and legroom numbers among “stretch” rivals. All this space can be decorated with a vast array of trim and colour choices, as well as a Blu-ray HD rear entertainment system and (on some models) heated or cooled rear seats with massage function and lots-of-ways power adjustment. And, uh, yes, the chauffeur won’t be slumming it either: there’s ample at-the-wheel adjustment, the iDrive 7 controller plays nicely with the 12.3-inch touch screen (a second 12.3-inch screen now forms the “virtual” gauge cluster) and there are still knobs and buttons to control traditional functions the good ol’ way.
We’ll take BMW’s word that the 745 Le hybrid does zero to 100 kilometres an hour in a sprightly 5.1 seconds; our drive focused on exploring the all-electric range. The result: On that day and in that place, the gas engine chimed in after 36.6 km of stop-and-go-to-slow suburban rambling with the A/C on. While the 750i is even quicker (4.1 seconds to 100 km/h, despite a heartbeat of turbo lag on launch) the lasting takeaway for us was the iron-fist-in-a-velvet-glove refinement of the V-8’s power delivery. Well, that and the marvellous blend of comfort and agility of a test car gifted with the optional variable-ratio steering and rear-wheel steering.
This is BMW’s flagship, so it has (or can be had with) a panoply of infotainment and connectivity bells and driver-assistant whistles, grouped in suites such as “driving assistant professional," "intelligent personal assistant” and “live cockpit professional.” The latter includes gesture control, which gets confused, however, if front-seat occupants talk with their hands. Just a few highlights include cruise control that automatically adjusts speed for curves, intersections and speed-limit changes; automatic back-up if you need to reverse your tracks in confined spaces; remote-controlled parking; and enhanced voice-control activated by saying “Hey BMW” (or substitute “BMW” with Ulrich or any other name you choose to give your digital personal assistant).
It’s a sedan, it has a trunk and the 515-litre luggage volume is one of the biggest out there.
The verdict: 9.0
Behind the somewhat polarizing grille is a worthy BMW flagship that can stimulate or soothe the driver in equal measure, and cocoon passengers, all without flaunting their good fortune to the outside world.
Stay on top of all our Drive stories. We have a Drive newsletter covering car reviews, innovative new cars and the ups and downs of everyday driving. Sign up for the weekly Drive newsletter, delivered to your inbox for free. Follow us on Instagram, @globedrive.