A while ago I wanted to change cars and short listed a few, including my now owned 7 series. Why such a big car you ask? Well, it wasn't about the size as much as about comfort and technology.
Thing is, I made a check list of features I wanted my car to have, ranging from integrated satellite navigation to heated seats for the cold winter. It was more of a guideline, with some items just as "nice to have", instead of being deal breakers (looking at you lane departure warning and blind-spot monitor).
Coming from a Mercedes C-Class, I initially thought of going one step up, thus the initial list consisted of E-Class, 5 series, Audi A6 and Jaguar XF. I even put in the Lexus and Genesis for good measure.
The conclusion: I found it was way easier to find a good used car, with all I wanted, in the limousine category, than a highly optioned executive saloon. Maybe I had too many items in my checklist, maybe I wasn't willing to compromise enough, but in the end of the day I changed my focus and decided to go two steps up, instead of one.
Read on to know more as this will be a big review...
Interior / Comfort
This is by far the most comfortable car I have ever owned. I guess that was to be expected, but I can't stress it enough.
The car was already seven years old with close to 96K Km when I got it, but the leather still looked new, with no cracks or wear marks. After my initial cleaning, with proper products, I felt it had just left the factory.
There is leather and wood all around the cabin and most materials feel expensive, including the metals and plastics. The exceptions? The start engine button lettering peeled off and the electronic parking brake switch also looked a bit worse for wear. It makes sense as both are always pressed every time the car is driven. I complained about it to the dealer and they got it looking way better before I took the car home (it wasn't a BMW dealer by the way).
That's it. The car looks new inside or as new as if I had owned it from day one. That's a testament to both the previous owner and the materials used. On that start engine point, I sat on the new model and they changed it from plastic to metal, so I guess they noticed the flaw.
When searching for my car, I saw pictures of others of the same age where some other switches also peeled off, so be sure to look for one well looked after before buying.
As for the previously mentioned comfort, standard features include heated seats front and back, ventilated seats front, four zones climate control, satellite navigation, heads up display (more about this later), memory seats, including mirrors and steering wheel, keyless start and entry, front and rear parking sensors, reverse camera, rear and back windows electric sunshades and the list keeps going.
Some of these features are still not standard on brand new cars, so I was impressed that my entire checklist was indeed checked.
One very nice feature to have is the soft-close doors as standard. The doors are by no means heavy, being made of aluminium, but I never slammed the doors again. Just a nice touch and it closes by itself with a pleasant sound. The Mrs fell in love with this on the first test drive (and is one of those things impossible to find as an option on other cars).
Still about the doors, another nice surprise was how it stays open in any position you want it. Usually, car doors have 3 or so resistance points where they stay, which sometimes means they either open too much or too little. Have you ever opened the door somewhere inclined and had it fall back on you? Or had to hold it while opening it, so it won't hit a wall or another car next to you? That's all in the past for a 7 series owner as the door obeys your command and has "infinite" resistance points. It just stays where you left it (another good example of a standard feature you can't get even as an option in other cars).
The lumbar support and all seat adjustments make finding a driving position easy, especially in my car which has the shoulders and thighs support movements too. Search for a model with that option if you can. The thighs support does make a big difference on long journeys.
You may think the ventilated seats are just a gimmick, but they do help a lot during summer and I didn't have that feeling of a sweating back anymore. Same for the heating during winter, I can't recommend it enough.
Before buying my car, I saw some reviews complaining the door handle is actually the wood on the door, which is not intuitive. I agree it is not easy to spot the first time around, but after that, I find it very nice to touch the wood every time I open and close a door. That turned out to be a feature on my book.
Overall, every control is well placed and easy to reach and there is plenty of room all around, back and front. The boot has good enough space, but the seats do not fold down, which is the only down side (was not important to me).
Outside and road noise is minimal and on traffic, it is easy to forget all about it and just focus on your music with the good quality speakers.
Beauty is obviously subjective and in my opinion the 7 series is very attractive, having a timeless design. It doesn't call much attention when seeing from far away and many mistake it for a 5 series, until they notice the bigger size.
No one has been able to tell the car's age just by looking at it, many even thinking the car was brand new when I got it. I believe that's because the newer generation is very hard to see around the city and even my model is not that common (as is the case with all the cars in this segment). I get turning heads from time to time and have already got used to it now.
