Car Test   R0330
April 2003
  BMW 7 Series
Printer Friendly Page Featured model: 735i (short wheel base)
The first big question is whether, in the context of environmental and traffic congestion, this sort of car has any place at all. The answer is that corporate high-flyers, as well as the rich and famous, will always want the best, so car makers will always be please to indulge them, because profit margins are high.
   The other justification is that releasing development engineers from the shackles of cost-restraint, enables them to develop systems and technical solutions that, over the years, have inexorably filtered down to more everyday models; the good ideas, that is.
   This new big car from BMW is certainly richly endowed with lots of them. In fact, despite the I-Drive push-and-rotate controller on the centre console, there remains a risk of techo-overload; we spent the best part of a day learning how to ‘drive’ everything. We wonder whether all these gizmos will appeal more to the younger execs who can’t afford to buy one, rather than the 50-60 year olds, who can. We certainly considered that some elements of control, like starting up or engaging gear, changing a radio station or the air distribution, were more cumbersome than convenient.
   Beneath these supplementary features that are provided to ‘surprise and delight’, we were most impressed by the developments in fuel efficiency, NVH (noise, vibration and harshness curtailment) and general behaviour over the bumps and round corners.
   Active roll control, which reduces (but doesn’t entirely eliminate) cornering roll, makes this big car feel a real go-er through the bends, yet its ability to smother all sorts of surface wickedness is remarkable.
   This new 7-Series is bigger outside than before, and this translates into more room inside. More than adequate dimensionally (with a long-wheelbase option in the wings) seating for four is all you could wish for – except that the seats are fixed in place. Of course, the front pair have a wonderful range of adjustment that’s an object lesson in orthopaedics, suitable for most shapes and sizes.
   When you look at the statistics of this car’s predecessor, you realise that BMW has made advances in mechanical efficiency – this bigger V8 goes farther on a gallon, yet outstrips the old 728’s performance, as well; so it’s not so profligate, after all. Its new six-speed automatic transmission contributes, of course. (Note that there’s absolutely no benefit in using manual mode, and S slot is there to enliven part-throttle response – press hard in D mode and the car responds just as well.) By avoiding the kickdown switch, that sees the governed maximum speed of 155mph in fifth, top gear is retained to a much more mechanically relaxed 139 – a true overdrive ratio, therefore.
   All this exacts a cost – 14mpg, actually, when performance testing. But it’s no better in slow-moving, urban driving. However, the real costs are in terms of tax liability and depreciation. We calculate these at £7000 a year, before tax and insurance, let alone turning a wheel. That’s about double the same costs on a 5-Series diesel, as a company car.
  considering size, price and rivals
Overtaking Ability
Fuel Economy
Security, theft of
theft from
  • automatic parking brake
  • wonderful seat support - better than at home
  • audio system up to concert-hall sound quality
  • parking sensors all round
  • multi-speed cruise control
  • accelerator free movement causes a surge on take-off
  • sheer complexity of features is daunting
  • four column stalks - too many?
  • cost of options profligate
  • no front seatbelt height adjustment
Unsurprisingly, there are no bad cars in this upper-class – everyone’s a winner. Whether they’re twice as good as a 5-Series or an E-Class Merc (both cost half the 735I’s price) is an entirely different matter. This 735I is a joy to drive and be driven in, but its formidable technology could require serious reading before you know how to work everything and get the best out of it.

engine 3600cc, V8-cylinder, petrol; 272bhp at 6200rpm, 265 lb ft at 3700rpm; chain-driven double overhead camshafts, 32 valves   transmission 6-speed stepped automatic, rear-wheel drive; 31.8mph/1000rpm in 6th, 25.2 in 5th, 19.3 in 4th
suspension front: independent damper/struts mounted on aluminium sub-frame
rear: independent multi-link, coil springs; dual-mode variable dampers as an option on test car
  steering hydraulic power assistance; 3.0 turns lock-to-lock; 12.1m diameter turning circle between kerbs (18.1m for one turn of the wheel). Dynamic stability and anti-roll controls standard
brakes ventilated discs front and rear, with brake-assist/ABS and electronic, auto parking-brake function   wheels/tyres 8in alloy with 245/55R17W tyres standard (245/50R18W on test car); full-size alloy spare

size and type large/luxury saloon - long and short-wheelbase   trim levels accoring to engine size and wheelbase
engines petrol: 6 cylinder/3.0 litre/231bhp, V8/3.6/272, V8/4.4/333, V12/6.0/445
diesel: 6/3.0/218
  drive 6-speed stepped automatic (with additional Sport and sequential manual modes); rear-wheel drive

