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BMW 7 Series facelift review (2012 onwards)
What: BMW 7 Series facelift
Where: Saint Petersburg, Russia
Date: July 2012
Price: From around £58,115 - £104,050
Available: September 2012
We like: great selection of engines that deliver power and class-leading economy, handling, build quality, all the usual toys
We don't like: ride and refinement could still be better, others offer greater passenger space
We take to the streets of Russia to try out the revised BMW 7 Series in 750i V8 and ActiveHybrid guise. The economy and performance improvements are impressive, but has BMW manage to do anything about the bumpy ride?
Can ya tell what they've done yet? Visual changes for the facelifted version of the fifth-generation of BMW's 7 Series flagship are certainly limited, but present none-the-less. Most obvious are the new all-LED headlights, complete with squared-off "corona rings" for daytime running.
These sit either side of a kidney grille that now has just the nine vertical slats in each nostril instead of 12. Obviously. Meanwhile, new diagonal elements in the new lower front bumper look a little bit like whiskers, giving the revised 7 the surprisingly friendly face of a giant cat.
Surprisingly friendly face of a giant cat
Elsewhere the side indicators are now mounted in the bottom of the door mirrors, and the back end gets an additional chrome strip. At literal first glance it doesn't seem much work - and surely not enough to justify hauling the assembled international press all the way to Saint Petersburg in Russia for the launch.
However, under the skin the alterations go further. BMW has - it says - listened and responded to criticism about the ride quality; the 7 Series is supposed to be a luxury saloon, after all, and for many the existing version was just too abrupt. There are many new suspension components as a result
Drivetrain updates achieve efficiency increases of as much as 25%, yet power output is also improved for most engines. And finally, inside the cabin BMW is promising improved refinement alongside an increased selection of toys.
This is Russia - a region of ever increasing importance to BMW as a consumer of luxury goods, a region of extravagance. So no British best-selling 730d turbodiesel here, even if it is one of the engines that sees both power and economy augmented. Instead we've been living it large in the 750i petrol V8.
The 750i feels entirely appropriate in this environment. But perhaps more importantly it is the major benefactor from this midlife overhaul. Power is up 10% to 450hp, torque is up 8.5% to 479lb ft (available from just 2,000rpm all the way to 4,500rpm) - yet efficiency also increases. By a whole quarter.
So you can now wave bye-bye to 62mph - and almost all other traffic - in just 4.8 seconds, regardless of whether you pick the short- or long-wheelbase variation. Not bad for two tonnes of leather, gadgets and steel. Makes a lovely muted growling noise as well. Give kitty her biscuits now, won't you?
The performance is best described as 'decisive', though the big BMW is just as happy pottering along at a gentle cruise. With an eight-speed automatic gearbox and five driving modes, it's ferocious when you need it and smooth at all other times. A fine fitter of moods. And hilariously not even the fastest 7 available.
But like its 544hp 760i V12 big brother, the 750i isn't especially relevant in the UK. Hence we also grabbed a go in the second-generation ActiveHybrid 7 as well. This gets the latest 320hp TwinPower Turbo straight six petrol in place of the previous V8, supplemented by a 55hp electric motor.
While 0-62mph in 5.7 seconds isn't 750i level on paper, the instant torque from the electric add-on means it feels barely slower once you're moving. Unfortunately the inevitable price premium and an occasionally shunty response means we'd still plump for the 730d. Just like around 90% of existing UK buyers.
Ride and handling
People complained ride comfort in the current 7 Series isn't good enough for this type of car. In response BMW has changed almost everything it can, including the rubber bushes, the top mounts and the dampers. What's more, self-levelling air suspension is now standard at the rear.
Astonishingly nimble for a thing this big
The result is better, but not brilliant. Even set to Comfort+ the 750i fails to really absorb moderate lumps and bumps like the best in class - which, by the way, is Mercedes - and generally transmits most of the road through to the cabin. The hybrid is worse still, crashy and brittle because of its additional weight.
Part of the problem here is BMW itself - the brand prides itself on being sporty, so it clearly feels even the 7 Series has to shake a leg on a twisting road, should sir or madam request the chauffeur to oblige. And to give the car its due, the rear-wheel drive chassis is astonishingly nimble for a thing of such size.
Trouble is, even with an adaptive chassis that has Sport and Sport+ options it seems BMW can't quite offer enough in the opposite direction whenever this kind of behaviour isn't required. Ok if you're going to do most of the driving yourself - but perhaps think twice if you intend to spend life on board as a passenger.
If you are going to be a passenger, you might also want to go for the long-wheel base 7. Rear legroom in the standard car just isn't as generous as a luxury saloon really deserves. We doubt you'll be unhappy with the build quality, however, as this is through-and-through superb.
For the facelift BMW has extended its "black panel" technology - controls that only light up when required - and invested in some new digital dials. An optional extra, this allows the rev counter and the speed to change function and appearance completely depending on the driving mode.
In addition to this there are new leather seats, a new 1,200-watt Bang & Olufsen stereo option (we prefer Lexus' Mark Levinson gear), and a new rear infotainment package. The latest "Professional" Navigation system now features a dictate to email or text function, useful if you often have ideas on the go.
Disappointingly, despite BMW's efforts to improve refinement, road noise and traffic noise is still transmitted into the cabin too clearly, and the 7 Series remains far from being a mobile cocoon.
Economy and safety
The 7 is equipped with a list of safety acronyms that could fill this entire paragraph; stability control, blind spot monitoring, collision detection, night vision, lane departure warning, active cruise control, dynamic headlights are all amongst what's fitted or available. Phew.
The real trump card is its economy
But we'd expect that of any luxury sled - the BMW's real trump card is its economy. Already top of the class it's now even better thanks to the eight speed auto becoming standard, a new "coasting" function, the Eco Pro driving mode and all the existing EfficientDynamics tech such as stop-start.
We've already seen coasting before from other carmakers; to recap it basically disengages the engine from the gearbox when you're off the throttle at speed, saving fuel. Neat. For the 750i BMW also has the ability to "dim" the cylinders through the variable valve timing as an alternative to total cylinder deactivation.
All of which means this 450hp V8 emits just 199g/km CO2 and returns a claimed 32.8mpg. Better yet, the 730d is down to just 148g/km, meaning 50.4mpg - the very best in the segment, despite an increase to 258hp. The 740d, which now boasts 313hp is only fractionally less green, emitting 149g/km with 49.5mpg.
As for the ActiveHybrid 7, that now emits 158g/km with 41.5mpg. We found 35mpg a more realistic outcome; expect sub 30 for the 750i, unless you spend a lot of time on the motorway. The slightly weird feel of the new electric power steering means, as usual, that it's our least favourite piece of eco-enhancing kit.
The MSN Cars verdict
The revised 2012 BMW 7 Series remains a great choice if you want to get behind the wheel of a limo-grade monster yourself, and the impressive engine updates ensure that anyone looking for maximum fuel economy should start their search here.
But if comfort and refinement are your luxury priorities try the Mercedes-Benz S-Class instead; the 7 Series still can't quite match the best in these vital departments.
Need to know
Engines, petrol: 3.0, 3.0 hybrid, 4.4, 5.0 - all TwinPower Turbo
Engines, diesel: 3.0
Power: 258 - 544hp
Torque: 332 - 553lb ft
0-62mph: 4.6 - 5.7 secs
Top speed: 155mph (electronically limited)
Mpg combined: 50.4 - 21.9mpg
CO2, tax: 148 - 303g/km / 22 - 35%
Specific model rated: BMW 750i
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