By Andy Enright
The BMW 7 Series is a vehicle that has perhaps lacked the recognition it deserves. Rivals such as the Mercedes-Benz S Class, the Jaguar XJ and the Audi A8 have all enjoyed a somewhat higher profile in the luxury saloon sector. Still, used car buyers looking for a bargain won't mind one jot. The F01 generation 7 Series that debuted in 2009 is one of the best big car bargains around at the moment. Do your homework and you'll turn up a car that still feels positively plutocratic.
Right. In order to make sense of where this model fits in the 7 Series pantheon, a very brief history lesson is in order. The first 7 Series, the E23 in BMW-speak, featured the undercut shark nose front and was built from 1977 to 1986. This was replaced by the elegant E32 generation car, still with twin round headlights on each side of its grille, built between 1986 and 1994. The sleek E38 model succeeded this car, marking a move to more complex headlamp pods, and many still feel this is the high point of 7 Series styling. That model was replaced by the bulky E65 in 2002, a car that introduced many technical innovations but was saddled with lugubrious styling, BMW smoothing away the worst excesses with a 2006 refresh.
The car we're looking at here, the F01 (or F02 in long wheelbase guise), debuted in 2008, in what might have been the most imaginative vehicle unveil I'd ever seen. A giant hourglass appeared in Moscow's Red Square, filled with 180,000 tiny metallic balls. On the allotted date of 8th July, the balls started falling through the neck of the hourglass, eventually revealing the new 7 Series. The car took a little while to appear in UK dealers, with the first British customers receiving their cars in early 2009. The economic downturn didn't do much for its sales prospects and the car was eventually replaced by a facelifted model in summer 2012. A quick look at sales for the 7 Series showed that diesel models accounted for 87% of all UK purchases.
What You Get
The F10 7 Series is a sleeker thing than its rather barge-like predecessor, with a boot that no longer looked like a tacked-on afterthought. The exterior lines are clearly derived from the previous generation car with elements carried over from BMW's other products. The kidney grille is more upright and pronounced shoulder lines run the length of the car, forming a raised centre section on the bonnet. Inside, there's more of the same with design features that BMW owners will be more than familiar with. Where this 7 Series really moved the game on was in terms of its technology with all kinds of innovations being made available to customers with the money to afford them. Amongst the highlights is a night vision system that can detect and warn the driver if a pedestrian moves into the path of the vehicle. There's also a front side view camera system that activates cameras on the nose of the car to give the driver a better view at blind junctions. The Lane Departure Warning system monitors road markings and tells the driver if they wander out of their lane, while the Speed Limit Warning System can read road signs and warn the driver if they exceed the speed limit. These features are now beginning to filter down into more proletarian models but back in 2009 they were automotive black magic.
The 7 Series is available in standard or long wheelbase form, so buyers can make a decision depending on whether they like to drive themselves or employ a chauffeur and sit in the back. There are SE and M-Sport trim levels but all models got an iDrive control system with programmable buttons for easier access to regularly used functions and a four-zone air-conditioning system. There's also an optional rear seat ventilation system that feeds cool air through the massaging seats in the back. Music fans can make use of the 8gb music server that has the capacity to store over 100 albums on the car's internal hard drive for instant playback.
What to Look For
No significant problems have yet to be reported with the 7 Series although minor niggles such as blown LED lights have been reported. Be aware that the desirability of the car is very dependent on colour choice. Stick to safe silver, graphite or black and you shouldn't go too far wrong but some of the more colourful hues won't be so easy to sell on. Check the electronic functions work as some of these can be a very expensive fix.
(approx prices based on a 2009 760Li ex VAT) An exchange starter motor retails at around £245 while a windscreen will set you back around £250. Expect to fork out £525 for an exchange alternator while front brake pads cost a stinging £185.An entire xenon headlamp pod will relieve you of £358. Replacement xenon bulbs are £99 a pair.
On the Road
BMW's engines are the envy of the automotive world and being the marque's flagship model, the 7 Series gets the pick of them. The line-up opens with the 730d which is set to account for fully 85 per cent of 7 Series sales in the UK. It seems even the country's business elite have half an eye on their fuel gauges these days. It's a third generation common-rail diesel engine which fires fuel into its six cylinders at a peak pressure of 1,800bar. This helps the unit achieve an amazingly efficient combustion process and with 245bhp plus a massive 540Nm of torque, it's not short of go. The 740d uses a twin-turbo version of the same engine with 306bhp. Next up is the 740i which actually uses a six-cylinder 3.0-litre petrol engine with twin turbochargers to generate its 326bhp and 450Nm torque rating. It's capable of covering the 0-62mph sprint in 5.9s, which isn't a million miles away from the 5.2s of the V8-equipped 750i. This engine is 4.4-litres in capacity and uses a similar twin-turbo direct injection configuration to its smaller counterpart. Here there's 407bhp and a full 600Nm of torque all the way from 1,500rpm to 4,500rpm for effortless progress. The range-topper is the mighty 760Li V12.
BMW's six-speed automatic gearbox is standard fitment on the 7 Series, as is the advanced Dynamic Driving Control system. This allows the driver to adapt the set-up of the car at will by flicking between Comfort, Normal, Sport and Sport + modes as the fancy takes them. Even within these settings, the technology can adapt the car's steering, dampers, throttle response and gear shift speed according to the road conditions and the driver's style. The 7 Series uses double wishbone suspension at the front and a multi-link set-up at the rear, underlining its sporting pretensions. Buyers wanting the ultimate in smoothness can opt for air suspension as well.
A Dynamic Stability Control+ system comes as standard on all 7 Series models. Bundled up in this package are innovations such as Hill-Start Assist, Brake drying and pre-tensioning, 'Soft-stop' and Brake Fade Compensation. All are designed to enhance safety and maximise the smoothness that characterises the way in which the 7 Series goes about its business. The Dynamic Traction Control can be activated by the driver to allow greater wheel slippage for sporty driving or to enhance performance on snow and ice.
The F01 generation 7 Series was a car that spoke of BMW getting its mojo back with its flagship saloon. Sleeker and with a well-judged ride/handling compromise and some great engines, it was a car that would have been a surefire winner had it been a little prettier. As a used buy, it's virtually beyond reproach, but with early cars becoming more affordable, it's worth making a sober appraisal of whether you can afford to maintain what might have been a £70,000 new car not so long ago. Still, park one next to a new Mondeo with a similar sticker price and it would be extremely hard to resist.