Having an "exclusive" car has this benefit of it ageing very well. The biggest give away that the car is older are the daytime running lights. All newer BMWs from 2011 or so and onwards have white LEDs, whereas mine is still the yellow halogen. I saw online a retrofit to change it to LEDs and will do it in the future (costs around $300 plus shipping).
Other than that, I can't find panel gaps or anything negative to say. The paint does need some love as there are some scratches and stone chips, but nothing out of the ordinary given the car's age. BMW sells touch-up paint, so I might do a full restoration and paint protection when money allows.
If you are looking for a 7 series of this generation, you may find the vanilla design (mine) or the M sports version (option), which does look nice, but not necessarily better. It comes down to personal preference.
The car is big and heavy, there is no doubt about it. Having said that, it felt smaller after the initial test drive and by the end of the first week I couldn’t go back to a smaller car anymore.
If first I was worried about the size, it feels very natural now, even when parking. The car does feel way smaller than it is. I don't know what kind of magic it is, but sometimes I forget it is a limousine and treat it the same way I did my previous C-Class.
The steering feels sharp and responsive, with plenty of feedback and fast turning. I tackle curves faster than I did in the shorter and lighter Mercedes and find myself smiling more often than I care to admit. The grip on the rear sometimes defies belief, and tells what is going on way before I lose control. Ultimate driving machine? For this size and weight, sure is.
I stay in comfort mode most of the time, and the ride is smooth and comfortable. When I do change to sport, I can tell the difference right away, with stiffer suspension and different feel to the car.
One day the Mrs stayed in the back seat and let me know the ride is even better back there, with no perceptible bumps or road imperfections. I haven’t checked myself, but can say the front ride is already very good, so the back must be flawless.
The 6 speed ZF transmission is brilliant and always chooses the right gear, even when it is time to down-shift for a hill. I can manually change gears using the stick (up and down), but sadly no paddles. I imagine the newer 8 speed would be even better.
As for performance, it is powered by a powerful twin-turbo straight 6 cylinder engine, which in theory goes 0-100Km/h in 6 seconds. I haven't been able to fully test it, but believe it given my few green lights 0-60Km/h accelerations. The turbo lag is mostly imperceptible, which was a nice surprise, and the sound is pleasant to the ears, even not being a sports car.
Given our low speed limits, it is hard to let the car loose and actually use its full potential, which is a pity. Many times I have the feeling the car is holding back, trying to respect the limit I impose, without being able to actually give its all. Around 110Km/h it feels rock solid, quiet and capable of doing double that without breaking a sweat. Maybe one day, if I travel to Germany or such civilised countries with more sensible speed limits...
The standard 18 inches wheels have a conservative design, but complement the ride quality nicely. I did a test on another 7, with the M sports package and 19 inches wheels, and didn't feel any noticeable difference (other than the pretty design).
Breaking is very smooth and just needs more input when manoeuvring on hills. That's when you may feel how heavy the car is to stop. On the other hand, one day had a drunk guy jump in front of the car from the curb. I hit the breaks not sure whether they and the continental tyres would prevent the accident or not and was surprised by how good the response was. A lesser car wouldn't have prevented the accident, given the speed, but instead I actually got enough distance between us (then patiently waited as the man walked back to the sidewalk).
Funny as it is, nowadays I find myself looking for excuses to drive the car (even after many months), and sometimes I linger looking at it after getting home. That's how good it makes me feel both driving and the comfort inside.
This is a 2009 car, but with the best technology available at the time. This means some brand new cars don't have some features the 7 has, but the opposite is also true.
The iDrive system is the best car system I have used. It is responsive, easy to use, understand and gets the job done. The screen resolution is good, but obviously not as sharp as the latest ones.
Even so, it has a nice split screen feature and the GPS is easy to follow and input new destinations. BMW charges an arm and a leg for updates and with no good reason, so would be nice to have a simpler and cheaper way to download new maps, like some manufactures are doing lately.
The heads-up display was a first for me and I can't see myself having a car without one in the future. The information is clear and one thing I love, when following the GPS, is it telling which lane I should be in before a curve. I remember many times, when using my phone in the past, being in one lane and then either missing a turn or having to jump lanes very quickly, as I didn't know there was another turn right after. This is now a must have feature.
