Cast your mind back almost 20 years to the James Bond film Tomorrow Never Dies. Pierce Brosnan drove an E38 BMW 750iL from the back seat to its eventual destruction. While the modern Bond once again has a penchant for British cars, the sixth generation BMW 7 Series in 750i and 750Li is the definition of luxury and performance for the brand.
The premium 7 Series has been upgraded to offer class-first technology and fresh levels of chassis refinement. The 750i and 750Li join the rest of the 7 Series range, launched late last year, which consists of the 730d, 740i and 740Li.
Priced from $289,600 plus on-road costs for the 750i, buyers wanting to stretch rear leg room will also need to stretch their budgets with a starting price of $312,700 for the flagship 750Li model (a range-topping BMW M760Li xDrive model is coming in 2017).
From the outside, it's impossible to mistake the 7 Series for anything other than a 7 Series. Its design is evolutionary, not revolutionary. The resemblance to the 5 Series remains, though the similarities between the two are not as stark as the Mercedes-Benz C-, (new) E- and S-Class models.
Key to the car's on-road presence is a new vertical kidney grille that integrates a porthole for the night vision camera (now standard on both 750i models) and an active grille that can open and close automatically to improve aerodynamics.
Also new to the 7 Series is the standard addition of BMW's new Laserlight technology. While the vehicle doesn't actually use lasers, the technology utilises high-intensity LEDs that unify to offer a viewing range of almost double the most powerful LED headlights. Range increases from 300m to 600m and the lights consume 30 per cent less power as a result of bundling a set of high-intensity LEDs onto a fluorescent phosphorus substance.
The structure of the new 7 Series has also undergone major weight reduction treatment. Exciting technology dubbed BMW Carbon Core signifies that the 7 Series uses the most amount of carbon-fibre of any mass-produced car on the market.
Unlike the i8, which uses a carbon-fibre tub, the 7 Series uses a hybrid of carbon-fibre, steel and aluminium to provide strength and reduce weight, lightening the body shell down by more than 40kg. It's particularly useful in parts of the car that withstand high directional forces and in places such as the B-pillar. Deformation following an impact is prevented by distributing force around the car. In total, the sixth-generation car is now around 130kg lighter than the fifth-generation.
Before we discuss riding in the back seat, it's worth noting that the 750i range is actually as enjoyable from the front seat thanks to some impressive engine and chassis technology.
Under the bonnet of both the 750i and 750Li is a 4.4-litre twin-turbocharged V8 engine that produces a healthy 330kW of power and 650Nm of torque. The engine is mated to an incredibly smooth eight-speed automatic transmission, which helps drive fuel consumption down to a mind boggling 8.1L/100km for the 750i and 8.3L/100km for the 750Li on the combined cycle.
A push of the starter button turns the engine over to a near silent thrum. You are reminded of its presence thanks to a mild shimmy at idle. The driver has the option of selecting from four drive modes — Sport, Comfort, Eco Pro and Adaptive.
Each mode can be customised further by selecting individual settings. The Adaptive mode provides an intelligent response program that will vary drive modes depending on driving behaviour.
Our first stint of driving covered open country roads, with parts in very bad condition. In the vehicle's comfort setting, the adaptive dampers relax and provide a smooth ride that can be likened to a Rolls-Royce.
The car uses stereo cameras mounted to the top of the windscreen to watch the road surface ahead and pre-empt pot holes and variations on the surface. In comparison to the Mercedes-Benz S-Class, the 7 Series rides better in comfort mode and provides a silky smooth ride that is currently unmatched on the market.
Advanced suspension technology under the skin teams two-axle air suspension with variable dampers and a world-first electro-mechanical active stabilisation system. The electro-mechanical active stabilisation is what makes the 7 Series unique. It's able to respond much quicker than previous-generation systems and ensures that the 7 Series sits almost entirely flat through corners.
Hitting the Sport button firms up the ride and lowers by 10mm at high speeds. The adaptive steering also responds more sensitively to inputs and transforms this 5098mm limo (5238mm in 750Li trim) into something of a sports car.
