BMW 7-Series (E65)

BMW’s flagship 7-series does not have a very long history. It was first introduced in the early 80s as the company’s big car. Getting more luxurious in the second generation, then adding more driver appeal in the third generation, the emphasis now shift to technology. Yes, I know every luxurious sedan calls itself high-tech, but the new 7-series is really a moving technology warehouse, and we’ll see soon how it out-advance arch-rival Mercedes S-class. The question is just whether it make good use of the technology to improve comfort and dynamic.  

Let us look at the car first. The 7-series is designed by BMW design chief Chris Bangle, who is my most unfavourite designer since his work in Z3. Unfortunately, 7-series is the first mainstream BMW designed under his full freedom, no wonder it is also the most controversial design BMW ever produced. Mr. Bangle seemed dislike the company’s traditional evolutionary design. He tried to revolutionize, therefore introduced an odd headlamp whose upper edge incorporates signal lamp. More controversial is the high boot lid which looks like sitting on the tail rather than embedded into the tail. When questioned by journalists, Mr. Bangle spent hundreds of words to explain how beautiful this look and how it fulfils functional requirements. Rubbish. If I were him, I would have asked the journalists to look at the car for 100 more times. The more you see it, the more comfortable you feel about it. Yes, I am starting to love it now ... 

Unarguably, the new 7-series looks solid and substantial, even bigger than its actual dimension. This doesn’t mean it is small. The new body is 40mm wider and 57mm higher. Wheelbase is up 60mm to 2990mm, even longer than S-class. Therefore it is also a touch heavier than rivals. Suspensions remain loyal to the existing design, that is, MacPherson struts up front and multi-link at the rear, both mounted on subframe. The only major change is that they are constructed largely in aluminium to save weight and improve ride quality. Now here comes the new technology: the suspensions employ adaptive damping which is continuously variable according to road conditions and driving style. At the rear, self-leveling air suspensions can be ordered as option to further enhance ride comfort. Another new feature is an active anti-roll system similar in function to Mercedes’ ABC. In BMW’s language it is "Dynamic Drive". It employs hydraulic-actuated anti-roll bar to resist body roll in cornering, so the mechanism is more like Citroen Xantia’s Activa rather than Mercedes’s ABC which varies springing stiffness at individual wheels. When lateral force is up to 0.6g, it limits body roll to less than 1 degree. Above 0.6g, it allows greater body roll in order to give the driver more feedback of cornering state, this avoid repeating Citroen’s failure. The use of Dynamic Drive allows softer suspensions tuning to enhance comfort without worsening handling. Furthermore, by applying different roll stiffness to front and rear suspensions, understeer / oversteer can be controlled. 

BMW rarely introduced a new mainstream model with new engines, but in this 7-series we can see a pair of new generation V8 as well as a new V12. Let’s see the V8s first. They are the result of 4 years development, employing Bi-Vanos variable valve timing, a continuously variable length intake manifold (called DIVA, or Differentiated Variable Air Intake) and the famous 10%-fuel-saving Valvetronic throttleless intake system. The engine of 745i (actually displaces 4398c.c.) produces 333hp and 325lbft, stronger than all rivals bar Infiniti. 735i (actually 3.6-litre) produces 272hp and 266lbft. Other engines include the existing 3.0 straight-six (231hp), 3.0d turbodiesel straight-six (184hp) and 3.9-litre turbodiesel V8 (245hp). Range topping 6.0 V12 replaces the ancient 5.4-litre predecessor. It finally features 4-valve head, accompany with Bi-Vanos, Valvetronic and even direct-injection. It pumps out 408hp and a class-leading 442lbft of torque. 

The 7-series also introduces the world’s first 6-speed automatic transmission, supplied by ZF. Advantages are obvious: faster acceleration and lower fuel consumption. Despite of 1 more ratio, it is 18% lighter than the old 5-speeder and employs less components. The gearbox provides 3 operation modes: the normal Drive mode, the Sport mode which shift at higher rev and the Tiptronic-style Manual mode. The latter operates via buttons on steering wheel. Where is the shifter ? not in the transmission tunnel, it is mounted at the steering column. 

