Super-efficient technology fuels desire for 730d

Is the top selling BMW 7 Series also the best? Jonathan Crouch takes a look at the improved 730d.

Is the top selling BMW 7 Series also the best? Jonathan Crouch takes a look at the improved 730d.

The 730d is the BMW 7 Series in its most basic form but it’s anything but basic. Strong performance and economy that’s barely believable in a car of this size give this much improved fifth generation model an edge over the competition and BMW has worked hard to make the formidable technology in the 7 Series more user-friendly.

As you can probably imagine, it’s possible to really go to town when ordering a BMW 7-Series. A twin-turbo V8 engine, the long wheelbase body with its extended rear legroom, a night vision system that can spot dimly lit pedestrians, side view cameras so there’s no need to crane your neck at junctions, it’s all there and your friendly BMW dealer will be only too happy to let you have it.

You could very easily spend a small fortune on this imperious motorcar but the fact is that most 7-Series customers won’t. They’ll get the entry-level 730d with moderately sensible specification.

It’s been revised in recent times with a smarter look and sharper handling. Plus there’s a power boost to 258bhp for the top selling 730d diesel variant we’re looking at here to help it combat the challenge now posed by the addition of a petrol/electric Active Hybrid7 model in this model’s improved line-up. Will it all be enough to keep this diesel 7 Series amongst the top three choices for top executives wanting a sensible luxury saloon? Let’s find out.

The 2,993cc common-rail injection diesel engine in the 730d is a classic bit of BMW engineering. Versions of it can be found as far down the manufacturer’s line-up as the 3-Series but it’s never felt out of place in the big 7.

Using the straight-six cylinder configuration, it now achieves 258PS at 4,000rpm in the 7-Series and a monstrous 398 lb ft of torque which is more than the 740i manages with its V8.

That this maximum torque is available all the way from 1,750rpm to 3,000rpm provides a sense of the 730d’s flexibility and should owners become embroiled in a drag race with a spotty Herbert, the 7.2s 0-62mph time should be more than enough to see off his plastic-clad Corsa with its anti-social exhaust.

The 730d doesn’t require the services of BMW’s 155mph speed limiter as it runs out of steam at a still wildly superfluous 153mph. If that really isn’t enough, there’s a pokier 306bhp 740d variant on offer.

The 7 Series has long been the sharpest steer in the executive sector and BMW hasn’t been able to resist tweaking the suspension of this car a little. Modified rubber bearings, ball joints, stiffer dampers and retuned kinematics aim to offer an even better ride/handling compromise while self-levelling air suspension on the rear axle is now standard across the range.

An electronically controlled damping system separates compression and rebound settings at each corner which underscores the car’s appeal to keener drivers. BMW’s six-speed automatic gearbox is standard fitment on the 7 Series, as is the advanced Dynamic Driving Control system.

There’s still nothing particularly ground breaking about the way the 7 Series looks but the looks of this improved version have been usefully tweaked. The main exterior changes are to the front and rear of the car, but in addition, the 8mm drop in the overall height of the vehicle has given it a more purposeful stance.

At the front, you’ll spy the thirteen rather than nine slats in the more prominent kidney grille and the three-part lower air intake. Adaptive LED headlights can also be specified.

Turn indicators on the lower part of the door mirrors, a redesigned rear light cluster and a splash more chrome on the back end complete the look.

Drop inside and you’ll find either Dakota or Exclusive Nappa leather, finished with real attention to detail. There’s additional soundproofing in the window pillars to reduce wind rustle at speed, and BMW has also added more in the sills and boot areas. Variable colour ambient lighting is a classy touch. The seats have been redesigned for better comfort and support while ‘Comfort’ seats can also be ordered which can be fitted with either folding tables or a rear seat entertainment system that features 9.2-inch colour screens. These appear to be ‘floating’ thanks to their new slim design. Individual electrically adjustable rear Comfort seats are bound to be a popular option, while for real back seat bourgeoisie, try the long wheelbase version of this 7 Series, with an extra 140mm in the wheelbase devoted to rear seat legroom and an extra 10mm of rear seat headroom as well.

Prices sit in the £58,000-£63,000 bracket and, as you’d expect for that kind of money, the 730d comes in SE trim with a predictably vast haul of equipment. For a premium of around £3,000, there’s also the option of a long wheelbase version and an M Sport package is offered with various sporty add-ons. The choicest items are confined to the options list but with full leather trim, four-zone climate control, Xenon headlamps, satellite navigation, Bluetooth technology and voice control, owners of the basic model are unlikely to feel too hard done by.

There are some boxes you really do need to tick when ordering your Seven, many of which take advantage of the more powerful operating system governing the central Control Display.

This means that entertainment programs are simpler to operate, optimises office and online services and makes using the telephone that much easier. The BMW Professional Navigation system is now more powerful and features sharper map graphics and a 3D city mode, while passengers can take advantage of the full range of in-journey entertainment offered by BMW Online, all the office functions and BMW Mobile application preparation.

Although many of us like to use the car to get away from the office, access to all of this information system integration and communications functionality is hugely empowering for the business user on the go.

The reasons why most 7-Series customers will avoid the powerful petrol models and settle for a 730d centre around one thing - cost. The 730d is a two tonne luxury saloon but BMW has managed to eek out 41.5mpg and 178g/km CO2 emissions from it. These figures aren’t quite good enough to make it the most efficient and cost-effective 7-Series any more: that accolade now rests with the petrol/electric Active Hybrid7 model which achieves 41.5mpg on the combined cycle and 158g/km of CO2. But that may not matter: the hybrid variant demands an up-front asking price of around £8,000 more - and many business users won’t want to pay that.

It’s not merely the engine that makes the 730d’s excellent efficiency possible. BMW’s EfficientDynamics technology has set the standard in a market where every mainstream manufacturer is taking steps to maximise economy and lower emissions. The 7 Series benefits from the full EfficientDynamics package with key body panels fabricated from aluminium to save weight and Brake Energy Regeneration using energy that would have been lost under braking or on the overrun to recharge the car’s battery.

How do you cram a car with groundbreaking technology, make it distinctive and avoid alienating buyers in what is arguably the most conservative sector of the car market? That’s the balance that BMW has been searching for with its 7 Series over recent years. The latest 730d looks tantalisingly close to getting it right. The technology is most definitely there but it’s retreated behind an accessible driver interface and styling that’s elegant but not extrovert.

The package is then powered by an engine that achieves the necessary performance coupled with running costs that will persuade many of the luxury saloon’s continued viability. In fact, it’s hard to argue against BMW’s 3.0-litre diesel engine. It’s one of the finest powerplants of our time and will be a valuable weapon for the current 7 Series as it battles the Mercedes S-Class and Audi A8.