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BMW 730d SE

Click to view picture galleryPriced from 54,160 to 69,400,
  the new high-tech BMW 7 Series
  luxury saloon is technically the
  most complete car on the market
  today — surpassing even the
  Mercedes-Benz S-Class.

A NEW LUXURY LIMOUSINE RANGE in today's market with prices starting at 54,160 appears, at first glance, hardly appropriate timing but, as BMW said at the recent media launch of their new 7 Series, this is the fifth generation and the car has been in the planning and design stages since generation four went on sale. Even in the current 'chilly' financial climate, around 1,800 of these new 'Sevens' will be sold in the UK in a full year.

In the UK, even the 'luxury' market sector is down on sales as the 'captains of industry' are seemingly thinking twice about having a new company car — chauffeur driven or not — as jobs are being lost and Christmas bonuses disappear.

Under the sales headline 'The Dawn of a New Era', the 7 Series is now the technology flagship of the BMW range. It has all the latest fuel- and CO2-saving EfficientDynamics technologies, including new or heavily revised more fuel-efficient engines. Aluminium is widely used to reduce weight — and consequently the new cars are 55kg lighter.

Karin Habib, exterior designer for the new 7 Series, said the design is based on three major criteria: retain road presence but less in-your-face looks; sporty lines; and elegance. This has resulted in the usual BMW short front overhang, long bonnet with twin styling lines, high waistline and deeply-sculptured side panels incorporating character lines that stretch the car's visual length. Equally, horizontal lines in the front- and rear-end styling stretch the car's width. The grille of the car is more upright than before and incorporates a much larger 'signature' kidney grille. Imposing and with high road presence it certainly is — but even so the evolution of the Seven is clearly on the conservative side.

The interior is luxurious, well equipped and logical. The infamous BMW iDrive control and information system is vastly improved and now allows quick and logical access as well as having easy to use 'favourite functions' buttons. Other controls, from the gear shifter to seat adjusters, are now where they are needed for easy use.

New driver-aid technologies, including several 'world-firsts', are either standard or options and the latest features such as Night Vision pedestrian recognition will find their way into other BMW models in the future. Side cameras, rear-view camera, speed restriction sign recognition, information and voice command satellite navigation — plus the excellent head-up display in the windscreen — makes driving safe and easy for this size of car.

The four-wheel active steering (where fitted), the Drive Dynamic Control suspension, driver-customisable throttle, gearchange and power steering responses, Dynamic Stability Control, Lane Departure and Lane Change warning functions, all contribute to making the new 7 Series technically the most complete car on the market today — surpassing even the Mercedes-Benz S-Class.

The main selling 730d diesel variant (expected to take 85% of sales) is available in standard length wheelbase form only — for now. The 740i and 750i petrol versions come with standard and long-wheelbase body options (5,072mm and 5,212mm for LWB versions). The limousine long-wheelbase models have air suspension for greater ride comfort but the system seems to not absorb potholes as well or give such a controlled drive as the standard system.

On motorways, where the 7 Series will spend most of its time, it is fine but on poorer and winding roads the air system feels less able to provide a comfortable ride.

The new 3.0-litre, six-cylinder, 730d all-aluminium diesel engine is a real gem. Faster, more fuel efficient and cleaner, it's yet another good example of how BMW's much-applauded EfficientDynamics technology really works in real life. This engine produces 245bhp and 398lb ft of torque (from 1,750rpm) — enough power to go from zero to 62mph in 7.2 seconds and a top speed of 153mph. Remember this is a luxury saloon, not a sports car. But, in fact, it is both.

The combined cycle fuel economy is officially 39.2mpg — 34mpg in real-life on the press test drive — with 192g/km of CO2 emissions giving it a current road tax bill of 210.

I have to say that I preferred to be driving this car, rather than being chauffeured. It is generally first class for engine performance, driveability and all the technology is a joy to use. I recommend the head-up display — it's fantastic and, more importantly, makes driving much safer. Being a rear seat passenger, whilst roomy enough for two adults, the new Seven isn't quite in the limousine class when it comes to ride comfort; and the air suspension models just do not cope with the UK's poorer roads.

In all models there is some road and wind noise intrusion — I would have expected better of such an advanced car. It is not, it must be said, quite as good in areas of quietness or of 'glide' comfort as the Lexus LS 600h L hybrid models — but then the BMW is 30,00 cheaper than the Lexus. Also, there's some minor wind/road noise intrusion and, in the case of long-wheelbase models with air suspension, a choppy ride in the rear seats. The new 730d's stand-out plus points include engine performance and fuel economy and standard and optional safe driving technology. And it is also very good to drive. — David Miles

BMW 730d SE
| 54,160
Maximum speed: 153mph | 0-62mph: 7.2 seconds | Overall test MPG: 34mpg
Power: 245bhp | Torque: 398lb ft | CO2 192g/km | Insurance group 17