So what things engage the transmission tunnel ? it is a long armrest on which a silver rotary switch knob located. It is this simple knob control the controversial iDrive computer system. Basically, iDrive is BMW’s version of Windows OS. Through the rotary switch (equals to your Mouse) and the big LCD screen located in center of dashboard, you can control up to 700 functions, ranging from the setting of adaptive damping, anti-roll control, gearbox mode, satellite navigation, climate control to audio. Alternatively, you can use voice recognition to control these functions, provided you can memorize so many instructions. Although BMW’s ergonomic engineers spent a lot of time to design the OS as user-friendly as possible, there are still many journalists said it is annoying to use iDrive to activate some simple functions instead of a touch of a button. Some journalists, however, got used to it quickly and found it very interesting. In the age when computers and WAP mobile phones as popular as cars, perhaps our driving style should also adapt a bit. Anyway, BMW has left some of the most frequently used buttons on the dashboard, in the most logical position. 

The design of interior is no less disappointing than the exterior. Chris Bangle this time sacrifice the traditional driver-oriented dashboard for a furniture-like layout. That said, you can never guess it is a BMW. The plastic hoods over instrument readings and LCD screen are particularly ugly. Even myself can design a prettier one. Nevertheless, the engineers still worked hard to compensate Mr. Bangle’s faults. They trimmed the interior with high-quality materials, superbly comfortable seats and a lot of (optional) luxurious equipment. We have already said the car is bigger than rivals, so cabin space is generous for all occupants. If not enough, long-wheelbase version can be ordered as before. 

On The Road 

Now all the technology melts together and let’s see how the 7-series drive.  

First to praise is the 745i engine, which pulls the heavyweight newcomer so effortlessly. Infiniti might boost marginally more on-paper power, but the high-tech BMW V8 is obviously more powerful and torquey from low to mid-rev. BMW’s claim of 0-60mph in 6.1 sec should be fairly accurate. Simultaneously, it is also very smooth and quiet, simply Lexus-matching. Even at redline, it still spins freely and eagerly.  

There is no test data about fuel consumption available, but the combination of Valvetronic and 6-speed auto is likely to result in a class best. Talking about the gearbox, it is the smoothest ever tested, so seamless and efficient. 

Handling and ride takes a bit more to explain. Because settings of transmission, adaptive damping, DSC stability control and traction control can be altered manually, you have to test and learn which setting suit what conditions. Once learned that, the 7-series can be a sports sedan as well as an American-style magic carpet depends on wish.  

Set the damping and transmission to Sport mode (the former also reduces steering assistance by 20%), the car feels responsive and agile. It corners flatly, flatter than an ABC-equipped S-class yet rides more supple. This is because BMW’s system alter anti-roll bar but not suspension springing. The new rack and pinion steering with 3.0 turns lock to lock is quick, well-weighted and provides good feedback. The car changes direction fluently, with amazing eagerness for its size. 

In the most comfortable setting the suspensions can be very soft but the car can also be reluctant to change direction and rolls excessively. Whether you like this is your business. The 7-series just give you more choices. 

Can the new BMW flagship beat the mighty Mercedes S-class ? it seems yes, but we still need to wait for a full comparison test between the two German arch-rivals before we can make a judgement. 

The above report was last updated on 20 Oct 2001. All Rights Reserved.

BMW 7-Series vs Mercedes S-class


The judgement day has come. 2 arch-rivals compete face to face for the title "the best luxurious saloon in the world". Well, maybe mass-production luxurious saloon.  

Germany’s AMS magazine was perhaps the first to conduct such comparison test - the outcome was 745i beating S500 by a narrow margin, mostly thanks to its lower price tag. Predictably, the magazine said the BMW is more sporting while the Mercedes is more comfortable.  