HOW THE 735I SALOON COMPARES engine (cyl/cc/bhp) revs at 70mph (rpm) 30-70 through gears (sec) 30-70mph in 4th/5th gears (sec) fuel (mpg/CO2) brakes from 50mph (kg/m) maximum legroom - front (cm) typical leg/kneeroom - rear (cm) steering turns/circle (m) overall length (cm)
BMW 735i V8/3600/272 2200 7.4 11.7/15.8 25/259 18.5/23 114 108/81 3.0/12.1 503
Mercedes Benz S 350 V6/3724/245 2320 7.6m n/a 25.4/266m n/a 124 101/77 3.0/11.7m 504
Lexus LS 430 V8/4293/282 2220 6.7 n/a 23/289 16/26 113 107/83 3.5/10.6 501
BMW 530d (diesel) 6/2926/184 2040 8.2 n/a 35.5/189 15/24 116 103/77 3.0/11.0 478
previous BMW 728i 6/2793/193 2120 8.4 18.0/n/a 24/n/a 18/23 117 106/78 3.6/11.2 498
  m maker's figures

Accurate displays, but some technical overload at first, mastering four column stalks plus ten wheel buttons. Excellent seat with two 'memory' positions that include wheel and mirrors. Column/gear control and press-button parking brake fine with familiarity.
Feels a smaller car than it really is - surprisingly spry into bends. Better for rack and pinion steering, too, but its bulk and poor view rearwards mean it's awkward when parking - despite sensors all round. Anti-roll and cornering stability controls very effective.
One passenger asked 'Why are the roads so smooth round here?' - the ultimate compliment to this car's cossetting ways. It's whisper-quiet cruising, the air-con does all you could ask and there are no squeaks, wind hiss - just remote tyre thump and rumble.

The car feels really perky in Sport mode; D for the relaxed life. The initial junction pullaway not entirely surge-free, however. Changes are imperceptible on the move - all six of them.
  acceleration in seconds D or S - using kickdown 4th gear 5th gear
  20-40mph 2.7 4.4 No
  30-50mph 3.1 5.1 6.1
  40-60mph 3.5 6.1 8.2
  50-70mph 4.3 6.6 9.7
  30-70mph 7.4 11.7 15.8
  max speed in each gear (* using kickdown/6400rpm for best acceleration)
     gear      1st*      2nd*      3rd*      4th      5th
     speed (mph)      34      60      92.5      155 (6150rpm)      139 (4375rpm)

A good result for a powerful V8, but best when motorway cruising; not so good around the lanes. Magnificent real-life tank range and easy filling almost to full. Reliable trip computer shows where it goes.
  type of use (air conditioning off) AA test (mpg) 
    urban (17mph average/heavy traffic) 14.5
    suburban (27mph average/6.4 miles from cold start) 18.0
    motorway (70mph cruising) 30.5
    cross-country (brisk driving/20 miles from cold start) 23.0
    rural (gentle driving/20 miles from cold start) 26.0
    overall mpg 25.0
    realistic tank capacity/range 82/450
    official mpg (urban/extra urban/combined) 18.8/34.4/26.4
    CO2 emissions 259g/km
    car tax band E

Accident prevention includes electronics that prevent front or rear-end breakaway, plus heat fade compensation for brakes - the servo works harder. The button for the parking brake can be used as an emergency back-up - it's surprisingly effective. The foot brakes, with well-judged servo-help, are superb, too.
  from 50mph (with brake assist/ABS)
This model has not yet been
tested by EURO NCAP
pedal load     stopping distance
unhurried 10kg     29m
sudden 18.5kg     23m best stop
+ 4kg ie 22.5kg     23.5m
fade resistance/consistency    
Euro NCAP = European New Car Assessment Programme: independent crash safety tests evaluating protection for occupants and pedestrians in an offset frontal collision, side impacts and pedestrian strike conditions
click here for more NCAP details/test results etc.

Good space but no real interest in practicality - not even a folding rear seat facility. More legroom than previous version and ample width for three at the rear, although the centre hump intrudes. Big, deep boot but restricted aperture.
  in centimetres (4-door saloon/SWB)
  length 503
  width - including mirrors 204
    - mirrors folded 194
  height 149
  load sill height (inside/outside) 15/73
  turns lock-to-lock 3.0
  turning circle (metres) 12.1
  easy to park/garage?
  front - legroom 88-114
    - headroom 96-101§
  rear - typical legroom 108
    - typical kneeroom 80
    - headroom 95§
    - hiproom 143
  load area(all seats in use)
  load space
(litres/cu ft)
  load length 103#
  load length to facia No
  load width 76-125
  load height 49
§ no sunroof  # rear seat fixed

Excellent security measures, with a range of options that can be introduced or deleted at will. Our car wasn't keyless - the handset had a key that prevented boot-opening, if required.
central locking  
remote control  
remote window closing  
alarm (perimeter + interior)  
self-locking (static + drive off)   
two-stage unlocking   
attack-resistant glass   
keyless entry   
AA load area security rating
=standard    =option    =not available
NCSR - "theft of"
NCSR - "theft from"
NCSR = New Car Security Ratings: a 1 to 5 star system which rates anti-theft protection, both of the car itself and the theft of valuables from within the car
Visit for more details
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