Inside the glove box, I can connect a pen drive to load MP3s to the internal hard drive, or export profile configurations (think memory seats and so on). Above the glove box, 6 DVDs can be loaded and an extra one in the centre, which believe it or not I do use (old CDs still useful and music doesn't have expire date, right?).
In the middle, I can connect my phone for music (a cable I bought on EBay for $7), but no Bluetooth streaming (just phone calls). On that note, I found a cable which does enable Bluetooth music streaming, but didn't think it was worth it for my needs (costs around $130 if I remember it right).
The central display can also tune digital TV, but never really used it, just to show others as a novelty. Both the TV and DVD do not show images when you start driving, so it is more of a parking thing if you are waiting for someone.
In the security front, the lane change warning is nice, vibrating the steering wheel if I leave my lane without signalling first (or get distracted and wander off a little). The same happens if I indicate and there is a car in my blind-spot, which also lights up a warning light on the side mirror.
The car also has a front collision warning that does not break for you, only shows a warning light and then plays a sound if you don’t slow down fast enough. This is the precursor of the now usual autonomous brake system and I am still not sure how well it works, since it doesn’t actually brake, but seems fair so far.
I believe some or all of these safety features were optional at the time, so do try to find them if you can. The previous owner probably paid a lot for it, but in a used car, the difference is minimal (if any) to get the extra kit.
The same can be said for the adaptive cruise control. It does make driving in the motorway easier when you want and it was another option that luckily I got. You preset the speed and distance to the car in front and the 7 just accelerates or slows down if required. Many cars have this nowadays and I can see why people like it.
The night vision camera is mostly for fun as I don’t drive at night in the countryside, but could be useful there. My only criticism is that the focus should be similar to what you see while driving, but instead the image is offset to the left (where the camera is mounted) and closer (zoomed in).
Finally, the car also has voice control that I used for very few commands. It understands me most of the time, so it doesn’t stress me when it doesn’t, but I wish it would be perfect (maybe the newer BMWs got this working better).
Bonus tip: Do read the car manual. These cars have so many features, that a quick read can show you things you didn’t know. As an example, from the driver’s seat, I have a button to raise or lower the rear window sunshade. After reading the manual, I discovered that pressing and holding the button does all the three sunshades at the same time (so including the two rear side windows).
Being big and heavy sure has a price. On motorway driving, I can average 10L/100Km, which is ok I suppose. The real issue is urban and traffic driving. I can easily see figures as high as 28L/100Km or as little as 12L/100Km. It all depends on how fast you can go and how many red lights you see.
Bear in mind that I always have the air-conditioner on, automatically keeping around 24 degrees, and usually turn on the seats too (hot or cold depending on season and weather). If you like to open the sunroof and windows, you may spend less that way.
The stop/start system was only added on the face lift model, so from 2013, which means no savings there either. I always use the recommended 98 unleaded, so I find it funny when friends talk about petrol costing $1 or close to it. Not for me. Not for me.
These cars, when new, cost a small fortune, ranging from $200K to more, depending on options, engine and so on. As they age, however, the price drops so fast that I can’t see why anyone would buy them new (other than hotels, limo services or the like).
At the time, I paid mid fifties, which for me was a bargain, given everything the car has even compared to newer cars (and its competitors of same age). With all the options I have, I think I paid a fifth of the original drive away price. Nowadays the prices are even lower, depending on equipment, colour and so on.
Even so, there is a reason for that. People able to afford it when new don’t want anything second hand. Moreover, the warranty is gone and that frightens potential buyers. That’s probably the biggest factor to justify such depreciation, the risk of having to foot a huge repair bill.
If you are willing to take the risk, and find a good and well kept car, I can assure you it is a no brainer. Most previous owners would have done all services with BMW to keep their warranties and they are not exactly racer or trashed cars, so most kilometres would have been done in nicely paved motorways.
It is funny how people have the misconception that these cars are very expensive, having no idea how “cheap” they are when used. I had a guy coveting my 7 one day and he was actually driving a new 3 series. He could have a car just like mine, but thought mine was more expensive than his (it was not).
You can obviously buy a newer car for less, like a 3 or 5 series, but I can tell they don’t come close to the level of refinement you get with the 7. After so many months, I still have that new car feeling every time I drive it and can’t find a car I would rather have (other than the new generation one when the price drops in a few years).
Reliability / Ownership
Older German cars can be bullet proof or full of issues, depends on who you ask and which specific model you are talking about.