Recently, UK magazine Autocar conducted a similar test, just this time they brought also a Lexus LS430, Bentley Arnage T and Range Rover to find out which is the world’s best luxurious car. Without a limitation in budget, they got a S600, which is nearly 40% more expensive than the 745i. They should have brought a 760Li, but that car was not available yet. Also note that the 745i was not equipped with air suspensions, a strange thing considering the unlimited budget. Lastly, the magazine declared that comfort and refinement were the most important things in this contest. 

As all conditions favour the Mercedes, unsurprisingly, S600 took the top spot, followed by Lexus, BMW, Arnage and at last Range Rover. Autocar praised the handling of 745i but was not convinced about its poor low-speed ride in town. On the other hand, the S600, though not as sporting as the BMW, still handles very well while its air suspensions provides superb ride quality. 

Undeniably, 7-Series is the choice for keen drivers. It has the better engine, powerful yet refined. Handling is sharper while body control is superb. Whether the optional air suspension can match the Mercedes’ is yet to be seen, but the plastic used in the cabin is undoubtedly better.  

To many, S-class looks much handsomer than the oddball 7-Series, although the interior is on the contrary, blame to the cheap plastic employed and the low quality switch gears. However, its cabin is bigger and quieter, controls are ergonomical (much better than the complicated iDrive). Its V8, though not as great as the BMW’s, is smooth and punchy enough. In addition to the smooth ride - with AIRmatic or not, S500 is definitely the choice for comfort. 

In short, both cars have their own strength and weakness in different areas. Which is the best ? it depends on your taste. 

The above report was last updated on 23 Mar 2002. All Rights Reserved.


This is the third generation of BMW’s V12 engine. As I remember, the first one debuted in around 1987. It displaced 5.0 litres and produced 300hp. Rich people then seemed easier to satisfy than today’s. They just praised how powerful and smooth the power plant was compare with Mercedes’ V8. Yes, Stuttgart had not yet developed a 12 cylinder engine then, leaving the outdated Jaguar XJ12 to be the only alternative.  

The second generation V12 was not as remarkable. Although it grew to 5.4 litres and produced 26 more horsepower, it kept the sohc 2-valve per cylinder architecture unchanged. And it was soon eclipsed by Mercedes 600SEL’s more advanced and powerful V12. Since then, Stuttgart’s V12 engine program continued to dominate the global V12 market, leaving BMW - the pioneer of modern V12 - cold. It’s time to fight back. 

The latest generation BMW V12 is an all-new design. It employs not only 4-valve heads, but also Bi-Vanos, Valvetronic and even direct injection - the latter is a first for any V12 and a first for any BMW engines. We can simply call it the world’s most technological advanced V12 engine. Besides, to fight with the increasingly tough competition, its capacity is enlarged to 6 litres. This requires increasing bore center from 91 to 98mm, thus inevitably made the engine longer and heavier. At 280kg, it is not a lightweight. However, output also rises to 445hp, a massive 112 horsepower more than 745i. Maximum torque is 443lbft at 3950rpm. At least 368lbft is available from 1500 to 6000rpm, so it is reasonably torquey, if not matching Mercedes S600. 

Seeing it in isolation, one must be happy with how the engine behaves. It has power, it is tractable, it runs quietly and creamy smooth, notably more refined than the old generation. It scores nearly full marks.... until you take a S600 for comparison. Unfortunately, the Mercedes twin-turbo V12 behaves just as refined yet its 590lbft of torque overwhelms the BMW at any speed. 760Li is also burdened by its 2150kg kerb weight. While 760Li accelerates linearly from rest to 60mph in 5.4 seconds, S600 rocketed in a supercar-rivaling 4.6 seconds.  

Like the Mercedes rival, BMW’s V12 engine is only available to the long-wheelbase 760Li, whose wheelbase exceeds the standard car by 140mm. This somewhat limits its cornering agility. Admittedly, this top of the range 7-series is supposed to be luxury-biased rather than performance-oriented. For this reason, its rear axle is equipped with adaptive air suspensions which can alter springing stiffness as well as ride height. Mind you, its ride quality still lags behind the Mercedes. 

Our conclusion is: 760Li will live under the shadow of S600, although it has a remarkable engine. 