The responsive and giant brakes help pull the car up, while the razor sharp throttle provides slingshot performance out of corners. The body remains dead flat and the big car remains stable through corners — to the point where you need to remind yourself that you're in a huge 7 Series and not a nimble 3 Series.
With 275mm wide rear tyres on the rear and 245mm treads on the front there is a surefooted footprint on the road that helps get the traction to the ground. Unlike some BMWs the stability control is unintrusive and allows you to stretch the car's legs without too much intervention.
The engine note as the needles wraps around the computer-generated dial is quiet but rumbles nicely through the cabin, and is mated to an angry bark as the gearbox moves through the gears.
After coming down from the hills around Daylesford in Victoria we had the chance to test BMW's semi-autonomous driving feature. Hit the button on the steering wheel and the car uses stereo cameras to pick up line markings and other cars in an attempt to self-steer the car.
It works well when the line markings are clearly defined, but gets itself confused when the lines are faded or inconsistent.
For the rest of the trip I shuffled to the back seat to run through the extensive list of features. Standard up front, the driver and front passenger get heated and cooled seats with massage function, a new touchscreen system for the climate control, which includes a fragrance dispenser, the latest version of iDrive on a 12.3-inch screen that now also features a touch screen, digital radio, digital television, radar cruise control, autonomous emergency braking, heated steering wheel and armrests, Laserlight headlights with cornering and automatic high beam, heads up display, semi-automatic parking, night vision, full electric seating and keyless entry and start.
In the back seat, passengers are spoilt, especially in 750Li guise. The 'L' specification includes electrically-adjustable seats with heating and cooling, massage function with heated armrests, electric side and rear blinds, a panoramic glass roof, soft close doors and two 10-inch screens with wireless headphones.
Rear seat passengers are able to detach a Samsung Galaxy Android tablet from its holder to adjust almost everything in the cabin from cabin lighting to seating position. One of the best functions is the BMW Vitality Programme, which activates calibrated sensors in the seat and floor to provide an exercise program to stretch muscles and reduce fatigue.
In terms of cabin ambience, beautiful LED vertical lamps sit on the door frame of the 'L' variant and provide a pleasant atmosphere at night. This teams with an interior cabin lighting package that includes the Sky Lounge, which uses 15,000 LED lighting elements in the glass panel above the passenger. The colours are entirely customisable, as is the brightness. The panel then becomes transparent during the day so you can see through it like a normal pane of glass.
The rear of both the standard- and long-wheelbase vehicles is an incredibly comfortable place to be seated. Even for longer trips. Notable options include the 1400W Bowers and Wilkins Diamond Surround Sound system, a huge rear refrigerator for bottles of bubbly, Alcantara headlining and the no-cost option M Sport package.
Just like the rest of the BMW 7 Series range, gesture control is standard. It can be used to increase and decrease volume, answer and decline calls and adjust camera angles. It's a bit of a gimmick really and can be funny to use at times.
Arguably the coolest feature of the car is the BMW Display Key that features an LCD screen and is able to remotely check the status of the car and precondition the vehicle based on time.
The night vision feature uses the iDrive screen to display a night vision image of the road ahead. It then highlights objects with a heat pattern similar to an animal or person. If driving at night it then also uses the adaptive high beam to flash at the object. Finally, it will begin the braking process if the object steps out in front of the car — depending on speed.
In overseas markets, the 7 Series is able to autonomously park without a driver. While the feature is coming later in 2016, it won't be available on 7 Series vehicles already ordered or delivered to customers.
With a price tag starting just shy of $300,000, the BMW 750i and 750Li both represent the pinnacle of luxury in the BMW stable.
Our stint behind the wheel has proven that the BMW 7 Series sits in an unrivalled position. It's able to perform sportingly at the push of a button while catering for passenger comfort and technology requirements with little fuss.
Is the BMW 7 Series the ultimate luxury car in this price bracket, and therefore a better bet than the lauded Mercedes-Benz S-Class? We think so.