The 7 series are all German made, so don’t suffer from some of the horror stories I have heard from X model owners (all made in the USA). Also, since this is BMW flagship, I suppose extra care is taken to make sure everything is well put together. Everything feels solid and no rattles can be heard inside the cabin.
Regardless, I bought the aftermarket warranty offered by the dealer (actually the first year was included, but I bought the extension to 3 years). In the first week of ownership a battery warning came up, so after a trip to the warranty approved mechanic, they replaced the battery for a new one (that was paid by the dealer, no questions asked).
A month later, the battery warning reappeared, so I went back and that time the issue was with the alternator. The bill: around $1500. I was at the same service shop as before and they made a warranty claim in my behalf, which was paid without any intervention from my part. After hearing many people saying those warranties are all rubbish, my single experience was actually very good.
At the six months mark I took the car for the routine service. They changed oil, oil filter, cabin filter, brake fluid and the usual car wash. It was cheaper than BMW and a full report was supplied, so I roughly know when I may need to change brake pads, tyres and the like. I would surely recommend this shop to anyone needing an independent European service place to keep their car running.
The bad news? They also found a torn rear differential bush and the transmission cooling line had a small leak. The price for the initial service, the parts, fluids and labour (for these two issues) got to around $1800. That may sound like a lot (it is a lot of money), but I knew an older car would require a few extra hundred dollars every year to keep it in good shape.
I guess that’s the obvious thing to keep in mind. Don’t just budget yourself to buy the car, but also save spare change for fixing the unforeseeable issue that will come. I was expecting the extra expense when I bought it, so wasn’t surprised and will see how things go in the years to come. I fully expect to service the car every six months and find small issues here and there, but nothing major (like engine or transmission). The service shop guys say the car is in very good condition. It sure feels that way.
The car still feels reliable to me, even with the small issues along the way (I was never left stranded) and some things could even be a consequence of staying in the showroom for too long. You need to remember the car is seven years old and over 100K Km, so plan accordingly. Some of the money you “save” from not buying the car new is put back in maintenance and that’s part of the game. Even so, the expenses won’t get near to the price of when the car was brand new, so you are still winning there.
The electronics still work as they should and I did find a few bugs here and there. A turn off and on again always fixes anything wrong though. I would imagine these are software bugs that were sorted in the next years of the iDrive system. Really small things and can’t even remember one example to give now.
In the end of the day, this car makes anyone driving or being driven in it feel that little bit more special. It is definitely worth it in my book and a bargain. Would I buy another one? In a heartbeat.
The first obvious competitor is the Mercedes S-Class. I did a test drive on a 2010 model, so after the face lift of that generation, and felt really disappointed. For such a benchmark car, I just didn’t feel anything special in terms of comfort, technology or performance.
Breaking down those points, the engine felt sluggish (it was a S350 petrol, so a V6) and the steering vague. The inside didn’t feel modern, so for a mid thirties guy like myself, it felt a grandpa’s car. In terms of spec, it didn’t have half the features the 7 had. Think heads-up display, soft closing doors, rear heated seats, security features and so on. All of those “flaws” for more money, about 15K more than the 7 series for the same year. Not worth it for me.
I also did a test drive on a Jaguar XJ, which I personally think is gorgeous. It was head and shoulders better than the S-Class, but still more expensive than the 7 series of the same year. A 2010 XJ (current generation) would either be a V8 petrol or a V6 diesel. It drives as good as the BMW, but doesn’t have the same level of equipment or technology. If the prices were better, maybe I would have gone with this one.
The other usual suspect was the Audi A8, but couldn’t find any to test drive for that year range (2009/2010). It does look like any other Audi, which can be good or bad, but not sure I like their interiors (based on pictures).
Other cars in the category were too expensive to consider, so no Maserati Quattroporte or Porsche Panamera. Even old they are still extremely expensive in my opinion.
Bang for buck, the 7 was by far the better proposition and I still don’t understand why it is cheaper than its competitors when used. It could be reliability, but I would think they are all the same based on my forums reading. All cars may break and all these limousines are expensive to service or repair.
In conclusion, this car is the best I have ever owned, by far.
Hope you enjoyed this lengthy review of my new love affair and maybe, it can help others buying a similar used car to get more information.
If you have any questions, I will try answering the best I can. Thank you for reading.