The above report was last updated on 8 Jan 2003. All Rights Reserved.

7-Series facelift and 750i

The 7-Series' biggest flaw - odd styling - is finally corrected 3 years after its launch. The facelift gave it a prettier double-kidney grille, a pair of normal eyes and a smoother-looking bumper at the front. At the rear, the taillights have been restyled such that the boot lid now looks like integrating better with the tail. Chris Bangle should have done this from the beginning !

In the tradition of BMW, the mid-life facelift also introduced some engine upgrade:
  • 730d: the 2993 cc turbo diesel straight-6 now received Bosch's third generation common-rail injection system with piezo injectors and an improved turbine. This raised output from 218 hp to 231 hp. By switching to aluminum block, the engine is 20 kg lighter than the old one.
  • 745d: the 4423 cc turbo diesel V8 also has aluminum block and third generation common-rail injection with piezo injectors. It produces a full 300 horsepower accompany with astonishing 516 lbft of torque. That's 42 hp and 74 lbft more than the outgoing 3.9-litre 740d.
  • 730i: BMW's new aluminum-magnesium Valvetronic petrol straight-six produces 258 horsepower, up from 231 hp.
  • 740i: the outgoing 272 hp 3.6-litre V8 of 735i has been enlarged to exactly 4000 cc, hence rebadged to 740i. Power increases to 306 horsepower, with 288 lbft of torque. Brilliantly, fuel consumption is almost unchanged.
  • 750i: the return of the 750i badge does not associate with a V12 engine this time, but a 4.8-litre Valvetronic V8. This engine drinks the same amount of fuel as the outgoing 745i, but it generates 367 horsepower, an increase of 34 hp. Because of the extra capacity, BMW can replace the infinitely variable intake manifold (DIVA) with a simpler two-stage intake manifold.
On the road, the 750i engine is quieter than before, probably too quiet to enjoy its sound quality. It takes only 5.7 seconds to accelerate from 0-60 mph, which is the strongest performance among all V8 rivals. This nearly makes the V12 redundant, which is unchanged in this facelift.

The revised 7-Series also received some suspension mods, such as a 14mm wider rear track and a choice of 3 suspension packages - Standard, Adaptive Drive (which incorporates active anti-roll bars and continuous variable damping) and Sport (with sportier setting active anti-roll bars, stiffer springs, 10-20 mm lower ride height as well as a quicker steering). The Sport suspension is probably too firm for most limousine buyers, so Adaptive Drive is the best choice regardless of money. As such equipped, the 750i rides smoother than the outgoing car.

Inside, the 7-Series has corrected another fault - the complicated i-Drive control system. Its menu is now simplified and more control knobs are added for direct access of frequently used functions. But even with 3 years of evaluation and redevelopment, the i-Drive is still less initiative than Audi's MMI system.

Anyway, the 7-Series is still a very fast, capable and high-quality luxurious car. As usual, it has more driver appeal than anyone else in the class, especially now having its full range of engines upgraded. Improved design, ride quality and i-Drive make it more attractive than the old car. It finally guns down Mercedes S-class. Admittedly, the latter is about to be renewed.

The above report was last updated on 7 May 2005. All Rights Reserved.


Front-engined, Rwd
Front-engined, Rwd
L / W / H / WB (mm)
5039 / 1902 / 1491 / 2990
5169 / 1902 / 1492 / 3130
V8, dohc, 4v/cyl, VVT, 
Valvetronic, var intake.
V12, dohc, 4v/cyl, VVT, 
Valvetronic, DI
4799 cc
5972 cc
367 hp
445 hp
361 lbft
443 lbft
Suspension (F/R)
Strut / multi-link (Z-axle)
Strut / multi-link (Z-axle)
Tyres (F/R)
All: 245/50ZR18
All: 245/50ZR18
1910 kg
2150 kg
Top speed
155 mph (limited)
155 mph (limited)
0-60 mph
5.7 sec (c)
5.4 sec (c)
0-100 mph
Figures tested by: * R&T

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